“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” (Chapter 33, Verse 1) In this opening verse of the final chapter of the book of Bamidbar the Torah begins to summarize the entire path of the Jewish people since they left Egypt until this point, poised to cross the Jordan and enter the land of Israel (Artscroll commentary). What can the journeys of the Jewish people on their path to Eretz Yisrael teach us about our lives today, about our own special journey in life?
Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan, based on the opening verse in our parsha and a Midrash, that the journeys of the Jewish people throughout the generations bring atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. They atone for the sin of idol worship which part of the Jewish people fell into when they thought that Moshe would not return from Mount Sinai. However, even when a Jewish person isn’t actually doing some sort of idol worship, nevertheless there is an aspect of the sin of idol worship when a person’s emunah (faith) is lacking and damaged. The Baal Shem Tov teaches regarding the verse in the book of Devarim, “lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others…” (Chapter 11, Verse 16), that when a person turns away from Hashem this is the aspect of idol worship. This sin of idol worship is rectified by the journeys of the Jewish people. (Likutei Moharan, 62nd teaching, Part Two)
How do our journeys rectify the sin of idol worship? In Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, Rebbe Nachman talks about the importance of our travels and journeys in life. ‘A person asked him regarding the matter of travelling to a certain place, if he should go there or not. Rebbe Nachman answered him: when a person sees that he has a trip in front of him he shouldn’t be stubborn and just sit at home. He should go, because every trip which a person makes to different places he is able to rectify something. Certainly in every place which a person travels to he performs there some act of holiness, such as praying and saying blessings. Therefore this person needs to travel specifically to this place in order to rectify something which only he can correct.’ (Teaching 85)
It seems that in his answer Rebbe Nachman was referring to the teaching which I brought above about rectifying the sin of idol worship. In every journey which we undertake, we too can help repair and atone for the sin of idol worship and rectify our faith. When we travel we are out of the comfort zone of our homes. Despite this change and possible discomfort, if we are also able to connect to Hashem and to serve Hashem wherever we might find ourselves, we merit to be part of atoning for the sin of idol worship. This is especially true I think when we are searching for ourselves, for the pure soul inside which we might have forgotten along the way, due to the trials of life and the confusion of being in this physical world, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in a different source.
‘Before a child comes into the world he is taught and shown everything that he needs to do and to accomplish during his lifetime. When he enters the world immediately everything is forgotten… and therefore a person needs to search and request what he has lost. His lost item is by the Tsaddik, because the Tsaddik searches after his lost item until he finds it. The Tsaddik then goes looking for the lost items of others too until he finds them, until he finds the lost items of the entire world.’ (Likutei Moharan, 188th teaching, Part One) The Midrash says that before a person is born, while they are in their mother’s womb, they learn all of the Torah with an angel, there is a candle lit above their heads and they can see from one end of the world to the other. Right before they are born, the angel taps them on their top lip and they forget everything that they saw and understood. The baby cries when they are born over the spiritual world they just lost. In reality, all of the answers are inside of us, we’ve just forgotten what we need to do and what are special role is. Only an impression remains. Our life’s work is to remember, to remember the place of endless good where we really came from. The main thing which we’ve lost is our special, internal point of connection to our true essence- to our souls. This is what we need to be searching for in our journeys in life. (Adapted from a chapter in Ron Weber’s new book about marriage- Surely there is Love, 2019)
Just as the Jewish people journeyed forty years in the desert on their path to the land of Israel, on the path to their true destiny; so to for us today, every trip which we undertake can be an opportunity to discover more of the true good which we lost when we came into the world.
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)