The Torah portion Masei begins by stating:1 “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel who left Egypt….” The Torah then goes on to recount all the places where the Jews resided during their 40-year trek from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Our Sages2 ask: By recounting the places where the Jewish people camped rather than the journeys themselves, the Torah is indicating that the resting places are more important than the journeys. This being so, the verse should have stated: “These are the encampments …,” rather than “These are the journeys …” Especially so, since the Jews spent the majority of these 40 years in their encampments, and not in travel.

The ultimate purpose of both the Jews’ travels and encampments was, of course, to enter Eretz Yisrael. The encampments were therefore also termed “journeys,” for they served no purpose in and of themselves.

In commenting on the verse, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel who left Egypt….” the Baal Shem Tov notes3 that the 42 journeys of the Jewish people from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael are mirrored in the 42 spiritual journeys undertaken by each and every Jew from the time of his birth — his personal departure from “Egypt” — to his arrival at the edge of the “Land of Life.”

Understandably, the “rest stops” and “encampments” along the way refer to the various stages of spiritual growth to be experienced during life’s journey.

But the previous question reoccurs: Surely, since the emphasis is on man’s accomplishments — his “encampments” — the verse should have stated “These are the encampments ,” rather than “These are the journeys ”?

In order for man to accomplish all that he is capable of, he must be constantly “on the move.” We thus find the following difference between “stopping” and “moving” in terms of man’s service:4

Even when a person rises from level to level, if the new level is comparable to the previous one, the individual has not truly departed from the lower level, and is considered to be “stationary.”

“On the move” means there is no comparison between a person’s former state and his present one — the individual has totally departed from his previous level.

The verse therefore emphasizes “the journeys ,” indicating that a Jew should never be satisfied with moving from one level to a comparable one. Rather, he must constantly “journey” in a manner whereby his next stage is infinitely higher than his current one.

This latter manner of “travel” contains two elements: departing from the previous level and attaining the infinitely higher one. As long as there has not been a complete departure from the former level, the higher level cannot be attained.

This, then, is the meaning of “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel who left Egypt ….” Why was it necessary for there to be many “journeys” in order to leave Egypt; it would seem that with the first journey the Jewish people already departed Egypt?5

Egypt is symbolic of spiritual limitations. Thus, the “encampments” — the spiritual achievements en route — did not constitute complete redemption from “Egypt.” In order to arrive at the Promised Land, there had to be a total departure from previous “encampments,” for each stopping — no matter how lofty the waystation — itself represented a lingering within the state of “Egypt.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXIII, pp. 224-227.