If the book of Numbers describes the Jewish journey through the wilderness, surely it must also contain a message pertinent to the journey each and every Jew traverses. Through the journey of life, we too must overcome the challenges of the wilderness in order to reach our goal, fulfill our purpose and arrive at our destination.

The book of Numbers begins with the Israelites camped at theIt begins in an orderly fashion, but turns chaotic very quickly Sinai Desert, and concludes with the people camped at the bank of the Jordan River, opposite Jericho, ready to cross over into the promised land.

It begins in an orderly fashion, but turns chaotic very quickly, as time and again the people reject Moses’ leadership, lose their faith in G‑d and fail to keep sight of their goal. Only at the end of the book, almost 40 years after the chaos erupts, do the people triumph over the obstacles and reach their destination, the entrance to the promised land.

When the Israelites camped in the desert, the Tabernacle was always in the center, surrounded by four camps of three tribes. When it was time to travel, the Levites would deconstruct the Tabernacle, cover the ark and the other vessels, and the entire group would travel in the same formation in which they camped.

During its journey, the ark was to be covered with no less than three coverings:

When the camp is about to travel, Aaron and his sons shall come and take down the dividing screen; with it they shall cover the Ark of the Testimony. They shall place upon it a covering of tachash skin, and on top of that they shall spread a cloth of pure blue wool. Then they shall put its poles in place.1

Like our ancestors in the desert, our lives can be divided into two periods. There are times when we are “camped.” We are tranquil and rested, free of inner turmoil and struggle. At those times, our figurative temple is constructed and our ark is revealed; we experience spiritual clarity and we feel connected to the Divine wisdom of the Torah. And then there are moments when we “journey,” moving through the wilderness of our lives, ark covered, searching for clarity, understanding and the embrace of the Divine. In those moments we ask ourselves, why? Why the darkness? Why the challenge? Why isn’t the Divine goodness obvious to us?

The book of Numbers provides clarity.

When the Jews were camped, life was peaceful and spiritually fulfilling. The wisdom of the Torah represented by the ark was accessible. Yet the people were stationary. They did not grow. They were not forced to journey towards their goal.

The Torah teaches that in order for the people to journey,In order to journey, the ark must be covered the ark must be covered. For a person to truly grow, he must be challenged to reach his hidden potential; he must learn to forge ahead even when his ark is covered and when his inner inspiration is asleep.

The same way as the ark required three coverings in order to travel, G‑d covers the soul with three layers: it is wrapped in a human body, surrounded by the evil inclination, and placed in a culture foreign to its spiritual source.

When the soul is in heaven, it is like an angel, surrounded by the light of G‑d, its ark revealed. But G‑d wants more. He wants the soul to grow, to be transformed from a “stationary” to a “traveling” soul.

Only when the soul manages to prevail over the concealment of its inner evil inclination and the outside forces of darkness does it “journey.” Only then does the soul break free of its limitation and touch the infinity of the Divine.2