Are we searching for freedom? Then the Torah will help us in our search. The Torah focuses on the pursuit of freedom, as we see in the story of the Jews in Egypt: how they suffered as slaves, and how they attained liberation. Then came their slow journey through the desert, eventually reaching the Promised Land.

All this did not take place in one single step. Freedom has many stages, and the journey through the desert was itself part of the process. When they left Egypt they were not yet ready for the highest levels of freedom. Forty years later they were.

The closing Parshah in the Book of Numbers is called Masei, meaning "Journeys." It begins with a list of the forty-two stopping places where the Jews camped during their years of traveling through the desert. Yet the Torah does not call them halting places, camp sites or anything similar, as would suit the name of a region where, for a while, the Jews stopped moving. Instead it calls them "journeys", expressing the idea of leaving one place and coming to another.

A further point is the fact that the Torah text states: "These are the journeys of the Children of Israel through which they left the land of Egypt..." (Numbers 33:1). Long ago the question was asked: surely they left Egypt at the very first journey? Is the Torah implying that there was not just one, but forty-two journeys out of Egypt?

As we have noted, this is precisely what the Torah wants to teach us. Each journey was another stage in the long process of leaving Egypt.

The Torah is not just telling us something about the history of our ancestors in the remote past. It is helping us understand our own lives in the present.

We too are seeking freedom, are trying to escape from limitations. The Hebrew word for "Egypt," Mitzrayim, is very similar to the Hebrew word for limitations: meytzarim. The escape of our ancestors from Egypt thousands of years ago parallels our own attempts to transcend limitations today.

How exactly we define these limitations, our own individual "Egypt", will vary from person to person. For one it means problems of circumstance, arising from factors outside the person's direct control. For another it means the problem of inner conflict and struggle. For a third person it means the quest for spiritual freedom, transcending one's materialist, earth-bound ego.

The teaching of the Torah portion, telling us about the many "journeys" from Egypt, is that we must be prepared for many different stages in attaining our goal. The first step towards freedom becomes another, more subtle, form of limitation and slavery. When we succeed in escaping from that, and have reached the second stage of freedom - we discover that again we must strive for yet another level of liberty.1

Thus it goes on, step after step. Each time we are escaping from yet another aspect of our personal Egypt. It may seem an endless task. Yet in fact every step truly brings us closer to genuine fulfillment, as an individual and as part of the Jewish people. Every step forward brings us closer to the Promised Land.