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   by Jacob Solomon

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'These are the journeys of the Israelites…' (33:1).

The Parasha opens with a description of the 40-year route the Israelites took from the Egypt to the threshold of the Promised Land. Rashi, quoting the Midrash Tanchuma, makes a comparison with a king whose son was very ill, and he had to take him to on a long journey to a far-away land for a cure. When the ordeal was coming to a close, the king reviewed the whole experience to his son: 'at one place we slept, at another something happened to us, at the third you suffered head pains…'

The problem with the analogy is that the few details that were given were not the ones that first come to mind with the 40-year travels in the wilderness. There are no explicit references to the giving of the Torah, the golden calf, the spies, Korach's revolt, Moses' being debarred from the Promised Land by Higher Authority, or the sin of Baal Peor. Only six of the forty two stations listed carry any substantial elaboration at all. They are:

(a) The actual escape from Egypt - whilst the Egyptians were suffering the consequences of the plague of the killing of the firstborn

(b) The miraculous passage through the Red Sea

(c) The lack of immediate supplies of water at Marah (but in abundance at Eilim), and at Refidim

(d) The death of Aaron

(e) A reference to the attack of the Canaanite king of Arad

Each of the those events carries a different message:

(a) The consequences of the escape from Egypt shows that G-d catches up with the enemies of His People - in this case the Egyptians

(b) The splitting of the Red Sea indicates His complete mastery over the rules of nature, and His capacity to exceptionally change the laws of nature for Israel's pressing needs

(c) The immediate lack of water at Marah and Refidim illustrates that G-d is with His People in times of trouble from natural events

(d) The death of Aaron - a person who set the standard of 'loving peace, pursuing peace, loving people, and bringing them near to the Torah' (see Rashi to 20:29) was not final. Society should not fold up when ones of its supreme mentors dies. His way of life must survive him, inspiring others.

(e) That they managed to survive the unprovoked first Canaanite attack, with G-d's intervention (21:1-3). They were the people whose land they were under divine mandate to conquer.

The immediate task of the Israelites was, as indicated a few verses later, to 'possess the Land and settle in it, for … (G-d has) given to you the Land to possess' (33:53). All the above values shaped the appropriate frame of mind the Israelites should be in to carry that out: faith in catching up with those who oppress His People (a) and (e), an assurance that He will supply the necessary natural resources (c), that the present leadership should eternally inspire and set the standards for future leaders (d), and that they are in the hands of the Force who directs all laws of nature (b).

With the exception of the splitting of the Red Sea, these events were relatively small ones. But human nature being what it is, it is often the small events that are the most defining ones when looking back. (When I took my two children last year to northern Italy, the biggest impacts were not at Venice, Verona, and Milan, but from the little things. My son's was hiking the Italian Alps to the music of cows with bells on their necks. And my daughter still reminisces about card games in the lashing rain.) And, as implied above in the parable, the act of looking back and taking stock of a long period of the past should be a resource of security and inspiration to the challenges lying ahead in the future.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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