It was late at night when the phone rang. Not good. The caller ID was from my son. Definitely not good. As my son was leaving work after a night event, he noticed an open window in his building and in closing it, the entire window fell out of the frame, hitting him on the head and rendering him unconscious. He was calling from a hospital located about an hour from me. I made it there in 25 minutes. Sometimes, a journey is only about reaching the destination. Other times, it’s about what happens along the way.

The name of this week’s Torah portion, Massei, means “journeys,” and the Torah portion describes the 42 stops (each of which is considered to be a journey unto itself) that the Jewish people experienced during the 40-year period between their leaving Egypt and entering the Land of Israel. As explained by the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, “The forty-two ‘stations’ from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source.”

In describing these journeys, the Torah uses two different phrases but in the exact opposite word order: “their goings forth according to their journeys,” and “their journeys according to their goings forth.”

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the first phrase, “their goings forth according to their journeys,” is about the future destination. The very point of “going forth” is to experience the end game of the journey. This viewpoint is from G‑d’s perspective; whether we understand it or not, each stop was a necessary part of an ultimate Divine plan.

The second phrase, “their journeys according to their goings forth,” however, is the opposite end of the stick, where the point of the destination is primarily to create the experience of the journey. This phrase is about our perspective of each stop and how wesee our journey as we experience each new adventure in the “now” of our lives.

The 42 encampments could easily be seen as distractions or “stops” along the way. Yet they are referred to as “journeys,” for it says, “… they journeyed from ... and they camped at ... ” (Numbers 33:3-49). This is a lesson to us about our journey within life. Every pause, every interruption or time we lose momentum and stay put in a certain place is not taking us away from our journey, but rather is a journey in and of itself. For it is what we learn during these stops—or even setbacks—that propel us to move forward and help define or redefine the direction we are going and ultimately where our journey will take us.

So on the one hand, the Jewish people were on one journey that was the “going forth” to enter Israel, leaving Egypt behind. But to do so, they also had to go on “their journeys,” which required transcending the limitations that Egypt had instilled within them and learning from each experience.

Finding the Balance

Optimal happiness is derived from combining these perspectives—by focusing goals towards an ultimate destination or result, while at the same time smelling the proverbial roses of life along the way. And so it is spiritually. The number 42 itself (from the 42 stops) alludes to the mystical “Forty-two Letter Name of G‑d.” In mystical Judaism, this ineffable name refers to G‑d’s act of creation, as well as the unfolding of time. They are integral to each and have a mirror purpose.

And so it is with us. On one hand, we experience and process the journeys of our lives from our limited human perspective. On the other hand, we also acknowledge that there is also a Divine Hand guiding us along—that there is a bigger picture, and that the events in our lives and across the span of our lives (and lifetimes) are connected. Sometimes, we catch a glimpse of it; other times, it’s completely hidden from view.

Likewise, we want to have our goal in mind and make each step head in that direction. Yet we never want to forget that there are lessons to learn along the way, with a message in those steps that will help guide and determine how we reach our goal (or maybe even redefine it). Journeys are not merely physical sojourns, but are also meant to be inward spiritual experiences.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Write down a goal you want to reach. Why is that goal important to you? How do you think accomplishing it will change your life or improve yourself?
  2. What are some of the challenges or setbacks you have had in trying to reach this goal? Write them down and then write down how you can view these as journeys within your journey to your ultimate goal.
  3. Now think about a goal you have accomplished. When thinking back on the process of getting there, what lessons did you learn from the process itself, and what skills did you use throughout it to stay focused and motivated when you dealt with these setbacks and stops. How can you apply those skills to the current goals you are trying to reach?