"These are the stations of the journeys of the Children of Israel, the ones who went out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the stations of their journeys along the way according to G‑d; these are their journeys between the stations." (Num. 33:1-2)

The Torah goes out of its way here to enumerate all of the 42 different stops that the Jewish People made during their 40 year desert trek. At each station the Jewish People had specific spiritual improvements to make…

The holy Ohr HaChayim explains based on the Zohar, that the purpose of these journeys was to weaken the power of those forces in the world which oppose holiness. Furthermore, at each station the Jewish People had specific spiritual improvements to make until they would become refined and prepared to enter into the Land. In each place lost sparks of holiness were gathered up and returned to their source. That is why in some places they camped for a year and in others for only 12 hours. They stayed in each station according to the work to be done.

Each station along the way represented a special quality or aspect of the evil inclination that had to be conquered. As it says, Torah scholars have no rest - not in this world nor in the next world (Berachot 64a) since they are constantly growing, attaining one level after another.

The Sefas Emes writes something remarkable. These 42 stations together with the 8 stations that they backtracked on after the death of Aaron the Priest (Num 26:13 and Rashi's commentary there) make a total of 50 desert stations. This corresponds to the 50 Gates of Bina, which are the opposite of the 50 gates of impurity into which the Children of Israel nearly sunk in Egypt. When they came out of Egypt they went up 49 levels during the 49 days of preparation which preceded the giving of the Torah. Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah, was the 50th day. These 50 journeys represent an attainment of perfection similar to that which they attained at Mt. Sinai. At this point the Jewish People could approach the Land of Israel.

(First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Mattos-Massai 5758)