Imrei Shefer - Parshas Mas’ei

What caused Yisrael to delay a long time in the wilderness?

(33,1) “These are the journeys of the children of Yisrael who left the land of Egypt in their legions under the hand of Moshe and Aharon. Moshe wrote their goings forth of their journeys according to the command of Hashem. And these are their journeys of their goings forth.”

These two posukim are difficult to understand:

Why does the first posuk say that the journeys were “under the hand of Moshe and Aharon” - since Aharon had already died the journeys were not by his hand! We could explain that these words refer only to the previous phrase "who left the land of Egypt" which was indeed under the hand of Moshe and Aharon, but that would still leave us with the problem of why the Torah mentioned it here. Also, what difference does it make if their exodus from Egypt was under the hand of Moshe and Aharon or someone else?

And the meaning of the second posuk “Moshe wrote their goings forth of their journeys according to the command of Hashem” is even more difficult to understand, and especially problematic is why it initially says “their goings forth of their journeys”, and then repeats itself in reverse - “their journeys of their going forth”.

But it seems to me that everything can be explained according to the teaching of Chazal that if Yisrael had not sinned they would not have delayed in the wilderness at all and would have immediately entered the land of Yisrael, but instead sin caused them to remain in the wilderness for a long time.

Now, the Midrash at the end of parshas Bo teaches that Hashem said to Yisrael: What caused you to flee? Was it not the haste of your going out? But concerning the future it is written in Yeshayohu 52:12 “not in haste will you go forth, and not fleeing will you go”. That is, since they went out in haste they left even when it was still night, thus making themselves look like thieves sneaking away. This caused the Egyptians to accuse them of stealing their wealth and thus they chased after them, causing Yisrael to flee. And for the same reason they had to delay in the wilderness forty years, as is clear from the posuk in Bereishis 15:16 “because the iniquity of the Amorites will not be complete until then”, and this was caused by their hastiness in their going out, as is clear from the Midrash above.

Now, the reason why they went out in haste was because the redemption was not by Hashem Himself but rather through intermediaries, Moshe and Aharon. Therefore, it had to be with haste. But had the redemption been done by Hashem Himself there would not have been any haste. This is very clear from the quoted posuk, where Hashem said that in the future we will not go forth in haste, and it concludes with the reason - because “Hashem goes before you, and your rear guard is the G-d of Yisrael”. It follows that had the redemption from Egypt also been by Hashem Himself it would not have been in haste at all, and so it also follows that they would not have needed to delay in the wilderness, but rather they would have entered Eretz Yisrael immediately, and they would not have needed all these journeys.

This is what it means when it says “these are the journeys of the children of Yisrael who left the land of Egypt…under the hand of Moshe and Aharon…according to the word of Hashem”, that even though the exodus from Egypt was according to the mouth of Hashem, nevertheless it was under the hand of Moshe and Aharon - the words “under the hand of Moshe and Aharon” referring to the exodus from Egypt, which was by both of them. And since it was through them, who are flesh and blood, therefore Yisrael had to experience all these journeys.

Because of this, we might be mistaken, G-d forbid, and think that just as the bad which happened to Yisrael when they left Egypt - their need to go out in haste and consequently their need to delay all these journeys - was because they came out through Moshe and Aharon, if so, we might err and think that the great good that happened to them by their leaving Egypt, that they became at least a free people, and they received the Torah, we might attribute to Moshe and Aharon alone, and think that Hashem was not involved.

Therefore the Torah explained to us that it was not so, but rather “Moshe wrote their goings forth of their journeys” - their going out and being brought to all these journeys which involved great miracles, this was “according to the command of Hashem”, and not according to Moshe and Aharon who took them out. But nevertheless, “these are their journeys” - what forced them to be in these journeys, was a result “of their going out” - as a result of their being taken out by Moshe and Aharon.

And this is the explanation of the posuk "you made to rest like a flock Your people", that is, like a flock who are weak and it is impossible to increase upon them the journey at one time, but rather they have to rest many times, so You did with your people. And the reason is because they were in the hand of Moshe and Aharon.

Why did Yisrael have to give forty-two cities to the Levi’im besides the six cities of refuge?

(35,6) “And the cities which you shall give to the Levi’im - six cities of refuge which you shall give so that a killer can flee there, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.”

It seems to me that the reason why Hashem commanded Yisrael to give to the Levi’im exactly forty-two cities was because they made forty-two journeys in the wilderness, and thus they also made camp forty-two times. And at each of these encampments Hashem turned the desolate wilderness into a place fit for living.

Therefore, Yisrael were required to repay Hashem for His kindness, and they did this by separating forty-two cities from the lands allotted to them for the Levi’im, the servants of Hashem, one city for each encampment. By doing this they gave to the Levi’im who had no land of their own a place to live, and thus this was a fitting way to repay Hashem for His similar kindness to them in the wilderness.

How can the law of the cities of refuge apply to all generations and to all places?

(35,29) “And these shall be for you a statute of justice for your generations, in all your dwelling places.”

It seems to me that this posuk is coming to allude to the teaching of Chazal in the gemora Sanhedrin 37b, that from the day that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, even though the four types of capital punishment ceased to be carried out, the law of the four types of capital punishment did not cease. Thus, a person who would have been killed by the Sanhedrin will instead die in a manner similar to the type of capital punishment that he would have received.

If so, the same is true with the law of exile - somebody who is supposed to go into exile but no longer has the possibility to be exiled to one of the cities of refuge is instead caused by Hashem to wander from place to place. With this he undergoes exile for his sin similar to what he would have undergone when Yisrael were dwelling in their land.

Thus the posuk is teaching us to not think that this law of exile only exists when Yisrael are dwelling in their land. It is “a statute of justice for your generations, in all your dwelling places” - it shall be in effect always throughout the generations, everywhere.

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