Mas’ei (Travels)

Numbers 33:1 to 36:17

The travels of the Israelites are about to end. They are camped just outside of Canaan. At this point, God tells Moses what the people must do to have a successful life in the Promised Land.

Mas'ei - Travels

“These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the starting points of their various marches as directed by the Eternal.” (Num. 33:1-2)

The marches are then listed by their starting points. The first part of their travels is described: “They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. It was on the morrow of the Passover offering that the Israelites started out defiantly, in plain view of all the Egyptians.” … Then after 45 verses the last stop is recorded as follows: “They set out from the hills of Abarim and encamped in the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho; they encamped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim, in the steps of Moab.” (Num. 33:5, 33:49)

For the most part, the list is only composed of only the names of places … site name after site name …. This doesn’t mean much to us; but, it certainly held meaning to the travelers. Think of all the places you have lived during your life …..

For me, my list of travels would look like this: New Orleans … Minneapolis … Chicago … Evanston …. Urbana … Chicago … Buffalo Grove …. To most who view the list, it’s just a bunch of cities. But, to me and my family, each city holds memories and lessons that are permanently engraved into our memories. The list that is recorded in Torah holds such memories for all the Israelite travelers.

As the Israelites are about to enter the land, God tells Moses to speak to the people and give them instructions concerning the occupation of the land.

  • “Dispossess all the inhabitants of Canaan, you shall destroy all their figured objects, shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places.” (Num. 33:52)
  • “You shall take possession of the land and settle it.” (Num. 33:53)
  • “You shall apportion the land among yourselves by lot, clan by clan… according to your ancestral tribes.” (Num. 33:54)

“If you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you live, so that I will do to you what I planned to do to them.” (Num 33:55)

The instructions aren’t complicated. But the possibility of conflict with the Canaanites would have caused the travelers, as they left Egypt, to change their travel plans. They weren’t ready for any conflict…. Forty years later we see a people ready to go forward. …. There is still complaining ( I guess that’s part of the Jewish psyche, we’re still complaining). But, they are now battle hardened, having won several battles…. They have new leaders… They are a new generation that has never lived under slavery… They are a generation that has grown under the watch of the Eternal.

The message that God tells Moses is simple …. Possess the land and settle on it…. Eliminate all objects, images, and locations that the inhabitants have. There should be no temptation for the Israelites now or in the future to turn away from the Eternal. The Israelites must remain faithful to the Eternal or they will have the same fate as those they are conquering.

But in many other parts of Torah we are told to remember that you were slaves in Egypt …. We are supposed to treat the stranger with respect. But, I guess we are not supposed to adopt their ways. Even in today’s world, these commands from God hold significance. Israel still fights to retain their religious identity. Today, religious churches and mosques are not destroyed. But, a great deal of discussion revolves around how much power different faiths will hold in the new state of Israel. The question regarding the power that should be given to the Islam minority is a major controversy in the evolving state.

I guess some of the questions and debates of Torah are still alive today.

With these words we end our study of the Book of Numbers …. And, as usual, at the end of each book of Torah we say … Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazak: From strength to strength we strengthen each other. May we continue to find strength and friendship during our “journey” through the Torah.

Earl Sabes

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