YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH
This Parasha series is
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabbanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
This parasha series is
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.
This shiur is dedicated in
Dr. William Major z"l.
"And These are the Journeys of Benei Yisrael…"
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
Parashat Masei, which concludes Sefer Bamidbar, has two main subjects: first,
a summary of the journeys of Benei Yisrael, the Jewish nation, in the
wilderness; second, the final preparations for entering the
Thus, this final parasha serves as a fitting
conclusion to the sefer which
describes the Jews' wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised
In this shiur, we shall focus on the description
of the journeys (33:1-49) and how Parashat Masei summarizes the period in
the wilderness. Is this just a
travelogue, or is Masei teaching us a
more fundamental lesson about the journey?
The unit opens with a double
(1) And these are
the journeys of Benei Yisrael — who came out of the land of Egypt
with their hosts — by the hand of Moshe and
(2) And Moshe wrote
down their departures according to their journeys at God's command, and these
are their journeys according to their
What is added by verse 2? It tells us that Moshe transcribes
"their departures according to their journeys at God's command." This emphasizes that Benei Yisrael's journeys in the wilderness are
not a wholly human endeavor "by the hand of Moshe and Aharon" – but also "at
This emphasis sits well with the depiction of the journey
in Sefer Bamidbar. Bamidbar describes the Jews in the
wilderness as a camp centered around the Divine Presence in the Mishkan
(Tabernacle). In Chapter
9, the text emphasizes that the journey's progress is entirely by God's
(18) "At God's command Benei Yisrael journeyed, and at
God's command they
encamped; as long as the cloud rested upon the Mishkan, they
(19) And when the cloud remained upon the Mishkan
for many days, then Benei Yisrael kept God's charge and did not
(20) And sometimes the cloud was but a few days upon the
Mishkan; by God's command
they encamped, and by God's command they
(23) By God's command they encamped and by God's command
they journeyed; they kept God's charge at God's command, by the hand of
The expression "at God's command" appears seven times in
the description in chapter 9, and then in Chapter 10 (v. 13), it appears again:
"And they journeyed for the first time at God's command, by the hand of
In Parashat Masei, which lists all the stations of
Benei Yisrael in the wilderness, the Torah
chooses to emphasize once again that their journey is "at God's
Eilim and Refidim
Most of the journeys that are listed in Parashat Masei are recorded only briefly: "They
journeyed from ____, and they encamped at ____." There is almost no mention, in
this parasha, of events that happen to the nation. Nevertheless, the Torah chooses to
mention four incidents.
Surprisingly, they are not the central nation-molding events that we
might expect – such as the giving of the Torah. The four incidents that are recounted
are, instead, seemingly marginal episodes.
Why are these events mentioned? Do they convey any message as to the
Torah's purpose in recording these travels?
The first two events mentioned in Parashat Masei are the abundance of water at
Eilim and the lack of water at Refidim.
Why does the Torah focus on these episodes? The common theme that they share is the
importance of water in the desert.
However, during the course of forty years, there are a number of other
episodes that involve water and the miracles that God performs in order to
provide it. Hence, we must still
ask: why is it these two particular events that are recalled here?
Let us consider the places where the Torah notes problems
of water in the wilderness:
a. Shur Wilderness (Shemot 15:22): "Moshe
led Israel from the Reed Sea, and they went out to the Shur Wilderness, and they
walked for three days in the wilderness, and they did not find water." In Parashat Masei (33:8) the text recalls only the
three-day journey in the wilderness of Etam (Shur), with no mention of the lack
b. Mara (Shemot 15:23-26):
They came to Mara, and they could not drink the water at
Mara for it was bitter (marim); therefore it was called "Mara." And the people complained to Moshe,
saying: "What shall we drink?" And
he cried out to God, and God showed him a tree, and he cast it into the water,
and the water became sweet.
In Parashat Masei (33:8), only the name "Mara" is
mentioned, without the story.
c. Eilim (Shemot 15:27): "They came to
Eilim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they
encamped there by the water." This
desert oasis is recalled in Parashat
Masei (33:9), in exactly the same
d. Sin Wilderness (Shemot 16): Upon
reaching the Sin Wilderness, Benei Yisrael complain of hunger, and in
response God promises them daily manna (and a one-time gift of meat). Parashat Masei lists the Sin Wilderness (33:11)
as a station, but neither the complaint nor the manna is
e. Refidim (Shemot 17:1-7):
All the congregation of Benei Yisrael journeyed from the Sin
Wilderness, by their travels, at God's command, and they encamped at Refidim,
and there was no water for the people to drink. And the people strove with Moshe… And the people were thirsty there for
water, and the people complained against Moshe… And Moshe cried out to God, saying:
"What shall I do for this nation?
They will soon stone me." So
God said to Moshe, "…you shall hit the rock, and water will emerge from it, and
the people will drink." So Moshe
did so… And he called the place
"Massa U-mriva," because of the strife (riv) of Benei Yisrael and because of their testing
(nassotam) God, saying, "Is God in our midst or
Parashat Masei recalls only partially the events
at Refidim (33:14). No mention is
made of the complaint, nor or the miracle of water gushing from the rock; the
Torah notes only the lack of water.
f. Kadesh, Tzin Wilderness (Bamidbar 20:1-4, 11-13):
The nation dwelled in Kadesh, and Miriam died there… And there was no water for the
congregation, and they gathered against Moshe and against Aharon… And the people strove with Moshe… "And
why have you brought God's congregation to this wilderness to die there, we and
our cattle…?" And Moshe raised his
hand and he struck the rock with his staff twice, and much water emerged, and
the congregation and their cattle drank…
And God said to Moshe and to Aharon: "Since you did not
believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of Benei Yisrael, therefore you will not bring
this congregation to the land which I have given to them." This is Mei Meriva (Waters of Strife),
where Benei Yisrael strove (ravu) against
God, and He was sanctified through them.
This traumatic event, in the wake of which God decrees
that Moshe and Aharon will not enter the land, appears nowhere in Parashat Masei. The text mentions only "the Tzin
Wilderness, which is Kadesh" (33:36).
The Torah notes the issue of water in the wilderness, but
ignores the events related to it.
What is the significance of this?
Apparently, the intention is to summarize the water issue with two
general principles. On the one
hand, God kindly provides water in the wilderness; an example of this is the
station at Eilim. This shows that
although Benei Yisrael spend forty years in the
wilderness, they do not spend all of this time in arid, difficult places — they
also encamp at oases. It seems that
Eilim is chosen because this is the only oasis explicitly described as
such. (Devarim 1:46 notes
that the nation "dwelled at Kadesh for many days" — Rashi specifies: "nineteen
years" — presumably because there is a very large oasis there, but this is never
On the other hand, the Torah seeks to note the difficulty
inherent in journeying through the wilderness, where there is very little
water. An example is Refidim where,
indeed, there is no water for the people to drink. For this reason, no mention is made of
the complaint at Refidim, its being renamed "Massa U-mriva," or the war against
Amalek. The Torah notes only the
lack of water, serving as an example of the hardships of a nation traveling
through the wilderness.
This difficulty stands eternally in Israel's favor, as
the prophet Yirmiyahu declares (2:2): "So says God: 'I recall for you the
kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, when you followed Me in the
wilderness, in an unsown land.'"
The complaints and strife, and the miracles that are
performed in the wake of these complaints, address the reality of journeying
through the wilderness, but Parashat
Masei teaches that these are not the
most important lesson. Ultimately,
the message is that the journeying through the wilderness represented mutual
commitment and love: God's love in providing for the needs of Benei Yisrael in this arid, unsown
environment, and Israel's love in following God through the wilderness, despite
the great difficulties involved.
Let us examine one section out of the list of journeys,
which describes no incidents but is nevertheless most
(16) And they journeyed from the Sinai Wilderness, and
they encamped at Kivrot Ha-ta'ava.
(17) And they journeyed from Kivrot Ha-ta'ava, and they
encamped at Chatzerot.
(18) And they journeyed from Chatzerot, and they encamped
(36) And they journeyed from Etzyon Gever, and they
encamped in the Tzin Wilderness, which is Kadesh.
Let us compare this summary of the route to its
description earlier in Sefer
Bamidbar, beginning with
"Benei Yisrael traveled by their journeys from
the Sinai Wilderness, and the cloud rested in the Paran Wilderness"
(10:12). At the nation's first
station after leaving Mount Sinai, the people start complaining; as a result,
God punishes them, giving the place its name (11:4,
And the admixture that was in their midst experienced
lust, and Benei Yisrael, too, cried and said, "Who will
feed us meat…?"
The meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed
up, and God's anger burned against the nation, and God smote the nation with a
very great plague. And he called
that place Kivrot Ha-ta'ava (Graves of Lust), for there they buried the people
who had lusted. From Kivrot
Ha-ta'ava the nation journeyed to Chatzerot, and they were at
It is at this station, at Chatzerot, that Miriam is
struck with the tzara'at plague (12:1,
Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe…
And Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days, and
the nation did not journey on until Miriam was gathered in. And afterwards the nation journeyed from
Chatzerot, and they encamped in the Paran
In the Paran Wilderness, the debacle of the Spies takes
place (13:1-3, 21, 25-26):
God spoke to Moshe, saying: "Send for yourself men, that
they may scout out the land of Kena'an…"
And Moshe sent them from the Paran Wilderness at God's
And they went up and they scouted out the land, from the
Tzin Wilderness up to Rechov, on the way to Chamat…
And they returned from scouting out the land after forty
days. And they went, and they came
to Moshe, Aharon and the entire congregation of Benei Yisrael, to the Paran Wilderness, at
The Sin of the Spies occurs at Kadesh Barne'a, in the Paran Wilderness, on the southern border of the
land of Kena'an. From this point,
they are meant to enter the land.
However, in the wake of the Sin of the Spies, it is decreed that the
nation must wander in the wilderness for another thirty-eight years (14:25):
"Turn and take yourselves into the wilderness, by the way of the Reed
Where do they journey throughout those many years? Before Parashat Masei, Sefer Bamidbar makes no mention of the places
where Benei Yisrael encamp during all this time, nor
does it recall any events that take place then. After the Sin of the Spies, the Torah
mentions only the challenge by Korach and his company (which apparently takes
place soon after the story of the Spies) in Chapters 16-17, and then a few
commandments in Chapters 18-19. The
next station that is mentioned is Kadesh in the Tzin Wilderness, what we may
refer to as "Kadesh-Tzin," where the nation arrives in the fortieth
year. This gives
rise to another complaint about the lack of water, as mentioned above, which leads to the sin of Moshe and
Aharon and the decree that they will not enter the land. Another event that takes place at Kadesh
is sending messengers to the king of Edom, with a request to pass through his
We may therefore summarize the journeys of Benei Yisrael from the Sinai Wilderness to
Kadesh-Tzin, according to the description in the early part of Sefer Bamidbar, as follows: from the Sinai
Wilderness they journey to Kivrot Ha-ta'ava, from there to Chatzerot, and from
there to Kadesh in the Paran Wilderness (what we may call "Kadesh-Paran"), where
the episode of the Spies takes place.
As a result, they wander in the wilderness "by way of the Reed Sea" for
thirty-eight years, but we do not know where exactly, and at the beginning of
the fortieth year they reach Kadesh-Tzin.
The description in Parashat Masei similarly describes the nation as
journeying from the Sinai Wilderness to Kivrot Ha-ta'ava and from there to
Chatzerot. However, no mention is
made of Kadesh-Paran. Instead,
there is a list of eighteen journeys to places that are mentioned nowhere
previously in Sefer Bamidbar, and eventually the nation
arrives as "the Tzin Wilderness, which is Kadesh."
This is most surprising: after all, Kadesh-Paran is not a
minor, insignificant station in Benei
Yisrael's travels! This is where the Spies give their
report and the people cry, as a result of which they wander for another
thirty-eight years in the wilderness.
Surely this station is of great significance! Moreover, Kadesh Barne'a is a large
oasis that serves as a very comfortable station, and Benei Yisrael dwell there for close to two
decades, as noted above. How can it
be that Parashat Masei makes no mention of this place at
A number of possibilities have been raised to solve this
riddle. One possibility is that the
eighteen journeys from Ritma to Etzyon Gever are all journeys in the Paran
Wilderness, from Chatzerot to Kadesh, and that the Sin of the Spies takes place
afterwards, in Kadesh. According to
this view, Kadesh-Tzin is the same as Kadesh-Paran, and two events take place there: in the second year –
the Sin of the Spies, and thirty-eight years later, the Mei Meriva
Another possibility, as proposed by Rashi, is that
"Ritma" is the place where the Sin of the Spies takes place, and all of the journeys that follow are the stations
covered during the thirty-eight years.
Rashi's interpretation serves to bring Parashat Masei in line with the other
parashiyyot in Sefer Bamidbar, but it remains difficult to
explain the appearance of the name "Ritma" instead of "Kadesh."
Yet another possibility is that right after Chatzerot, the nation reaches
Kadesh-Paran, and in the wake of the Sin of the Spies, they leave there and turn
around "by way of the Reed Sea."
The stations "by way of the Reed Sea," from Ritma to Etzyon
Gever, are not listed in the account in the early part of Sefer Bamidbar, but Parashat Masei mentions them. From Etzyon Gever,
they return to the region of Kadesh, this time encamping not at exactly the same
spot – at Kadesh-Paran — but at a point nearby, "Kadesh in the Tzin
Kadesh-Paran is a huge oasis, and apparently another nation occupies it
while Benei Yisrael are wandering in the wilderness,
so that the Jews are unable to return to it. They therefore settle in the nearby
Kadesh-Tzin, but there is not enough water, and the nation complains about the
We may summarize the route, according to this third
explanation, as follows:
Wandering in the wilderness "by way of the Reed
Ritma, Rimmon Peretz, Livna, Rissa… Etzyon
We may then refer to a map of Israel's journeys through
This hypothesis gives rise to a difficult question: why
does Parashat Masei ignore Kadesh-Paran, where the Sin
of the Spies takes place and where Benei Yisrael dwell for so
Let us leave this question aside for the moment and
consider another interesting point.
Even if Kadesh-Paran is not the same place as Kadesh-Tzin, it is
difficult to ignore the similarity between them: both are called "Kadesh," and
both are located in the same area, on the border, the gateway into the Promised
Land. Twice Benei Yisrael arrive at Kadesh on the border
of the land. The first time they
reach Kadesh is in the second year, after a short journey of only two stations
(from the Sinai Wilderness, via Kivrot Ha-ta'ava and Chatzerot, on to
Kadesh). They are stationed on the
border of the Promised Land and are about to enter it. At the last minute, they falter. They decide to send spies, and this
leads to the sin and the decree that they will not enter the land, but rather
wander for 38 years until the entire generation dies
The second time they reach Kadesh is in the fortieth
year, after prolonged wandering in the wilderness. Once again, they are poised to enter the
land, and once again, at the critical moment, there is a sin that prevents entry
into the land: the sin of Moshe and Aharon at Mei Meriva, as a result of which
they are forbidden to lead the nation into Kena'an. However, this time it is the sin of
Moshe and Aharon alone; only they will die in the wilderness as a result of this
sin. The nation as a whole is
embarking on the process of entering the land. From the point of view of the nation,
the second arrival at Kadesh is a repair of the first arrival, and it is from
here that the entry into the land commences.
Parashat Masei makes no mention of the first
Kadesh; it mentions only the second Kadesh. This brings us back to our question:
what is the meaning of the complete omission of the first Kadesh? This presentation creates the impression
that after leaving Chatzerot, the nation wanders about in the wilderness; only
after this prolonged sojourn do they reach Kadesh, on the border of
Kena'an. The Torah lists the places
where Benei Yisrael wander for 38 years; it does not
ignore this time. However, it does
ignore the fact that all of this results from the nation's failure; it ignores
the fact that they could have entered the land already in the second
Perhaps Parashat Masei means to present a different
picture of the years of wandering in the wilderness. Perhaps it seeks to show that the
wandering of the 38 years is not altogether superfluous and meaningless, but
rather part of a process that the Jewish nation undergoes in the wilderness to
prepare to enter the land: a process, "at God's command," which is
in the wilderness for so many years, as the entire generation that had been
slaves in Egypt dies, prepares the nation for their entry into the
Parashat Masei skips over the first station at
Kadesh, in effect telling the reader: it was never realistic to arrive at the
border of Kena'an and enter the land
in the second year of the Exodus from Egypt. The nation wais not ready: their soul
still bore the marks of slavery; their faith in God was not yet firm. For this reason the Spies see themselves
(13:33) as "grasshoppers" in relation to the land's inhabitants; for the same
reason, the nation is frightened by the Spies'
Thus, the result of sending the Spies is wandering in the
wilderness for many more years, until the nation can grow stronger and become
worthy of entering the land. All
the people whose souls are still enslaved, and who are incapable of fighting for
the land, have to die off. The
nation needs time to internalize the connection between themselves and God, and
their faith in God as the Provider for all of their needs. They need to develop the confidence that
they are capable of entering the land despite the difficulties, because God will
help them in their conquest. Hence,
the wandering in the wilderness is not only a punishment for sin, but a
necessity arising from reality.
As noted above, Parashat Masei describes the wandering in the
wilderness, where Benei Yisrael are required to maintain
absolute trust in God and to follow Him despite all of the hardships. At the same time, the Torah describes
how God provides for their needs in the wilderness. After forty years of this situation,
creating a very special relationship between Benei Yisrael and God, the nation has
internalized God's love for them, and they know that God is with them and will
be on their side as they wage war.
Armed with this consciousness, they are ready to enter the
The Death of Aharon
The next event mentioned in Parashat Masei is the death of Aharon at Hor
Ha-har (33:38-39). Why does Parashat Masei make special note of this
event? The decree against him and
Moshe has given rise to much commentary, since it is difficult to understand
why, as a result of such a seemingly minor sin, these great leaders must die
rather than enter the land. Parashat Masei casts Aharon's death in a
Aharon the Kohen ascended Hor Ha-har at
God's command, and he
died there in the fortieth year of the Exodus of Benei Yisrael from the land of
Just as all of the journeys of Benei Yisrael are undertaken "at God's
command," and just as the wandering in the wilderness and the death of the
entire older generation is a necessity (not just the result of a momentary lapse
in the form of the Sin of the Spies), so too the deaths of Moshe and Aharon in
the wilderness are "at God's command," as part of the overall plan: none of the
generation that left Egypt can enter the land; even the leaders of this
generation – Moshe and Aharon – must remain in the wilderness, with their
Parashat Masei emphasizes the date of Aharon's
death: in the fortieth year, on the first day of the fifth month. Aharon is the last of the older
generation to die (except for Moshe).
His death symbolizes the passing of the entire generation and the end of
wandering in the wilderness. After
his death, the nation can commence its entry into the
"And the Kena'ani…
Immediately after the death of Aharon, comes the war
against the Kena'ani. They hear
that Benei Yisrael are approaching the border of
the land, and they come out to wage war against them. Parashat Masei makes note of this war, even
though it makes no mention of the other wars that Benei Yisrael fight in the wilderness (the war
against Amalek and the wars on the eastern side of the Jordan). What is the significance of recalling
The war is described in Parashat Chukkat
(1) And the Kena'ani, the king of Arad, dwelling in the
Negev, heard that Israel was coming by way of the Atarim, and he fought against
Israel and took some of them as captives.
(2) And Israel made a vow to God, and they said, "If You
will give this people into our hands, then we will utterly destroy their
(3) And God heard Israel, and He delivered the Kena'ani;
and they utterly destroyed them and their cities, and they called the place
Yisrael pray and are
ultimately victorious. The site of
the battle is named Chorma (Destruction), commemorating the victory. This battle is highly reminiscent of
another. After the Sin of the
Spies, when Benei Yisrael hear that they will not be
permitted to enter the land, some of them attempt to proceed, unauthorized,
towards the mountains and to enter the land, even though God is not with them
(Bamidbar 14:37-45). The result is that "The Amaleki and the
Kena'ani who dwelled in that mountain came down, and they struck them and
crushed them as far as Chorma."
Twice Benei Yisrael are in the region of Kadesh;
twice war breaks out there against the Kena'ani, who dwell in the mountains, in
the region of Arad. On both occasions the site of the
battle is named "Chorma".
The first time, after the Sin of the Spies, Benei Yisrael fight their battle while they
are unworthy of entering the land.
They are proceeding against God's will, and they are defeated. The second time, after forty years of
wandering in the wilderness, they approach the battle as a more mature nation,
ready to enter the land. They
receive God's assistance, and they are victorious. The second war is a rectification of the
first one. This time the nation is
worthy; they go into battle with faith in and prayer to God, and therefore they
This is the first battle for the conquest of the
land. It is therefore no wonder
that Parashat Masei mentions specifically this war,
with which the conquest of the land commences.
The list of journeys in Parashat Masei is not just a chronicle meant to
aid geographical identification.
The parasha also comes to summarize the period of wandering in the
wilderness and to illuminate its significance.
Parashat Masei presents the wandering in the
wilderness as proceeding "at God's
The parasha makes no mention of Kadesh Barne'a, where the Sin of the Spies
occurs, but it does note the stations covered during the subsequent 38
years. Thus, these journeys are
presented as part of the journey "at God's command," as a necessary process to
prepare the nation for entering the land.
The years of wandering "in the wilderness, in an unsown
land," create a special connection between the Jewish nation and God – a
connection of mutual love, commitment and faith. Parashat Masei conveys the formation of this
special connection by mentioning the encampment at the oasis of Eilim, and by
mentioning Refidim, where there was no water.
After this special bond is firmly established, Benei Yisrael are able to return to the same
point – Kadesh, on the border of Kena'an.
There Aharon dies, as the last of the slave generation; there the war of
conquest commences with the victory over the Kena'ani; and from there, the
nation proceeds anew on its journey into the Promised Land.