The first Pasuk of Parashat Masei states, “Eileh Masei Bnei Yisrael,” “These are the trips of Bnei Yisrael” (BeMidbar 23:1). Why does the Torah devote nearly 50 Pesukim at the conclusion of Sefer BeMidbar to a list of all of the places to which Bnei Yisrael traveled in the Midbar? Is this supposed to be a mere logbook?
Rashi poses this question and offers two answers. The first, in the name of Rabi Moshe HaDarshan, is that if one pays attention to the nature of the travels listed, he will find that Hashem was very merciful to Bnei Yisrael, even in the 40 year period in the Midbar that was their punishment for the Cheit HaMeraglim. Out of the 42 locations in which Bnei Yisrael camped, 14 were in the first year in desert, before the decree of Cheit HaMeraglim was issued, and 8 were after the death of Aharon in the final year. That leaves only 20 trips in the 38-year core of Bnei Yisrael’s time in the Midbar. Even though Bnei Yisrael’s stay in the wilderness was a punishment, Hashem showed mercy and allowed them to stay in a single location for an average of almost two years apiece.
Rashi’s second answer, in the name of Rabi Tanchuma, is in the form of a Mashal. A king’s son was ill, so he and his father traveled to a foreign land where the son was successfully healed. Upon returning, the king lovingly pointed out places that he remembered from the first half of the trip. “Here we slept. Here we felt cold. Here you had a headache” (Tanchuma 3). The Nimshal is that Hashem loves Bnei Yisrael, so He records in His Torah all of the places to which He traveled with Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar. Both of Rashi’s answers demonstrate the love and mercy that Hashem had for Bnei Yisrael, even while carrying out their punishment.
Ramban, quoting Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, takes this one step further. Not only is the love apparent because Hashem reminisces, and not only is the love apparent because He was lenient in punishing us, but even everyday life in the Midbar shows how much Hashem was caring for us. The Torah lists the specific locations so that we, future generations with no direct connection to the Dor HaMidbar, can confirm for ourselves that the places they lived were not at all hospitable places. All of these places had no wells, no source of food and many dangerous animals. Yet Hashem fed and protected Bnei Yisrael. Even when traditional food would have sufficed, Hashem provided Bnei Yisrael with the miraculous Mann. Even when they could have walked from location to location like regular people, Hashem flattened the way for them and enclosed them in the Ananei HaKavod. When we look at Masei Bnei Yisrael from this vantage point, the love Hashem had for His nation is more apparent than ever.
I believe that this message, repeated and elaborated upon by so many of the Midrashim, can show us how to better understand our current situation. The current Galut has been long and difficult for our people. It seems as if Hashem has turned His back on us and there is no hope. Masei Bnei Yisrael can show us otherwise. At the pinnacle of Hashem’s rage towards Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar, Hashem sentenced them to 40 years of aimless wandering and the death of the entire generation. Even so, He showed compassion, to the extent of providing constant miracles for them, in order for them to most comfortably endure His sentence. In our lives, Hashem has not abandoned us. The everyday miracles we call nature continue to sustain us. With a mere glance at the world around us, it becomes apparent that Hashem continues to provide for us, even in our time. May we all be Zoche to earn the constant support which we are so mercifully provided and to see the coming of Mashiach and the end of our own seemingly aimless trek in the wilderness of Galut.