"And Moses wrote down their starting-points according to their journeys by the commandment of God, and these are their journeys according to their starting-points" Numbers 33:2


There is much puzzlement over this verse. Why did the Torah first mention starting-points before journeys but then reverse the order?

The Dubno Maggid explains the difficulties with one of his famous parables. A stepson was severely mistreated by his stepmother. One day his father travelled to a distant city and arranged an excellent match for his son. As the marriage day approached, the father and son set out to travel to the bride's city. Every few miles, the son would ask the wagon driver how far they now were from their starting point. Whereas his father instead asked how much farther it was to their destination.

Noting the difference, the father told his son, "You only know the suffering you experienced at the hands of your stepmother. This is why you measure how far we have gone from our home town. I, on the other hand, know the special qualities of your bride and the happiness she will bring you - I measure how many miles remain to her city."

It is the same thing with Moses and Israel. Moses knew what Israel is. He thirsted to see it and enjoy its splendour. His only desire was to see the Holy Land, the rest was peripheral. Yet for the Israelites: the purpose of their travels was to remove themselves far from Egypt to flee the land they had left like the stepmother in the parable.

It seems there are two approaches to life. There are those who are productive and creative. They have definite goals they strive to attain and are, like Moses, travelling with purpose on their journey through life. Other people go through life not knowing where they are heading: their entire life is one of running from their past. Sometimes they do not even know what they are fleeing from.

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