As the title of this week’s second parsha indicates, it concerns itself with the forty year journeys of Israel in the “wilderness” with the entire route mapped out.
However, this title may be a bit misleading if taken literally as the purpose of these travel accounts found in Numbers. This is more a story about justice and atonement than wanderings.
When reading the account found in parsha Masei and the previous one Matot we can begin to see that while this coerced journeying, the result of the failure of the ten spies to trust in the promise of HaShem and the majority of the people taking their word of the dangers ahead in the Land of Promise over those of the two spies - Joshua and Caleb that the Land was their’s for the taking and the G-d of their fathers would go with them. This lack of trust in the promise of HaShem resulted in this form of justice, aka, the wandering until that generation would pass and be buried in the dust of Sinai.
We all desire justice to be implemented to those who break a law, whether that law be manmade or from the heavenly realm. It bothers even the most hardened when a wrong is committed but left unattended by a just recourse. Yes, we may moan and groan over the justice levied but deep within the core of our existence we know justice meted out, as long as it fits the transgression, is needed in order to maintain a working civilization.
However, justice without some form of redemption is not real justice but more on the scale of vengeance or worse in its most retrograde form “pay back.” Justice must always be scaled in the balance with compassion especially when that justice comes from the Creator of all that is.
Therefore, it is with great compassion that the Israelites who heeded the ten over the two were shown great love by HaShem in their travels by Him allowing them to make many rest stops — twenty in total over their forty year trek. Some lasting as long as a year or more, especially when a suitable place with plenty of water was come upon. When those locations not suitable for long stays were encountered they rested for a shorter time so as not to cause too much physical and emotional stress on the people, especially the young who would one day be those who would enter the Land with Joshua and Caleb. This generation would have first hand experience of both the justice and compassion of HaShem while growing up in the “wilderness,” thereby preparing them physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually what would lay ahead of them once they actually crossed the Jordan to take what G-d had promised their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob nearly a thousand years earlier.
While there are many lessons to be learned from parshat Masei it is Justice meted with Compassion that teaches us the most about our Creator and ourselves.