The last parshah of the Second of the Five Books of Moses, ends with the words "with all their journeys."
The Midrash says that the whole second volume of the Torah describes Am Yisrael moving from darkness into light, from Golus into Geulah, from exile in Mitzrayim to Redemption.
We learn in Torah, that where many are involved in a task, the credit or responsibility for the task belongs to the one who finishes it. If five people for example, build something, the credit (and responsibility) for completion devolves upon the one who hammers in the last nail. As the Torah is Eternal and is the Wisdom of HaShem, any concept in law holds good universally. Therefore we know that the last words of this second Book of the Chumash "with all their journeys" are a completion (like the last nail) of the concept of the whole second volume, and so the completion of the concept of moving from darkness into light.
Although by now every reader is familiar with the notion in Chassidus, explained in The Ladder Up (Building Block No. 2) that every descent is for the purpose of an ascent, we will learn this concept now in much greater depth. We have previously learned that it is impossible to experience ascent without a previous corresponding descent.
There is a famous story of a chosid of the Alter Rebbe whose name was Reb Gavriel. He was a member of a family who was financially strong, but, as a follower of the Alter Rebbe he earned their scorn. The family were so disgusted with his transformation into the "Sect" of Chassidim that they began to successfully undermine his business. Reb Gavriel and his wife had been married for 20 years without children. When with his Rebbe, Reb Gavriel never once mentioned the depletion of his financial resources, nor their lack of children.
Now it was the custom of the Alter Rebbe to ransom captives. (Jewish tenants jailed by the feudal nobility for non-payment of rent.) In doing so, he would ask for donations from his Chassidim, nominating from each person exactly how much the person should give. This nomination was apparently made without knowledge of the financial circumstances of the chosid, because it was not customary for Chassidim to discuss material matters with the Rebbe. On the present occasion, the Rebbe fixed an amount from Reb Gavriel which was now totally beyond his means. Upon returning home, he reported the dilemma to his wife. Ignoring his accountancy, the good woman demanded immediate obedience to the Rebbe insisting it should be without compromise. Asking her husband to gather what he could, she meanwhile sold her jewelry and all her personal items. Shortly thereafter, handing him a sack of money, she asked her husband to go to the Rebbe in Vitebsk to donate the contents immediately, for fear of temptation of investing it in their failing business. Once again standing before the Rebbe in Vitebsk, Reb Gavriel placed the bag on the Alter Rebbe's table. Deep in thought, the Rebbe sighed and opened the sack, revealing coins which the woman had shined until they sparkled. In answer to the Rebbe's pressing him, the husband tremulously explained his circumstances and how his wife had sold her jewelry to put the money together. When questioned as to the contribution of his children, the broken man confessed that they were barren. With a smile the Rebbe told him that in the merit of this tzedakah, he would return home and prosper greatly. Upon the closing of his bankrupt shop, he was to immediately become a trader in gems. Within one year their first child would be born and he and his wife would live long enough to teach Torah to their grandchildren.
Reb Gavriel returned home overjoyed and reported the blessings to his wife. They watched calmly as their business eroded onto insolvency, until it was finally necessary to close the shop. Reb Gavriel now without any livelihood, dutifully turned his attention to gems, and in due course became extraordinarily successful. Furthermore, his wife fell pregnant, and they in time were blessed with many children. The story has a beautiful, happy ending with the couple aging graciously in wealth, generously supporting the learning of Torah.
Now, what is this whole story about? The question for all of us centers around an important and very interesting problem: at what point do you say that this family's fortune became good? Once they had grandchildren? Once they had children? When the wife first fell pregnant? When he made the money? Do you say he would never have made the money in gems without the bankruptcy of the shop? What about visiting his Rebbe? Giving the tzedakah to ransom the captives? When can we say their fortune changed for the better? The question is, if there is a journey from darkness into light, at what point do you say that the process of movement to the light began?
Rashi explains "all your journeys" with the curious description that the phrase means all the places where Am Yisrael camped. Now, how can one consider a camp to be a journey? A camp is a place to stop, a journey a period of progress. (This is so even though when they stopped, it was by direction of HaShem. Once the pillar of cloud stopped Am Yisrael made camp.)
The Rebbe explains that the stops, camps, also implied something permanent because HaShem ordered that they take place.
Digressing momentarily, there were 42 stops by Am Yisrael in the desert. The Baal Shem Tov explains that these 42 journeys are 42 levels of change in every man's life. With sufficient learning in Torah, the secret of these stages can be plumbed and a man can learn how to identify each of these journeys.
Everything in the world has a purpose, and is purposefully created. In some things the purpose is more obvious than in others. It is simple to discern the purpose of a bee, watching it pollinate flowers and plants, or a tree taking in carbon dioxide, giving off precious oxygen for us to inhale. We know that everything in creation (with one exception) was created with a purpose for something else.
The exception is Am Yisrael. There is no end purpose for a Jewish soul in a body, other than the fact that he is a Jew. There exist three interlocking rings and those rings do not have a purpose outside of themselves. The rings are HaShem, His Torah and Am Yisrael. The Torah does not exist so that we will have a world. HaShem is not HaShem so that anything. HaShem is HaShem, Torah is Torah and Am Yisrael is part of HaShem in the sense that a Jewish neshamah is part of HaShem absolutely and does not exist on account of something else. Animals exist on account of something e.g. horses on account of their potential to be ridden, camels on account of their ability to carry for long journeys. The nations exist on account of their wonderful potential to build a world, civilize and populate it; a world of art and beauty; of opera, music and drama; a world of science and technology. A Jew however, is not created for anything. A Jew is created as such, a purpose in itself.
What is the relevance of this? If A exists as a purpose for B then when there is development from A to B, A becomes irrelevant. If A and B exist as independent steps however, when there is movement from A to B, A's relevance continues. When a Jew is elevated a level, his previous stage continues as important because a Jew does not exist as a purpose for something else. Indeed, without the previous level, he cannot have the ascent, and as HaShem structures both situations, both must be important. Any progress implies an elevation of the previous position.
As pointed out in The Ladder Up (Life Secrets, No. 1 - Simchah) the three fundamental berachos potentially available to a Jew are Children, Health and Financial Sustenance. Reb Gavriel and his wife were without children and money, and experienced an ascent. In order to make the ascent, they had to first undergo a descent. What was the descent? Initially, the lack of children and subsequently temporary poverty. In order for there to be a change in spiritual direction, there had to be first a tapping into the will of HaShem by straining to do a mitzvah. But to do the mitzvah was insufficient; it was necessary for it to be accomplished beautifully. The mitzvah had to be performed as best they could, she shining the coins with her rags until they shone. There was never a question of not giving the money, or giving it grudgingly. The woman sat shining the money until the preciousness of the mitzvah was evidenced by the glinting of the coins. To take one Jew out of prison was sufficiently precious to shine the coins in tribute. This action was enough to change the spiritual position of the couple.
Before the couple could change spiritual positions, before that stage in their journey, there had to first be a stop, a camp. Both the camp and the journey are critically important. Without the camp there cannot be an ongoing. The concept is one of pause and growth; pause and growth. Fascinatingly, this is the destiny of Am Yisrael. Each stop is necessary to allow the opportunity to journey again. There are countless stories of tzaddikim suffering extraordinary setbacks without apparently undergoing any negative emotion. Why? We certainly do not have the notion of the stiff upper lip, the hypocrisy of feeling one thing while pretending another. Instead, no negative emotion shows because there is none. It is possible to reach this wonderful elevated level where each stop is perceived as a necessary and valuable ingredient of the journey. The camp is the immediate potential for the new journey. Without the camp there can be no ongoing journey.
Camp is painful? That depends. It depends whether one tunes into the camp or into the journey. How can one tune into the journey before it takes place? This is a function of a person's emunah (faith). If a person is aware of Hashgochah Protis and he knows that his neshamah is in his body for a specific purpose, and he knows that purpose is for the good, then, he knows that a set back is a chance for growth.
That growth is by no means automatic. We must learn this together precisely; Reb Gavriel and his wife did not become rich and replete with children and grandchildren automatically because they experienced descent. They had to do something. They had to effect change in their spiritual position. How did they do that? They gave their last penny and they gave it shiningly.
If a Jew makes camp for a period, the potential is for the new journey, the new growth. He must look to himself to find that potential and determine what to then do. For some people it is automatic; then their berachos are automatic, as with Reb Gavriel and his wife. They did not need to agonize over why they had no children and why they lost their money. Others need to take from their spiritual storehouse every time they are encamped in one of the forty-two stages to determine where the problem lies.
The solution for a Jew will always lie in changing his spiritual position; changing and increasing in one aspect or other of learning Torah or doing mitzvos. For Reb Gavriel and his wife it was tzedakah for another man with another test it may be Kashrus, Shabbos, Mikveh or some other mitzvah. Sometimes a man may need to access a Rebbe as did Reb Gavriel. Sometimes a man can journey alone.
The last words of Shemos are "in all their journeys". This is the sealing statement of journeying from darkness into light. In describing the first day, the Torah says that there was evening, there was morning, one day. This is a blueprint for the whole of Creation, physical and spiritual. Day begins with night, and we go through darkness into light. This is the spiritual set of plans of a Jew's mission. Our task is to turn darkness into light, exile into redemption, camp into an upwardly mobile journey, always recognizing that the camp is a critical part of the upward mobility.
The point is deeper than simply understanding that every descent is for the purpose of an ascent. The descent has a value of its own and should actually be cherished on its own. There may be pain? The pain should stop? Certainly, but the pain too has value, and this must be recognized.
The whole Book of Shemos and specifically this Sedra is about bringing light to darkness. Because the Torah is eternal and because it applies to every generation and to every Jew in each generation, each Sedra has particular application to each Jew in that week. The process through which Am Yisrael moves is from darkness into light and that process is twofold; it is, in the last words of this Sedra, by the process of with "all our journeys". Also with Rashi's definition of journeys as encampments.
So there are two parts to this process of bringing darkness into light.
The first is encampment, descent - the times when things apparently go wrong and one has to stay camped until one recognizes the method to go forward. For some people, like Reb Gavriel and his wife, recognition was almost automatic. Their camp was overnight. For some people camp takes fifty years and for some, camp is sadly permanent, as they steadfastedly refuse to grow throughout their lives.
The second is the making of the next journey. Changing one's spiritual position by not only learning Torah and performing mitzvos but by doing so with extra effort beautifully shining one's offerings until they gleam in the light of HaShem's Will.
Parshas Pekudei is the time when the opportunity to see camp as part of the journey is more revealed. Every man, however, must do his own shining.
- (Back to text) Shemos 40:38.
- (Back to text) The following explanation is based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, p. 235ff.
- (Back to text) See Rashi, on Devorim 8:1.
- (Back to text) See A Treasury of Chassidic Tales, Rabbi Y. Zevin, Parshas Pekudei.