It took 42 stages for the Jews to get from Egypt to Israel within a period of 40 years. Each stage of the journey was determined exclusively by Divine decree—the cloud that hovered over the Jewish camp began to move on when they were required to relocate. The entire camp then packed up their belongings and moved on, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was stationary, they were stationary; when the cloud moved again, they followed it. This is what happened through 42 stops and starts to get to Israel.

The Torah states, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt . . . ” (Numbers 33:1). The question is asked why the verse states, “These are the journeys,” in the plural. They weren’t going out of Egypt on all of the 42 journeys. Surely after the first stage of the journey—after they had arrived in Rameses—they were no longer leaving Egypt but Rameses, and so on? After the first stage of the journey, weren’t the other 41 stages going to Israel, but not from Egypt? The simple answer is that until a person arrives at the ultimate goal, Israel (in a spiritual sense, as well as a physical one), he is always in the process of leaving Egypt.

However, the verse has an even deeper meaning; it refers to the journeys through life of every individual. Moreover, every person’s life may be analyzed in terms of these 42 journeys of the Jews from Egypt to Israel. In other words, it is possible to identify each person’s journey through life with the 42 stages of the journey described in the Torah.

The word “Egypt” in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, can also be derived from the word meaning “constricted” or “limiting place.” In Hebrew, a meitzar is a strait. It comes from the word tzar, “narrow.”

Every person, in his or her life, has situations which the Torah describes as a limitation and constriction, where the person feels that something is obstructing him from behaving in the right way. In order to get out of this constricted area, a person has to exert energy. And when he manages to escape the constriction, it is as if he has left that place and gone to a place that is a wide-open place. When you’re finished with that problem, you breathe a sigh of relief: “I’ve gotten out of that tight spot.”

The verse therefore means that the life of the Jew, which begins at his birth, is a succession of tight spots, followed by relief and expansion. It means that at every given time in our life—in every given stage in our life—we are presented with certain obstacles and certain tests. These are the tight spots. Of course, these situations are not meant to stifle us or to make us surrender. On the contrary, through overcoming these difficulties, we become strengthened, and our awareness of G‑d is expanded.

This can be compared to an army. When you go for basic training, they make you run 10 miles, they make you carry packs, they make you go through difficult situations. Why? Because only after you have gone through the difficulties do you become a good soldier. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t even have known you were capable of doing it. When you undergo difficulties, you build up your strength. Just as this is true of physical situations, it is true in spiritual situations.

In this context, “Egypt” doesn’t mean a geographical land—a country called Egypt; rather, it refers to the stages of constriction and development that we all go through on our journey to spiritual perfection, signified by the Land of Israel.

This is life.

What may be difficult at the age of 5 is simple at the age of 10, and what’s difficult at the age of 10 is cake at the age of 20. A person who just got married is struggling with the first year of marriage and getting used to it. That’s a big struggle. But when people are married for 25 years and are marrying off their children, there’s a whole different set of issues. Then there are the challenges that come with older age and being grandparents. Every stage in life has its own qualities. G‑d is constantly placing us in new situations, and we have to deal with them and grow through them. Then we go to another stage, and then we come to a third stage and a fourth stage. This is a succession of constrictions.

When does it end? At the end of a person’s life. In other words, the beginning is Egypt, the birth; coming into Israel at the end of the 42nd journey is when a person completes his journey in this world and comes into the land of the World to Come. Until then, a person’s life is a series of journeys, each one being a strait in comparison to the one after it, and the tests change and get more difficult as you pass through them. This is on an individual basis.

This also happens every single day. There are, of course, different levels. The nation goes on its journeys, and the individual on his. On any given day, the person goes through these journeys from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night.

This condition of being on a continual journey can have two possible reactions. One reaction is that the person can become very arrogant and say, “Look how far I’ve come! I remember, years ago, I was on this level, and now I’ve really struggled and worked hard, and now I’m on a much higher level.” To the arrogant person, the Torah says, “Don’t be so arrogant. You may have gone through 22 journeys. That’s fantastic, but you still have another 20 to go. As long as you are alive, you can never become complacent about the number of journeys you’ve traveled.”

Then there’s a person who can get depressed. He’s saying, “My goodness, this is terrible! I’m on such a low level. How can I ever get to the level of this other person? Look at her. She’s so much higher than me, and what’s the point of even starting?” For that person, there is also a word of encouragement. Depending on who you are and on how you’re relating, the Torah has a reaction for each situation. The reaction to that person is: Do not despair because G‑d never intended that a person go from Egypt to Israel in one move. The Torah told us from the very beginning that it’s going to take 42 small journeys. No one should ever get depressed because as long as you’re involved in the journeying—as long as you didn’t give up and stop running—you’re still in the race. G‑d is the One who can read everybody’s heart. He is the One who gives points. You cannot ever compare yourself to anybody else because you don’t know where the other person started from and what their handicaps are. The important thing is to know that you have to keep going. Just keep going from one journey to the next, and let G‑d do the grading.

To a person who says despairingly, “Look how far I have to go!” the Torah says, “Do not give up! After all, look how far you’ve come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the next stage. Don’t take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop.”

Eventually, all of us will get to the Land of Israel. Each of us will experience our own individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also achieve redemption. May it be speedily in our days!