Have you ever traveled to Marah, Etham or Elim? Perhaps Succoth, on the way to Rameses?

Probably not; after all, these ancient pit stops have not been on anyone’s recent trekking itinerary.

Parshat Massei covers the years that the nation of IsraelTalk about a weary group of pilgrims! lived and traveled in the desert. In it, we hear details about the 40-year journey among the sand dunes and arid landscapes.

The details are plentiful. The Israelites traveled on the day following Passover, as they left auspiciously before the eyes of the Egyptians. From there, they camped at the edge of the desert. They camped at places where there were “12 springs of water and 70 palm trees,” and alternatively they lodged at places where there was no water to drink. They sojourned in many corners of the land—42 stops in all.

Talk about a weary group of pilgrims!

Under the leadership of Moses, these travelers confronted some tough conditions. Sometimes they were frustrated, often they complained, but they made it through.

From this Parshah we come to understand that Moses’ leadership will end very soon. We see final preparations being made for this event, including listing the boundaries of the Land and setting up the rules for inheriting it.

For 40 years, Moses was at the helm—inspiring, educating and schooling these wanderers. Soon, they will be on their own.

So the questions remain: Did the nation of Israel transform? Have the people integrated lessons learned? And are they ready to become independent, mature, individuated human beings, leading themselves through their life journeys?

Four decades in the desert was a powerful training ground. In Judaism, the number 40 means the completion of something. Once it is completed, it is left behind; in its place emerges something new. Thus, 40 represents the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one.

In this case, Moses led his flock through years and years of exhilarating highs and some painful lows. It took 40 days to receive the Torah, but it took 40 years to absorb, understand and internalize the depth of our blueprint for life. During this time, there were those many “stops” along our journey. We were passing through unknown territory, exposing ourselves to the desert elements. We were grasping, stretching ourselves as a nation and as individuals. We were shedding old skin and inhabiting a new one. All the while, our leader was there to support, instruct, and help peel off the sun-soaked layers.

But then he would leave us. And we would be on our own, with new skin in perhaps a new desert.

Every human being is on a journey. Often, especially in the beginning, we find ourselves connected to a guide or a leader. Whether it be a parent, teacher, sibling or friend, we are accompanied by those who have some experience and wisdom under their belts. They know full well that the “stops” we encounter—the different individual details of our journey—connect into a complete, unique picture.

Developmentally, there are times where we need to be guided and mentored: childhood, adolescence, when we are acquiring a new skill set, when we find ourselves lost.

On the other hand, there are times, when in orderIt’s time for new skin grow, we need to lead and position ourselves as advisors and pathfinders.

Interestingly, at age 40 (the time midlife emerges), we often find ourselves in this very position. Shedding that old skin; rebirthing; starting new endeavors; sojourning into unfamiliar, exciting lands and expanses. We have had many stops; we have transcended. Now, it’s time for new skin.

Whether it takes a little more or a little less than 40 years, our journey through the desert of life is filled with pauses and cessations. We traverse our land and experience all the details that create the composite we inhabit. We are led by many mentors, but ultimately we are meant to take the lead, forging a path onward towards the future—and eternity.

Parshat Massei gives us a glimpse into this process.