By Tuvia Aronson

The journeys of Bnei Yisrael through the desert serve as a paradigm for our connections with the various parts of the land upon which we tread. The early Torah commentators are puzzled by the seemingly extra words used to describe the 42 pitstops along the great hike in the wilderness. (Dr. Nehama Leibowith offers an examination of the opinions of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban and Rambam among others.) As usual, the events in the lives of our ancestors can be considered a sign for our times.

Looking carefully at the text, we also note the repetition of location names upon arrival and departure at the beginning of Parshas Masei. Perhaps the inherent message is that when we encounter a particular place, our interactions with the land actually affect it in a spiritual sense. We may attempt to physically leave no trace, but whether we like it or not, the land takes on a new energetic quality.

The same is true with regards to us. The Degel Mahane Efraim, the Rebbe of Sadilkov, cites the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that the journeys of the desert reflect what actually happens to our souls on the journey through life. Just as the land is changed by our interaction with it, our souls are changed by interaction with the world. What happens to the Earth is mirrored in our selves!

We can conclude that our exile is really a hidden blessing; our journeys are opportunities to engage with the place on Earth we find ourselves—to perceive the holiness in the “land of our souls.”

Originally posted in “On Eagles’ Wings” July 25th 2003