The Torah is not only a guide to living a life of truth within the physical world, it is also the literal blueprint and DNA of this physical world. Our physical world is a projection and emanation of the deep spiritual reality described by the Torah. This is the meaning of the midrash, “Istakel b’Oraisa u’vara alma,” Hashem looked into the Torah and used it to create the world (B’reishis Rabbah 1:1). The physical world is an emanation and expression of Torah, the spiritual root of existence. As such, every single word of Torah is of infinite importance.
The Rambam (Hilchos T’shuvah 3:8), in line with this idea, explains that if one rejects a single letter of the Torah, it is as if he has rejected the entire Torah. The Ramban explains in the introduction to his commentary on B’reishis that the entire Torah is one elongated sheim Hashem (Name of God), one interconnected sefer (book), a single organic entity. Just as a single missing chromosome can affect an entire human being, the same is true for a sefer Torah. Even a single missing letter renders the entire text pasul (invalid). Every single word and letter in the Torah is absolutely fundamental.
If this is true, the beginning of Parshas Mas’ei is puzzling. The first 49 p’sukim in the parshah list, one by one, the various places that the Jewish People passed through along their journey in the midbar (desert). In the majority of these places, nothing of note occurred; the Jewish People simply passed through. Why is it necessary to mention every single place, every single stage of our journey? I would like to develop several deep themes related to these encampments, from which we can learn inspiring and profound ideas. While each theme will be developed separately, they also interconnect into a greater whole.
The Importance of Every Step
Although we often focus on the end result, every single step of a process is of critical importance.
If we truly understood the power of this idea, our view of time and potential would forever change. Consider, for example, a single day of your life. Your day begins with infinite spiritual potential, with 86,400 seconds to utilize. At the very beginning of every day, you have the ability to learn new ideas, improve your relationships, and achieve any number of accomplishments. After 1,000 seconds of your day have passed, whatever you accomplished of that time – of that potential – is real, and the rest is lost. However, the potential for the remaining 85,400 seconds is shaped by how you spent the first 1,000 seconds. If you spent them well, taking full advantage of your time, sharpening your mind and awareness, and building positive momentum, then you now have access to a higher version of yourself with which to continue building and creating your life. If you thought unempowering thoughts or failed to create a positive trajectory – instead choosing to engage in any number of self-destructive activities – then you have set yourself up for a very difficult journey ahead, perhaps diminishing the quality of potential for the rest of your day.
Every thought, word, action, and decision has infinite, cosmic reverberations and repercussions. This may be overwhelming to consider, and it may be unhealthy to continuously fixate upon the severity of each infinitesimal aspect of our lives, but the truth remains, nonetheless. We should therefore contemplate this, as this realization will help awaken us to the importance of everything, something truly crucial to recognize. Every single step in our journey creates ripples throughout every aspect of our lives. This is an example of true oneness, and this is the importance of every step. We can now begin to appreciate why the Torah includes every single step of klal Yisrael’s journey.
Enjoying the Journey
Very often, we want to be perfect. We don’t want to learn, we want to know; we don’t want to exercise, we want to be healthy; we don’t want to build our relationships, we want to have deep and intimate connection. But the goal of life is not to be perfect or achieve all your goals instantaneously, because you will never “be” perfect. The goal of life is to become perfect, to endlessly strive for more. You will never arrive at perfection, but you can get closer and closer every day. The goal is not to be on top; it’s to climb a little more every single day. So many people hate the journey of growth because they want nothing more than to be at the destination. The journey of growth is only enjoyable when you learn to enjoy the journey itself. When you fall in love with the process of growth, when you look forward to the daily struggle, to the incremental stages of progress, to each tiny step forward, that is when you find true happiness.
The Purpose of the Goal
In essence, the goal is necessary, but its importance lies only in how it allows you to journey towards 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 towards 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. 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 places are listed in Parshas Mas’ei. 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 g’ulah (redemption). When Mashiach comes, we will suddenly see how all of history was leading us towards 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 towards suddenly shifts into something completely unexpected.
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 hashgachah (providence) in events that occurred throughout our lives. Any individual moment of your life might 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 machashavah (Jewish thinkers) 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 l’galgeil (to roll) and m’galeh (to reveal). When we roll through the scroll of the Megillah, we reveal the presence and hashgachah 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 Parshas Mas’ei could we appreciate the bigger story that was taking place.
The Journey Towards Greatness
We all traverse through the journey of life, trying to grasp the ultimate objective truth, as well as fulfill our own personal purpose within that higher truth. As Parshas Mas’ei teaches us, every step of our journey is of ultimate importance. But more important still is the necessity to be a journeyer, to continuously grow through life. We are here to achieve greatness; and living without a higher “why” is not truly living. We are the unique creation of Hashem that has been placed in a confusing and dark world, in a state of confusion, with the mission of becoming perfect. Find your unique mission, embrace the struggle, and head towards the infinite, while enjoying every step of the process.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course. Rabbi Reichman received Semikha from RIETS, a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Revel. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago and has also spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar. To find more inspirational content from Rabbi Reichman, to contact him, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.