Around 70% of the Torah is occupied with the 42 journeys of the Jewish people through the wilderness. Beginning with the Egyptian Exodus in Parshat Bo, the remaining 39 (out of 53) Torah chapters concern themselves – all take place and are part of – the forty-two journeys, from Ramses in Egypt to the last journey as the people arrive at the East bank of the River Jordan.
Clearly this 42-leg journey plays a central and fundamental role in Torah. And as a blueprint for life, the Torah’s preoccupation with the 42 journeys, tells teaches us that these journeys are a central theme in our personal lives – as the Baal Shem Tov explains that the forty-two journeys in the wilderness – from Egypt to Israel – mirror forty-two journeys or phases that each person experiences throughout life.
Indeed, the 42 journeys correspond with the 42 words of the Shema (from v’oahvto to u’bishorecho) and to the 42 letters of Ono Bechoach, as well as to the Divine name, Shem Mab.
We thus bring you the second instalment of this special series from Rabbi Jacobson, that outlines the psycho-spiritual 42 journeys that each of us go through in our own lives, as the Baal Shem Tov teaches.
Journey 5: They left Freedom Valley and crossed the Red Sea toward the desert. They then traveled for three days in the Etham Desert and camped in Marah
The final stage of human maturation – as we move from our teenage years into full adulthood – is completely crossing over from the pure, inner world of “water” into the dry, arid world of the desert. Indeed, Moses had to coerce the Jews to away from the Red Sea out into the Shur Desert, where they traveled three days without finding water (Exodus 15:22). They didn’t want to leave the insulated “cocoon” of the Red Sea only to be thrown into a harsh and hostile desert, one that leads us into a state of bitterness (Marah). Yet, leave we must. This is the purpose of our existence: To transform the wilderness into a Divine sea (Ohr HaTorah Massei p. 1383).
Because of their bitter waters “the place was called Marah” (marah in Hebrew means bitter). When the Jewish people came to Marah and could not drink the bitter water there, they began to complain. “What shall we drink?” they demanded. When Moses cried out to G-d, He showed him a certain tree. Moses threw it into the water, and the water became drinkable. It was there that G-d taught them survival techniques and methods, and there He tested them. He said, “If you obey G-d and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all His commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am G-d who heals you.”
The journey to Marah refers to the stage in our lives when we encounter a bitter experience – loss, disappointment, pain, sorrow or illness. We then have two choices: Either we will complain, become bitter and overwhelmed with anguish and grief, or we will learn to rise to the occasion and discover the deeper powerful light and sweetness that lays embedded within the dark and bitter.
Therein also lays the power of healing: The ability to sweeten the bitter and to uproot infection in its source.
Journey 6: They left Marah and came to Elimah. In Elim there were twelve water springs and seventy palms
Elimah (or Elim) is the stage of growth and recognition of the deeper strength that emerges from bitter loss and pain. From Marah – after experiencing bitterness – we become empowered with the resources of Elimah: Elimah consists of the same letters as the name Elokim (which is written with a heh), only that the order of the letters (eli mah) means the hidden dimension of love – twelve water springs and seventy palms (the secret and the hidden, sod in Hebrew, is gematria 70) – that emerges from within the dark and the bitter (The Maggid of Mezritch – Ohr Torah Massei. Explained in Ohr HaTorah Massei pp. 1378. 1393. See Degel Machne Efraim).
Journey 7: They left Elim and camped near the Red Sea
Due to this heightened “Elim” awareness, we experience a moment of respite from the travails of the arduous journey through the wilderness. We “camp near the Red Sea” and bask in the rejuvenating power of water.
Journey 8: They left the Red Sea and camped in the Sin Desert
But the journey to the Promised Land must continue through the difficult wilderness. And despite moments of respite, we will move on from the “Red Sea” to face new challenges of the Desert. The next few journeys reflect different, accelerating adversarial situations which will test our faith throughout our lives.
The Sin Desert represents the stage in life when we have our first crisis of faith, especially around the struggle to earn a livelihood. When the people arrived at Sin Desert (Iyar 15) they ran out of the food that they had brought with them from Egypt. They thus began to complain “If only we had died in Egypt! There at least we could sit by pots of meat and eat our fill of bread! But you had to bring us out to this desert, to kill the entire community by starvation!” The Divine response was to provide them daily with manna, “bread from heaven” and meat – which would last through the remaining 34 journeys. The manna teaches us that livelihood is a blessing from above; we must do our part, but ultimately we need to have faith and trust that Divine Providence will provide for our sustenance.
Journey 9: They left the Sin Desert and camped in Dofkah
Dofkah is the place where their “hearts beat” (in fear) for lack of bread (Baal HaTurim). We will all go through a stage in life when our hearts pound in fear that we will suffer from deprivation of one need or another. Insecurity is very real part of living in a material world in which we are dependent on many things for our sustenance. But Dofkah (in Hebrew) also means “knocking:” Angst can be a powerful motivator to “knock” on the doors of opportunity, to “knock” on the doors of heaven, and dig deeper and discover inner resources.
Journey 10: They left Dofkah and camped in Alush
Alush means power (it refers to a powerful city, or one built by a powerful person). This symbolizes the stage in life when we rise to power – either at work or in another position of influence. Power is a double-edged sword, which can be used either toward achieving greatness or corruption. Some say that the manna began to fall in Alush, and that was where the Jewish people kept their first Shabbat – two Divine gift that empower us to access Heaven as we traverse the earthly wilderness.
Journey 11: They left Alush and camped in Refidim, where there was no water for the people to drink
Refidim means weakness, referring to the stage of life when we experience an intense crisis of faith (greater than the one at the Sin Desert), questioning G-d’s presence amongst us. Refidim is a diminishing of spiritual commitment or passion (“their hands weakened from the words of Torah and the fulfillment of Mitzvot”). To the extent that Moses “named the place Testing-and-Argument because the people had argued and had tested G-d. They had asked, ‘Is G-d with us or not?’ (Exodus 17:7).
And when we are in this state of weakness we become vulnerable and open to attack from the powerful forces of doubt and apathy – “Amalek arrived and attacked Israel there in Refidim” (Exodus 17:8).
Journey 12: They left Refidim and camped in the Sinai Desert
At the other end of the spectrum, we all have a stage in life when we experience revelation – a profound epiphany. We each have our “Sinai” moment – when we arrive and wake up to a new awareness, a heightened state of consciousness; when we feel G-d’s presence. One result of this revelation is harmony: It unites people “as one person with one heart” (such was the experience that took place when the people arrived at Sinai on the 1st of Sivan).
To be continued.