In the second year [of the Exodus], on
the 20th of the second month, the cloud rose from the
Tabernacle of Testimony. The Israelites thus began their
travels, [moving on] from the Sinai Desert [until] the
cloud came to rest in the Paran Desert. This was the first
journey at G-d's word through Moses (this week’s Torah
portion - 10:11-14)
Thus began the 13th of the 42 journeys
through the wilderness. After the Jewish people camped
at Sinai on the first of Sivan 2448, they remained there
for close to a year (exactly 10 days less than 12 months),
until the 20th of Iyar 2449, when the cloud
rose, signifying the time to move on.
After the Torah elaborates on the events that transpired
from the time the Jews arrived at Sinai on the first of
Sivan 2448 (in the chapter Yisro in the book of Exodus),
through the building and erection of the Temple on the
first of Nissan 2449 (the latter chapters of Exodus),
through the entire book of Leviticus and the first two
and a half chapters of Numbers, the Torah resumes the
story and begins to relate the series of journeys traveled
by the Jewish people in the wilderness. The rising of
the cloud in this week’s portion is essentially
continuing the story where it was left off at the end
of Exodus, when the cloud first descended on the Tabernacle.
As we now begin to read the story of the long and
tedious journey, we bring you the first installment of
a new series from Rabbi Jacobson, that outlines the psycho-spiritual
42 journeys that each of us go through in our own lives.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the forty-two journeys
in the wilderness – from Egypt to Israel –
reflect the forty-two journeys or phases that each person
experiences throughout life. “These are the journeys
of the Israelites, who had left Egypt” on the way
to the Promised Land: All the 42 journeys are about freeing
ourselves and transcending the constraints and limitations
(Mitzrayim) of our material existence which conceals
the Divine, subduing and sublimating the harsh “wilderness”
of selfish existence, and discovering the “Promised
Land” – a life of harmony between body and
Just as the first journey was the exodus out of Egypt
(Mitzrayim), each of us begins our life journey
with birth – the liberation of the fetus from the
confines of the womb, where it can develop and become
an independent force that has the power to transform the
world. The final journey brings us to the threshold of
the total transformation of the universe into a holy and
Some of these journeys are pleasant, others very demanding.
Some carry us others challenge us. Many of our journeys
may even have been setbacks, we may have made mistakes
and wrong choices – just as the Jewish people did
in some of their 42 journeys – but they too are
part of our life’s odyssey, and they too can be
“Moses recorded their stops along the way at G-d's command”
to help us identify these junctures in our own lives.
By understanding the meaning of these 42 journeys we can
learn demystify many of our unresolved or strange experiences
(why did I have to go through so and so?) and discover
the deeper patterns of our own lives. We can actually
identify these 42 stages in our life’s voyage – 42 rites
of passage – that encompass all the legs, the ups and
downs, twists and turns, dips and curves of our life.
Above all, these 42 journeys allow us to align our lives
to the compass a higher rhythm, as defined by the 42 journeys
in the Torah, and actually create a strategy that rides
and taps into these rhythms.
Thus, whether it was for two days, a month, or a full
year, no matter how long the cloud remained at rest over
the Tabernacle the Israelites would remain in one place
and not move on. Then, when the cloud rose, they would
continue on their travels. They thus camped at G-d's word
and moved on at God's word, keeping their trust in G-d.
[It was all done] according to G-d's word through Moses
– this week’s Torah portion (9:22-23)
The secret of knowing when to travel and when to rest,
when to make a move, when to stay put, is related in this
Torah portion: The journeys through the wilderness were
aligned with the Divine will – whether it was for
a few hours or for many years – the Jewish people
would only move when the Divine cloud would lift from
the Sanctuary Tabernacle.
We too can learn to synchronize our life journeys to
the Divine coordinates that “lead the footsteps
of man.” Imagine having an inner compass that senses
life’s internal tempo, being able to pace your outer
movements by your inner rhythms.
This series will map out each of the 42 journeys, in
terms that hopefully can help each of us apply and customize
their relevance to our personal lives. (This is but one
of many different possible applications of the 42 journeys).
We welcome your feedback
and thoughts. (1)
Journey 1: Ramses, Egypt
The first leg of our life journey is our birth, and it
spells out the purpose of the entire voyage: Freeing ourselves
of the constraints of the womb and of all our material
At birth we come also armed with the strength and tools
to overcome all our future challenges (we emerge triumphant
“before the eyes of mitzrayim”), but we will
need to be trained and educated to realize our potential.
Birth is thus a joyous occasion, coupled with the anticipation
how we will do on our long journey ahead. This is also
alluded to in the word “Ramses,” which was
the “best of the land” (Genesis 47:11).
Journey 2: Ramses to Sukkot
Sukkot means shelters, referring to the “clouds
of glory” that sheltered and protected the people
as they began their journey. On a personal level it refers
to the shelters that (healthy) parents provide children
in early age. Thus from Ramses (birth) we enter
into the shelters of our nurturing homes and secure environments.
Surrounded within the “clouds” of a comfortable home
cultivates a child’s self-confidence and helps him/her
develop self-esteem to take on the challenges of the life
journeys ahead outside the “clouds”.
Journey 3: Sukkot to Etham at the edge of the desert
Etam, in ancient Egyptian, means “seashore.”
Some identify Etham with the Egyptian Chetem,
which denotes a fortress. After early childhood, when
we are completely dependent on parents for sustenance
and protection, we begin to emerge from the “fortress”
as we start to develop a sense of independence. This stage
is comparable to a “seashore,” a boundary
between exploring the new world around us and scurrying
back for approval and guidance from our parents. At this
phase in our lives we are not yet quite thrown into the
desert, yet we are its edge, as we become acquainted with
an alien and insensitive world.
Journey 4: Etham to Pi-HaCheirus (Freedom Valley or
Mouth of the River), facing Baal Tzefon (Lord-of-the-North),
camping near Migdal (tower)
This location was named Pi-HaCheirus since it was here
that the Jewish people became free people (cheirus
means freedom in Hebrew) (Mechilta, Rashi Exodus 14:2).
Baal Tzefon was an Egyptian deity.
In the next leg of our life journey, as we lose our childhood
innocence and mature into adults, we begin to take on
complex and paradoxical features: On one hand, we become
free – independent adults, able to make rational
decisions, driven not by childhood emotions but by sober
reflection. But on the other hand, our newfound freedom
also faces a looming “idol” in the north:
we begin to be tempted by worship of false gods –
self-worship, worship of money, power or other man-made
As we grow through our development –this may be
the essential goal of all education – we will have
the option to become a towering force for good or a tower
of vanity in our own eyes.
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).
To be continued.
(1) Some of our readers may be familiar with The Spiritual
Guide to Counting the Omer, which lays out the 49 steps
of personal refinement, each of the forty-nine days between
Passover and Shavuot offering us an opportunity to examine
and perfect another one of our 7x7 (49) emotional faculties.
Interestingly, this correlates with the forty-two journeys,
which correspond to the same emotional faculties, except
that the journeys, which are a process of elevating the
“wilderness,” we count only 7x6 (42) emotional
faculties (not including malchut). The Omer counting,
by contrast, is a process of drawing down and revealing
the Divine, which is the role of the seventh faculty,
malchut (Likkutei Torah Massei 89d. 92a).