The following are the journeys of the children of Israel by which they left the land of Egypt, in their regiments, by the hand of Moshe and Aharon.

Classic Questions

Are these journeys not already documented? (v. 1ff)

Rashi: Why were these journeys written? To inform us of G‑d's kindness, that although He had decreed that they would wander aimlessly in the desert, one should not imagine that they were wandering from place to place throughout the forty years and they had no rest. For we see that there are only forty-two encampments; deduct fourteen of them which all took place in the first year, before the decree, from when they journeyed from Ramses (v. 3) until they arrived in Rismah (v. 18) where the spies were sent... subtract a further eight encampments which took place after Aharon's death: from Hor Hahar to the plains of Mo'av (v. 37-48), which were all during the fortieth year—and you will find that throughout the thirty-eight years, they made only twenty journeys. I found this in the treatise of R' Moshe Hadarshan.

R' Tanchuma offers a different explanation: [The account of the journeys] is analogous to a king whose son became sick, and he took him to a faraway place to be healed. On the way back, the father began to mention all the stages of their journey, saying to him, "This is where we slept. This is where we felt cold. Here you had a headache, etc."

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Forty-Two Journeys (v. 1ff)

Whenever Rashi brings two interpretations, it is because each has a significant problem at the literal level, which is compensated for by the other interpretation. In our case, we need to explain why Rashi cited two explanations for the list of encampments which the Torah records here: that of R' Moshe Hadarshan, and that of R' Tanchuma.

And why does Rashi use the unusual expression, "R' Tanchuma offers a different explanation," unlike the normal practice of Rashi to write, "R' Tanchuma says," or, "another opinion," etc.?

The Explanation

According to R' Moshe Hadarshan, the Torah records a list of the encampments of the Jewish people here to inform us of "G‑d's kindness... that throughout the thirty-eight years, they made only twenty journeys." However, if this were the only reason why the Torah records these encampments, then it could have just mentioned those twenty journeys, which occurred over a period of thirty-eight years (journeys 16-33). Surely, the other journeys do not bring to light "the kindness of G‑d," and thus they need not be mentioned?

Due to this difficulty, Rashi cites the further interpretation of R' Tanchuma, that since the Jewish people had now reached their final port of call before entering the Land, G‑d was "recalling," so to speak, the events that had occurred in the various locations. This explains why journeys 1-15 and 34-42 are mentioned here, even though they were also recorded earlier.

However, R' Tanchuma's interpretation fails to explain why journeys 16-33 were recorded here, since the details of these encampments are mentioned here for the first time, and thus at the literal level there is nothing to recall about these encampments, as there do not appear to be any special events that were associated with them.

In the final analysis, the interpretations of R' Moshe Hadarshan and R' Tanchuma are perfectly complementary: R' Moshe Hadarshan explains why the Torah recorded journeys 16-33, and R' Tanchuma explains the need for journeys 1-15 and 34-42. Therefore, to highlight the perfect symmetry here, Rashi stressed, "R' Tanchuma offers a different explanation," i.e., his explanation is not an alternative approach to that of R' Moshe Hadarshan, but rather, he simply explains a different part of the text.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 18, p. 390, note 4; Sichas Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei 5725)