“Eleh Masei” “These are travels/journeys” (my translation) is how Numbers 33:1 (Parshat Masei) begins.
What follows is a list. Of places.
Who wants to read a list?
We want narrative. Story!
We want what my 14 yr old daughter would call “the juice” or the “juicy stuff!”
Ah, but in Torah, there is “juice” even in a list.
It’s in the between.
In between the words.
In between the people.
In between the actions.
In the relationships.
Think for a moment about the different places where you have lived, and the journeys you have taken. Have you ever made a move that did not change or alter your perspective in some way or another?
When we journey we don’t just travel to this place and then that place and then that place.
Here is a l list of where I have lived and journeyed between:
Spring Valley, NY
New York, NY
New York, NY
New York, NY
These locations all represent different stages of life. As I moved from one location to another, I also shifted life stages of some sort: early life, childhood, college, graduate school and early married life, teaching, traveling, acting in NYC, becoming a mother etc.
That’s the juice! The journeys in- between the stages.
AND, what happens to us as we have these journeys?
We have new experiences.
And we change.
This text comes at the end of the story of the wanderings in the desert that took place over the 40 years. It is a recounting where the Israelites have journeyed since leaving Egypt.
Rabbinic commentary tells us: It’s comparable to a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a distant place to cure him. When they returned home the father began to enumerate all the stages, saying to him, “Here we slept, here we caught cold, here you had the head-ache, etc.” (Midrash Tanchuma 4:10:3.)
What if this list is about the stages the people of Israel experienced, not just the locations where they camped?
Locations are metaphorical for the different locations in our internal growth, life and learning journeys.
These places are a way of recounting the collected stages of becoming.
Becoming with a capital B. We are always Becoming our future self.
In the parable above, the ill child is healed through the stages. A huge transformation.
So, what is the huge transformation that the Israelites go through?
When the Israelites first left Egypt, they couldn’t imagine anything other than their past.
Suppose everything you’ve ever known is a a life of slavery. Not only were you a slave, your parents were slaves, your grandparents, and going back farther than you can remember. 400 years.
We tend to assume a future based on the history of our own lifetime let alone that many great-great- ancestors!
Within our own lives our memorable history already affects how we see ourselves.
Look at what happens with just 15 months of wearing masks?
We all determine a sense of who we are right now by the way we tell the story of our past.
There is a concept in psychology called “learned helplessness.” It’s what happens when someone repeatedly is unable to change the negative stimuli in their environment they stop trying.
Recent developments in that line of research show that we have to learn to feel helplessness. Helpfulness is the default state.
When we can’t control our surroundings we feel powerless.
Maybe that resonates with some of how you experienced the pandemic so far?
If that can happen in a single lifetime, in a year and a half, imagine 400 years of lifetimes!
“Eleh Masei/These travels/journeys”
The commentators take a lot of time to address the way the word
“Eleh,” “These” is positioned here.
It’s not “V’eleh”, just “Eleh.”
(In English that extra “V” in front of a word means “And.” You may have noticed English translations of the bible are filled with the word “And!”)
Rabbinic commentary (Chizkuni) says that the “And” is left out in order to teach us that what follows is not related to what has come previously.
A specific Rabbinic commentator, Ohr Hachayim, quotes the Zohar (A Kabbalic text) and teaches that the trek of the Israelites in the desert was a spiritual journey. They were collecting “n’tzutzei hakedoshah” sparks of holiness.
These n’tzutzei hakedoshah/sparks of holiness were collected “in the between.” In the journeying.
In between the words, in between the list.
That’s the juice.
The Israelites moved from learned helplessness and feelings of powerlessness through the journeying.
They arrived ready to cross the Jordan, empowered, ready to have faith in the uncertain future.
The Israelites literally regenerated – as they shifted 40 years in age.
They increased their Kedushah/holiness and became a people who could deal with the fear of the uncertainty and the challenges ahead in order to meet their goals of entering the Promised Land.
It is in our journeying, in our own collecting of sparks, that we can shift our own perspectives.
We can learn to feel empowered and overcome our learned helplessness.
We can grow our faith and ability to deal with the uncertain future.
Where are you on your journey?
What sparks of kedushah/holiness do you need to collect so that you can grow into your next stage on the journey?
If you’d like to be more intentional about how you collect sparks, insight and become your future self, then send me a message and let’s start a conversation.
Leah Zimmerman is an Intergenerational Resolving Conflict Expert and Family Business Advisor who makes hard conversations easy. She blends her background in education, theater, personal development and spirituality to create transformational conversations for individuals, teams and families. Find Leah on Linkedin at to learn more.