The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the forty-two
journeys in the wilderness – from Egypt to the
Promised Land – reflect the forty-two journeys
or phases that each person experiences throughout life.
This is the sixth 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 story till now:
Journeys 1-5: Birth through childhood into the maturity
Journeys 6-9: Various adversaries we face early in
Journeys 10-12: Power; weakness; revelation.
Journeys 13-15: Craving; rebellion; resignation.
Journeys 16-17: Building family and home.
Journeys 18-19: Failure; mob mentality.
Journeys 20-22: Beauty; fear; unity, community.
Journeys 23-27: Low-points; middle-age; fruits of labor;
Journeys 28-33: Later stages of life as we enter old
Please click here
to read the first five installments covering journeys
Now we continue with journeys 34-38, which continue
with the last stages of life’s journey on Earth.
Journey 34: They left Kadesh and camped at Hor Hahar,
at the edge of the land of Edom
Hor HaHar was a double mountain – “a
mountain atop a mountain, like a small apple on top
of a big apple” (Bamdibar Rabba 19:16. Rashi Numbers
20:22). Aaron passed away and was buried on this double
Despite the sorrow connected with Aaron’s death,
Aaron was remembered mourned and missed for his great
love of all people, which is why the “entire of
Israel” – both men and women – wept
for him, because “Aaron pursued peace, and did
everything possible to reconcile and bring love back
between adversaries and between husband and wife”
A mountain symbolizes love. Like a powerful mountain
rising into the heavens, love lifts us up and allows
us to soar. Love is always yearning, reaching, like
a mountain, to the skies.
Aaron was buried appropriately in a place that reflected
his essential nature – a double mountain: Not
just love, but love on top of love (ahava rabba,
great love – Likkutei Torah Nasso 21a) – Aaron went
out of his way, beyond the letter of the law, to cultivate
love and engender harmony wherever he went.
Aaron’s love is the reason that in his merit the people
were surrounded and protected by the “clouds of glory”
through their difficult journey in the wilderness: These
clouds are like a nurturing embrace of a mother clutching
and engulfing her child with love and affection, protecting
the child from all threats. After Aaron’s passing, this
love ceased and the clouds departed (only to return
in the merit of Moses). With this protection gone, the
Canaanite King of Arad felt that he can attack the vulnerable
nation (Rashi Numbers 21:1; 33:40).
Hor Hahar, then, in our personal life is the
journey of love – the efforts we invest in loving
another and bringing love into this divisive and aggressive
world (“at the edge of the land of Edom”),
embracing all human beings regardless of background.
The love that is often appreciated once it is absent
– as it was after Aaron’s death – when we realize what
we are missing. However, in our life journey we need
not wait for loss to cherish and propagate love all
around us. Unconditional love is the greatest defense
and immunization against predators.
* * *
At this point, following Aaron’s death and the
departure of the protective “clouds,” the
Jews, swept by fear, retreated eight journeys, all the
way back to Moseroth, until the Levites compelled
them to return on track (Rashi Deuteronomy 10:6).
In our lives we will have setbacks. There will be times
– and journeys – when we panic. Overtaken
by fear, we regress. Despite our progress we retreat
and give up valuable ground that we worked hard at gaining.
We mist know that this too is part of life’s real
journeys. Never be discouraged; even our retreats are
challenges that can be converted into opportunities
which are part of the journey that helps thrust us forward.
The next few journeys are the harshest ones: The people
were worn out from wandering for so many years in a
desolate wilderness. And as their journeys continue
to mount, and witnessing the death of Aaron, they finally
break down and feel deeply estranged from the Divine
So too in our life’s journey, as the years wear on,
old age brings with it many maladies and the resulting
resignation. After years of wandering in the “wilderness”
of our lives, it’s natural that the journey will take
* * *
Journey 35: They left Hor Hahar Mountain and camped
Tzalmonah is rooted in the expression (Jeremiah
2:6) “eretz tziyoh v’tzalmoves,” the
land of drought and the shadow of death, as in (Psalms
68:15) “becoming whitened from the dark shadows
of exile” (Targum Yonasan. Rokeach). At this and
the following location (Punon) the people began
complaining again, which resulted in them being bitten
by poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9). From the time
of Aaron’s passing (in journey 34 till journey
37), which reflected the decree that the entire generation
would die in the desert, their impending death haunted
the people causing them much distress (see Ramban Numbers
As the shadows of old age creep up on us and death
becomes more imminent, we can feel depressed and become
irritable, complaining about everything. This leg of
our life journey can be very disconcerting, and our
petulance can be toxic, bringing on further problems.
As this stage in life, we must muster the strength to
overcome our personal discomforts and fears and realize
that Tzalmonah is also part of our journey toward
the Promised Land. The aging process poses many challenges;
but it also presents many opportunities to use the wisdom
and experience you have gained to guide and inspire
the next generation.
Journey 36: They left Tzalmonah and camped in Punon
Punon is so named due to the fact that in this
place the people were bound (punon meaning “directed”)
to die from the bites of the fiery snakes (Rokeach.
see Targum Yonasan). Punon in Greek means death
(Lekach Tov Numbers 21:10). Another opinion is that
Punon relates to the banner upon which Moses
placed the copper snake which healed the people (Numbers
Punon is one of the last legs of life’s
journey – the journey of disease and death. Yet
it also includes the power of healing from disease:
After Moses beseeched G-d on behalf of the stricken
people, G-d said to Moses, “Make yourself the
image of a venomous snake, and place it on a banner.
Everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. Moses
made a copper snake and placed it on a high pole. Whenever
a snake bit a man, he would gaze at the copper snake
and live.” This is the power of transformation:
the very toxic serpent that poisoned the people became
The choice is ours: Through our prayers we have the
power to transform disease and death into agents of
health and life.
Journey 37: They left Punon and camped in Ovos
Ovos means enemies, “the people became enemies
of G-d” in this place, due to all their weary travels
in the wilderness (Bamidbar Rabba 19:24 and in ma’harzav).
Others say (Rokeach) that the place was thus called
because of the sorcerers that were there (ovos
are mediums involved in necromancy).
This journey refers to the time in life when we get
angry and become enemies of everything G-d stands for.
When we lose out faith, due to the arduous travels,
and are unable to get beyond our own pain.
Journey 38: They left Ovos and camped in Iyay Ha’avarim
on Moab's borders
From Ovos things just continue to get worse.
They arrive at Iyay Ha’avarim, literally: the
desolate passes. Rashi says that iyay means “ruins.”
Ha’avarim is from the word aveirah, sin
– spiritual displacement (ha’varah, moving away).
Thus Iyay Ha’avarim can be translated the ruins
of sin, or the ruins of displacement.
Whenever you feel disconnected or lost you are going
through this journey. An aimless life is a desolate
one. Nothing is being built; every effort ends up going
nowhere. The antithesis of displacement is feeling like
you belong and you are connected; you sense that your
life has purpose and that you are building something
everlasting, reflecting your indispensable contribution.
Next week: the conclusion of the 42 journeys.