The first verse of Parsha Masei is:
1These are the journeys(masei) of the children of Israel going out of the land of Mitzrayim (Egypt)…
Why is the word “journeys” instead of the singular form “journey”? Wasn’t it one long journey (singular) for the Israelites from Egypt to Israel?
Sure they had to stop and camp, but the journey and destination remained singular, correct? If you lived in Texas and were making a family road trip to California, it would be one journey to California with some stops in between. You wouldn’t say “our journeys to California”. No, you’d say “our journey to California.”
So why is the word masei (מסעי)“journeys” when the Torah could have said masa (מסע)“journey”?
The Alter Rebbe has an insightful answer which is applicable to us today:
It would seem that there was only one journey which took the Jewish nation out of Egypt–their journey from Raamses to Sukkot. The other “journeys” listed in our Parshah were between points outside of the geographical borders of Egypt. Why, then, does the Torah speak of “the journeys” — in the plural — “of the children of Israel going out of the land of Mitzrayim“?
Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for “Egypt,” means “borders” and “narrows.” On the spiritual level, the journey from Egypt is a journey from the boundaries that limit us–an Exodus from the narrow straits of habit, convention and ego to the “good broad land” of the infinite potential of our G-dly soul.
And the journey from Mitzrayim is a perpetual one: what is expansive and uninhibited by yesterdays standards, is narrow and confining in light of the added wisdom and new possibilities of todays station. Thus, each of lifes “journeys” is an Exodus from the land of Mitzrayim: having transcended yesterdays limitations, we must again journey from the Mitzrayim that our present norm represents relative to our newly-uncovered potential.
(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)
What exactly is the Alter Rebbe saying?
While the Jewish nation were freed from the physical Mitzrayim (Egypt) and embarked on a physical journey to Sukkot, they also had to free themselves from the spiritual Mitzrayim (Egypt, the land of slavery) and continuously and tenacious embark on many spiritual journeys to liberate their hearts and minds from the spiritual shackles that continue to bind.
While on the one hand, this certainly sounds homiletic. On the other hand, it is certainly true.
God can take the Jew out of Egypt, but it is up to the Jew to take Egypt out of himself. Don’t we know that to be true today as well?
In Texas we have a saying,
Texas is unique among the 50 states of America. It has a spirit unlike any place I’ve lived. The closest may be Israel. That spirit is a cowboy spirit. It’s an undaunted, independent, and determined spirit. And it is that is the spirit about that saying is referring to.
Well the opposite can also be true in many circumstances, and was so for the slaves coming out of Egypt.
Freedom and liberty are not the norms of civilizations, rather they are the exceptions. The norm is more like that of Egypt: Narrow, confined, bound, restrictive, secure, and ruled by the elite few. Amazingly, many people don’t seem to mind the norm.
Why? It can be a scary and tough world out there if you have no one else you can depend on except yourself… and God.
And that is the battle we all must face.
Though we do not live enslaved to another man, we can still choose to enslave ourselves with worldly and material trappings.
Though we were liberated from a physical prison, we may still be trapped in our internal prisons. Spiritual jailhouses which keep us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stuck.
Everyday, we must venture out from what feels safe, secure, or certain and face the world as liberated people who wish to be bound to God.
These are journeys we all must face in one form or fashion. One persons journey may be from alcohol or food. Another’s may be from a job they can no longer morally justify. Or another person’s may be from their constant self criticism and doubt.
Trust in God. Have faith in Him alone.
I hear a line I appreciate from my Christian friends. They say they “walk with the Lord.” I think what they mean by that is that as they go about their daily lives, they feel they are being guided throughout their journeys by God. They are careful to try to do God’s will.
As Jews we should have the same emunah (faith). When we do mitzvot and live ethical and religious lives doing Hashem’s will, then we “walk with the Lord.” When we try to do our own thing, we separate ourselves from that walk… that path… that journey. The longer you keep on with your own journey the further you get from God and the destination which is best for you. But the good news is that everyday, we get a choice and we can return to the journeys that He wants us to take.
We have the freedom to choose, and He has given us the opportunity… But the journeying we must do ourselves.