The roller coaster of life and the 42 journeys of every Jew
(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 18 Sicha 1)
This week’s Parsha, Parshas Maaseiy, speaks of the travels of the Jewish people throughout their 40 years in the desert. These journeys were known to have their ups and their downs, with some containing spiritual highs and others containing spiritual lows, some containing material bliss, and others containing sin and tragedy. This journey of the Jewish people throughout their stay in the desert is a replica of the life of every Jew. The Baal Shem Tov stated that every single Jew passes through 42 journeys throughout his life, until the time of his death. Naturally, these journeys are not all filled with bliss and good times, happiness and blessing, spiritual fulfillment and righteousness, but are also filled with sadness and pain, spiritual failures and sinful activity, and all the ups and downs of life. Life is one big roller coaster, in which sometimes we go up and sometimes we go down, and we go down we always go back up and when we go up, sometimes we fall back down. The message of this week’s Parsha, and the 42 enumerated journeys, is to teach us that one should not be intimidated by the roller coaster of life, and the fact he will experience downfalls, sadness, and pain, as really in truth it is all part of the journey of life from the time one is born until he reaches heaven, and in truth, even when one goes down it is all for the sake of going back up. The 42 journeys of life may be a bumpy road, but in truth it is all going uphill. If you fall, no matter how hard, keep this in mind and get back up to make this fall part of your elevation. Just as G-s escorted us throughout all 42 journeys in the desert, including the ones that had setbacks and failures of sin, so too G-d escorts every individual throughout his 42 journeys in life.
Explorations of the Sicha:
1) Why does the Torah recount the 42 journeys that the Jewish people traveled in the desert?
2) What is the meaning of the parable brought by Rashi, of a king who escorted his son on a journey to receive medical treatment?
3) What is the meaning behind the headaches and coldness described in the journeys of the parable, and how does it correspond to our journeys in the desert?
4) Are even our journeys which involve setbacks considered part of the journey going up, and what if the setbacks were caused by our own wrongdoing?
1. The reason the Torah retells us of our journeys:
The Midrash compares the Torah’s reminiscing of the 42 journeys of the Jewish people throughout their time in the desert, to the following parable, as recorded in Rashi: To what is this matter compared to? To a King who had a sick son whom he was traveling with to provide him with medical care. On his way back from the journey, he began reminiscing all of their journeys that they had to undertake during their trip. The King told his son, here we slept, here we were cold, and here you had a strong headache. So too, G-d had instructed Moshe to reminisce with the Jewish people all the areas where they had angered G-d.
The questions on this parable:
Several questions can be raised against this parable, and its comparison to our scenario of the journeys of the Jewish people within the desert:
- Where do we find during our journeys in the desert that we slept, were cold, and had headaches? What is this referring to?
- Why does the parable only mention three symptoms during our journey?
- How do the above symptoms of sleeping, having headaches relate to angering G-d?
2. The first three symptoms corresponds to the first three journeys:
In answer to the first question, one can explain simply that it corresponds to the first three journeys:
- The first journey from Ramseis to Sukkos-we slept: The first journey of the Jewish people when they left Egypt was from the city of Ramseis to the area called Sukkos. This corresponds in the parable with the area that we slept, as indeed when we traveled on the first day from Ramseis to the area called Sukkos, we slept in Sukkos that night.
- The second journey from Sukkos to Eisam-we became cold: The second journey of the Jewish people when they left Egypt was from the area called Sukkos to the area called Eisam. In this area called Eisam we received the clouds of glory which functioned as an area of shade to protect us from the sun, as well as a guide for our travels. This corresponds in the parable to the area where we became cold, which refers to us becoming shaded from the sun.
- The third journey from Eisam to Pi Hachiros-we sinned: The third journey of the Jewish people when they left Egypt was from the area called Eisam to the area called Pi Hachiros. In this area we rebelled against G-d, as we exclaimed that it would have been better for us to remain as slaves in Egypt then to die in the desert. This corresponds in the parable to the area where we had a headache, as the above claim is a claim of the intellect, and since its expression was sinful therefore it is considered painful.
3. The 42 journeys in the desert hint to the journeys of the Jewish people until the time of the redemption:
The 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the desert were for the purpose of refining and elevating the desert of the nations, an area filled with evil and Kelipos. These 42 journeys also hint to the general journeys of the Jewish people throughout the exile until the time of the redemption, when the evil of the world will all be consumed. This in truth is already hinted to in the first three journeys of the Jewish people, which took place prior to Kerias Yam Suf. Kerias Yam Suf represents the eradication of evil, as aside for the fact that the Jewish people witness the dead corpses of the Egyptians after the splitting of the sea, if the Jewish people would’ve not sinned, they would’ve entered straight into the land of Israel after the splitting of the sea. Hence, already in the first three journeys hinted to in the parable of the Midrash, is included the general purpose of the travels to refine the world until we are ready for the redemption.
4. All of the journeys, including those which involved setbacks, are part of the journey going up:
In the conclusion of the commentary of the Midrash it states that G-d had instructed Moshe to reminisce with the Jewish people all the areas that they had “angered Him.” As we asked above, it remains to be understood how all 42 journeys were considered to have angered Him. The explanation to this matter is as follows: The term “anger” does not necessarily refer only to sin but also refers to any concealment of G-dliness and spiritual descent. The journey of the Jewish people through the desert was met with many spiritual challenges, and represented the general descent and journey of the soul below on earth. The G-dly soul of a Jew descends from its spiritual heights above in heaven to the darkness of the pits of earth. The descent and darkness that the soul experiences is not its fault at all, and is part of a Divine mission that he is sent by G-d to fulfill. The purpose of this mission is to refine and elevate the desert, which represents the darkness and concealments of the world, and in addition to also elevate one’s own soul. The soul is able to experience a great elevation to even higher heights than what it originally experienced, through its descent below and its fulfillment of its Divine mission. Nonetheless, so long as the journey is still taking place, the darkness and concealment of G-dliness is experienced, and hence it is defined as areas in which we “angered G-d.”
Now, the above appearance of concealment and descent is only during times of exile, when we have yet to reach a time of Revelation in the future redemption. However, when we eventually reach the pinnacle of the journey, we will then retroactively realize that these concealments were all part of the ladder of the ascent. Each step of our journey which contained challenges in spiritual matters and divine service is in truth all there for the sake of bringing a greater revelation, and in the future, we will come to this realization.
This is hinted to in the parable above where it states that on the return journey of the king with his son, he reminisced all the areas that they traveled. It is unclear as to what this refers to in the travels of the Jewish people, being that we did not have any return journey and at the end of the 42 journeys we arrived in the land of Israel to stay. Rather, the intent of the parable is figurative, meaning to say that at the end of the journey when we reach our destination, we can then reminisce how in truth each part of our journey, including the challenging travels, was all part of the ascent up. A similar idea to this is mentioned in Yeshaya in which the verse states “Odecha Havayah Ki Anafta Bi/that we will thank Hashem for having smote us,” as we will then realize that this in truth was a kindness and all part of the road to redemption.
Another aspect of the parable that is to be kept in mind in our real-life journeys is that the son is not traveling alone but together with his father the king. This is hinting to the idea that throughout all of our travels and journeys in life, as it was during our 42 journeys in the desert, G-d is holding our hands and guiding us. We are the son, and He is the king who is escorting us throughout all of our journeys. The journeys themselves may appear challenging, be viewed as setbacks, and even be tragic, however in truth they are all part of our personal journey upwards towards G-d, through which G-d is personally guiding us. In the future, when we met merit the revelation of the future area, G-d will show us how each one of these setback journeys was really all part of the divine plan, and brought us to the great revelation that we will experience in the future era.
5. Can even setbacks due to our own choice of sinful behavior be part of the elevation?
Seemingly, one can rightfully question the above conclusion that all of our journeys, including the ones that contain setbacks and tragedies, are part of the journey going up to divine bliss, with the fact that some of these setbacks are due to our own choice and sin. I can understand how challenging times and times of concealment can be explained away to be part of the Divine mission, and an act of G-d, to bring about a greater revelation and elevation of the spirit. However, how can setbacks that are brought about due to sin as a result of our own freedom of choice be part of G-d’s plan, and be part of the journey going forward. Logically speaking, it makes sense to say that all mistaken decisions that we make are not part of the divine plan, and are real setbacks in our journey which has stopped going forward due to our sinful behavior. [Furthermore, even if one were to argue that it is always possible to get back up and repent, and thus due to the sin and repentance reach an even higher level, it still ends up that during the time of the actual sin it was a setback in the journey, and hence how can we say that even these journeys are all part of the divine plan.] If, however, this were to be true, then how can one explain that all the 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the desert were escorted by G-d and were part of the journey up, if after all some of the journeys involved setbacks which were due to our own sin.
The explanation to this matter is as follows, and touches upon a very deep concept explained in the Chassidic teachings: The Mittler Rebbe explains in great length that the sin of Adam in eating from the forbidden fruit was actually instigated by G-d himself. This is based on an explicit verse in Tehillim which states that, “Norah Alilah Al Bnei Adam/he brought a libel onto man.” The Midrash explains this verse to mean that the sin which Adam was blamed for in eating from the forbidden fruit was really a libel, as it was G-d Himself who instigated and caused the evil inclination to overcome Adam and cause him to sin. The reason G-d did so is because he desired that Adam serve him as a Baal Teshuvah, and perform the divine mission that needs to be done after his sin. In other words, the inclination to sin was not just provided by G-d in order to create a real challenge for man, but on occasion also to successfully cause him to stumble for purposes that G-d has in mind to bring a greater elevation from the descent of the sin. The same concept is likewise applicable by all people, the even their setbacks which are due to their own choices of sin are in truth part of the divine plan to result in a greater future elevation and divine experience, and thus even during sin G-d is escorting us.
Now, this concept does not contradict the concept of freedom of choice, and does not absolve Adam or any man of taking responsibility and liability for his wrongdoing, as he does not know the plans of G-d and the direction that G-d desire him to go. As far as he’s concerned, he is commanded by G-d to choose good and not sin and if he wants he has the ability to overcome the inclination to sin, if he so chooses. It just happens to be that in the background beyond the knowledge of man, G-d has created a plan and purpose for the eventuality of sin, if man so chooses to do so. In certain cases, the plan and purpose of the sin is so important to G-d, that he will challenge the individual with a great temptation to transgress it, although still leaving him the freedom of choice to overcome it and hence he always carries some level of liability for its transgression.
Lessons of the Sicha:
The lesson of this talk is quite straightforward. We all experience setbacks, downfalls, and mistakes in our journey of life. It is imperative that we realize that we are not alone even during our times of downfall, and that we, like our forefathers in the desert, are traveling together with God who is guiding us through all of our good times and bad times, and how even the bad times caused by our own mistakes contain an element of divine providence for the sake of us getting back up and making a greater elevation due to them.
 Degel Machaneh Efraim Beginning of Parshas Maaseiy; Likutei Sichos 4:1083;
 Tanchuma Maaseiy 3; Midrash Raba 23:3
 Rashi Beginning of our Parsha
 Sifri Deavrim 1:2
 Tanchuma Vayeishev 4