We Suffer, He Helps by Rabbi Josh Kahn


In the depressing time of the Three Weeks, Parashat Masei provides an uplifting message. At the beginning of the Parashah, Rashi (33:1 s.v. Eileh Mas’ei) wonders why it is necessary to list each stop made by Bnei Yisrael on their way from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah is not a mere history book, and, as such, it obviously intended that we learn a lesson from these seemingly minor details.

Rashi provides two answers to this question. In his first answer, he explains that by counting the number of stopovers, Hashem is showing His love for the Jewish people. Rather than making us travel constantly, He allowed us to remain at each stop for lengthy periods of time. Specifically, Rashi notes that we only set up camp forty-two times during our forty years in the desert, with most of those stopovers coming during the first year of our journey. As a result, we were not constantly on the move. This insight is astonishing because the lengthy time we were forced to spend in the desert was as a punishment due to our sin regarding the spies (BeMidbar 14:33). Yet, even in punishing us, Hashem acts compassionately towards His nation. Quoting a Midrash, Rashi offers a second answer. The Midrash describes a scenario in which a King’s son is sick. The king takes his son to the best doctor available, even though he is in a faraway land. After the prince has been healed, on their return journey, the king points to each stop along the way and describes what occurred at each of these places on the way to the doctor.

Rashi’s two answers present two different, yet complementary approaches. Initially, Rashi focuses on the love Hashem has for the Jewish people. Hashem cares for us as a nation by providing us with rest during our journey in the desert. Then, in the second answer, Rashi turns his focus to the love Hashem has for each individual member of Bnei Yisrael. Through the analogy, Rashi equates each of us to a child of the King and the description of each stopover and as a father lovingly reminiscing with his child help sharpen that image. Both answers focus on the special relationship we share with Hashem on a national level, as well as on a personal level.

 On a deeper level, the point that Rashi is illustrating is that even while we are suffering, Hashem cares for us. This message is evident in the first answer because of the sensitivity Hashem displays, even while punishing us, as well as implicitly in the second answer in which the Midrash equates us with a critically ill child. The scary journey that we make to the doctor is also part of the loving memories that we cherish with our Father, the King. This message is particularly powerful as we mourn the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Even as we feel the loss in our national and personal lives, we still remember the love Hashem has for us. On a national level, there is much to still be thankful for, as Hashem continues to guide us, and on a personal level, we are fortunate to experience Hashem’s involvement on a continual, daily basis.

 It is our deepest prayer that the love Hashem has for us will enable us to experience the speedy rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash where we will have the opportunity to experience an even greater magnitude of Hashem's love.

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