By Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, July 28, 2008

"These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt"
Numbers 33:1

How odd, the commentator Malbim points out, that the Israelites' destination, the land of Israel, is not mentioned at all. Surely the intention of the Exodus was to take the Jewish people to the holy land and inhabit it? Why then is this not stated in the verse above?

The Jewish people, he goes on to explain, did not at that stage deserve to enter Eretz Yisrael, for they were still contaminated by Egyptian impurity. Therefore each stop mentioned in the Torah, each successive journey, was a crucial step not only in distancing themselves further away from Egyptian influence but also a step closer to attaining the spiritual level required to enter the land of Israel. Leaving Egypt in a spiritual sense is the theme of the verse, hence there is no mention of Eretz Yisrael.

Interestingly, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Hacohen Kook taught the importance of the journey as a goal in and of itself. Calling the book of Bemidbar (Numbers) "the book of journeys", he showed how the Jewish people developed through stages, rising from stop to stop until finally meriting entrance to the land of Israel.

Perhaps it is not by chance, then, that the next verse states: "Moses wrote down how they proceeded according to their stopping places... and these were their stopping places according to how they proceeded" Why the reverse order in scripture?

The Dubno Maggid writes that it depends from whose perspective one views the verse. For Moses, his goal was to bring the Jewish people to their homeland, Eretz Yisrael. However, the Jewish people, having emerged from an era of slavery and persecution, could not rise to think so far ahead. Instead, what was important to the people was the journey away from that life in Egypt.

Often in life we lose sight of the goal and get caught up in the journey. The journey, too, can be infused with holiness but it is the goal of Eretz Yisrael that we must always aspire to.

Last updated: 4:26pm, July 28 2008