In our previous article, we began exploring the deep and inspiring ideas relating the importance of the Jewish People’s journey through the Midbar. After all, the Torah doesn’t waste a single word; every word has infinite meaning. Thus, if the Torah went out of its way to mention every single place that Klal Yisrael encamped along their long journey through the Midbar, there must be a fundamental message that the Torah is trying to teach us. We began our discussion by emphasizing the importance of each step in any journey. Every single step creates ripples throughout every aspect of our lives; every thought, word, action, and decision have infinite, cosmic reverberations and repercussions. We will now take our discussion to the next level, starting with developing an understanding of the fundamental purpose and importance of a goal.
The Purpose of the Goal
In essence, the goal is necessary, but its importance lies only in how it allows you to journey toward greatness. Every goal is only temporary, for whenever you accomplish it, you will almost immediately create a new one. There are even times when we realize that our goal was not even possible or appropriate to begin with, but it still helped us progress in the right direction. The greatest joy does not come from arriving at our goals but from the journey itself – the striving itself, the process of progress, and the continued elevation of our existential self.
The Ramban quotes the claims of the fools who challenge the worth of pursuing truth. After all, if we will never reach absolute truth, as it transcends our limited minds, what then is the point in pursuing wisdom? Better not to journey at all. The Ramban responds with a profound insight: The goal is not to reach absolute truth, as this is impossible. The goal is to endlessly strive along the winding path toward truth, getting ever closer, even if the ultimate endpoint remains elusive. Every single step we take is progress, and this is the goal of life – an endless journey, but one in which we enjoy every single stage of growth and evolution. (In a deeper sense, many understand Olam Haba as another stage of growth and self-expansion. We will never be “finished” with our purpose of existing. There are simply different stages of this process, but at our very core, we will journey forever.) This provides an additional explanation for why the Torah describes Klal Yisrael’s journey in such detail; the journey itself is infinitely important.
This is why all the encampments are listed in the Torah. The Jewish People were on a spiritual journey, and every step along the way was essential to that journey. It wasn’t only about arriving at Eretz Yisrael; it was about growing through every step of the journey, every step of the process.
The Personal Megillah
A worthwhile journey often includes a long winding path, twisting and turning in all directions, leading you on a seemingly endless quest. Then, at the very last moment, there can be a sudden revelation that retroactively changes your perspective on the entire journey! Like a twist ending in a great story, the last turn can change the way you perceive the entire quest. This is the nature of the final geulah (redemption). When Mashiach comes, we will suddenly see how all of history was leading us toward our ultimate destination. This is why the end of days is compared to laughter. One laughs when there is a sudden change, and the destination one thought they were heading toward suddenly shifts into something completely unexpected.
(Yitzchak’s name means “laughter,” and he is associated with Mashiach. His birth should have been an impossibility, as his mother, Sarah Imeinu, was barren. When Avraham and Sarah heard the news of Yitzchak’s future birth, they both laughed, as this news was the complete opposite of their natural expectations.
The story of Yosef and the brothers is another example of this spiritual concept. Yosef puts the brothers through trials and tribulations, causing the brothers tremendous hardship and confusion. Yosef’s sudden revelation of “Ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai – I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” creates a sudden retroactive revelation, a twist that creates a subjective reframing of the entire story in the eyes of the brothers.
The same is true in our own lives. Sometimes, only by looking back and putting all the scattered pieces together can we finally see the beauty and hashgacha in events that occurred throughout our lives. Any individual moment of your life may seem meaningless, but held in context of your entire life, this moment suddenly shines with infinite brilliance; it’s now seen as fundamental and deeply meaningful. As we have mentioned before, this is why the baalei machshava suggest writing your own personal “megillah,” keeping an account of events, experiences, and choices that occur throughout your life. Megillas Esther contains no open miracle, but when you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and read them in order, you clearly see the yad Hashem (hand of G-d), how all the seemingly random events fit together so perfectly to create the hidden miracle of Purim. The word “megillah” (scroll) shares the same root as the words le’galgel (to roll) and me’galeh (to reveal). When we roll through the scroll of the megillah, we reveal the presence and hashgacha of Hashem.
The same is true for our own personal story. Each individual event or experience may seem insignificant and happenstance, but if we put all the pieces together, connecting the dots between the seemingly random events, we begin to see the magic manifest in our own personal megillah. We can suddenly see the turning points in our lives; we retroactively perceive the life-changing decisions and events that until now seemed meaningless and random. Whether it was choosing a specific school, meeting a friend or spouse at a specific time, or visiting a certain place when we did, our past becomes a masterpiece, ready for us to admire and appreciate. On a larger scale, only by seeing all the various stages and details of Klal Yisrael’s journey in the Midbar could we appreciate the bigger story that was taking place.
There is another layer to this idea as well. Very often, we set out in life with grand goals and a vivid vision for our future. Many years later, when recalling that vision, we realize that we ended up somewhere drastically different than we had originally intended. This is the beauty of a spiritual journey. We set out with tremendous hishtadlus, hoping that our goals are rooted in the pursuit of a higher truth, a higher purpose. But simultaneously, we must have a deep sense of bitachon that wherever we end up is the ratzon Hashem. (We do not put in a measure of hishtadlus, and a measure of bitachon; we embark with one hundred percent hishtadlus and one hundred percent bitachon as well. In retrospect, we can look back and see how different Hashem’s plans were from our original ones, but in the now, we must devote all our energy into achieving the greatness that we currently believe is our true purpose.)
Humanity as Journeyers
Until now, we have shown the beauty and depth of the spiritual journey, but we have not yet reached the essence of what it means for mankind to journey. There is a profound truth within the concept of journeying that touches on the very root of what it means to be human. As humans, we don’t simply journey; we are journeyers, we are becomers. Our very essence is to become, to expand, to evolve, and to transcend our limitations. Our tzelem Elokim – the spark of G-dliness within us – does not grant us innate perfection but rather gives us the innate ability to become perfect.
The Gemara (Shabbos 88b) describes Moshe Rabbeinu’s journey as he ascended Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Upon his arrival on top, the malachim began complaining to Hashem, claiming that man has no right to receive the Torah. The malachim believed that they were far superior to mortal beings, and the Torah should therefore remain with them. After all, human beings are lowly and fallible, and will only desecrate it. Hashem tells Moshe to respond to these claims. Moshe is initially too scared to respond to the malachim and tells Hashem that he is “afraid that they will burn him alive.” Rav Tzadok (Sichas Malachei Ha’shareis, perek 2) explains that malachim are perfect, without any limitation or sin, so Moshe felt unworthy to respond to their claims. Hashem therefore tells Moshe to grasp on to the Kisei HaKavod (Divine Throne) and respond.
Moshe proceeds to do so, asking: “What is written in the Torah?” Hashem tells Moshe the Aseres Hadibros, including: “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of Mitzrayim, don’t serve idols, keep Shabbos, honor your parents, don’t kill, and don’t be jealous.” Moshe then turns to the malachim and asks: “Did Hashem take you out of Mitzrayim? Do you struggle with a desire to worship idols? Do you perform melacha during the week, that you must desist from it on Shabbos? Do you have parents? Do you have a yetzer hara? Do you get jealous?” At this point, the malachim accepted Hashem’s will to give the Torah to the Jewish People, even giving Moshe spiritual gifts, and Moshe was able to descend with the Torah.
What is the meaning of this cryptic passage? Moshe’s claim for why the Jewish People are deserving of the Torah focuses on the weaknesses and challenges of human beings, not their perfection. We are limited, imperfect beings with a yetzer hara, prone to mistakes and jealousy. Why is this a mark in our favor? The simple answer to this question is that Moshe wasn’t trying to show humanity’s greatness; he was only trying to clarify why human beings needed the guidance of Torah, and how the Torah was more applicable to the Jewish People than malachim. There is, however, a much deeper layer here, and in our next article we will try to explore it and take our discussion to the next level.