Our parsha opens with a detailed review of the Jewish People’s journeys in the Wilderness. This rendition is lengthy yet abridged, and its prominence should be the first question in our minds. Why now are we doing chazara on our ancestors’ ancient pilgrimage? Why is it brought up before the last two mitzvot in Sefer Bemidbar, the second-to-last sefer of the Torah? This location is far from the end of the Torah, or the end of anything for that matter. Why specifically here, at the beginning of Parshat Masei are we reminded of the journeys?
To answer our question, we start by looking at the beginning of our reading. Masei opens up:
אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְצִבְאֹתָם: בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה, וְאַהֲרֹן.
These are the travels of the Children of Israel who left Egypt, according to their legions, by the hand of Moshe and Aharon (במדבר לג:א)
Straightforward enough. The pesukim continue:
וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מוֹצָאֵיהֶם, לְמַסְעֵיהֶם–עַל-פִּי ה’; וְאֵלֶּה מַסְעֵיהֶם, לְמוֹצָאֵיהֶם
And Moshe wrote their depatures (lit. goings out), to their trips, on the word of G-d, and these are their departures, to their trips. (שם לג:ב)
The mefarshim grapple with the repeated double language “מוצאיהם למסעיהם“. They ask: was each journey a “going out” or a “trip”? Why are both words necessary? Since this phrase is repeated twice in our passuk, many believe that it is a flag, begging our attention to the deeper meaning of the words.
Rabeinu Bechaya presents a novel approach. He teaches that the double language “מוציאהם למסעיהם” show that the journey that Bnai Yisrael went through in the desert, leaving slavery for redemption, leaving a land where we are strangers to come to our homeland, is not a one-time journey. It will be repeated many times, until our final homebound journey where we not only leave (“למוצאיהם“), but also complete our national travels (“למסעיהם“) for good. Rabeinu Bechaya writes that it is important for every generation of the Jewish People to learn from our ancestors’ first journey, recounted in our parsha, but it is especially important for the generation that will return home for good to review these lessons, as they enter Eretz Yisrael never to leave again. Moshe wrote these journeys so that we could learn from them for our journey, and it is incumbent upon our generation to embrace these lessons as we slowly but surely move over to the אתחלתא דגאולה, Medinat Yisrael.
Immediately after the detailed telling over of Bnai Yisrael‘s journeys, Hashem commands Moshe to tell the Jews of the מצוה of כיבוש הארץ, conquering the land. This commandment has two parts: “כי אתם עברים את הירדן אל ארץ כנען,” the actual coming into the land (לג:נא), and “והורשתם את כל ישבי הארץ מפניכם,” driving out the current inhabitants (לג:נב). One may question why the latter part of the command is necessary. The Jews are a peaceful nation; we never seek war and we do not enjoy it- why do we need to actively remove our neighbors when entering the land? The later pesukim in this section answer:
וְאִם-לֹא תוֹרִישׁוּ אֶת-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ, מִפְּנֵיכֶם–וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר תּוֹתִירוּ מֵהֶם, לְשִׂכִּים בְּעֵינֵיכֶם וְלִצְנִינִם בְּצִדֵּיכֶם; וְצָרְרוּ אֶתְכֶם–עַל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹשְׁבִים בָּהּ.
But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those who you leave will be like pins in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will harass you upon the land which you dwell. (לג:נה)
If we do not deal with our neighbors properly, we will live to regret it. They will not take kindly to our conquering the land, and they will bide their time until they can slowly but surely begin harassing us, leading us to regret our misplaced mercy by letting them stay.
From the details of the commandment of כיבוש הארץ, two directives emerge, and two types of heroes emerge. There are those who put their lives on the line to fulfill G-d’s command of “והורשתם את כל יושבי הארץ“- unfortunately, far too many of these heroes have lost their lives in the defense of עם ישראל because the Israeli government did not properly heed G-d’s warning in Parshat Masei.
However, in the midst of all of the chaos of כיבוש הארץ, we cannot forget about the other type of hero- the one who sees the war involved in this mitzva and nonetheless picks himself up and makes the journey across the Jordan River, settling in Eretz Yisrael despite the danger. Words cannot describe the greatness of both of these types of heroes and the risk and sacrifice that they take to fulfill the מצוה of כיבוש הארץ.
On Tuesday morning, I had the unique opportunity to welcome 228 of the latter type of heroes, American Jews arriving in Eretz Yisrael during an intense and dangerous military operation. At the private ceremony welcoming these Jews home, the sentiment of the greatness of their sacrifice was echoed by all of the illustrious speakers. MK Dov Lipman, an oleh from the United States, echoed these words in his address to the crowd; “The heroes sitting in front of me had every reason not to come, but you heeded the call of last week’s parsha ‘האחיכם תלכו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה,’ and you came to join their brothers here.” MK Sofa Landver, the Minister of Absorption and an olah from Russia, spoke along the same lines; “Welcome to the state of Israel… It is especially nice to welcome you today, because these are not simple times to come here. It is good that you came home, and I promise that Am Yisrael Chai (The Jewish People live)- we will work together for a better future here.”
But, more compelling than the politicians’ speeches, was the sight of hundreds of Jews who had just completely left everything behind to follow the mitzvot of ישוב הארץ and כיבוש הארץ. The happiness on their faces at the prospect of starting their new lives at home, hearing their enthusiasm and excitement, shows that the Minister of Absorption’s words were very true- “עם ישראל חי!,” at times of war, the Jewish People are alive and growing in their land.
At this time, when anti-Semitism has reached new highs abroad in response to Operation Protective Edge, and life for Jews in Chutz La’aretz has become hundreds of times more difficult, I call on each and every one of you to learn from Rabeinu Bechaya’s lesson on the opening verses to our parsha, and heed the call of the mitzva of כיבוש הארץ. We can all be heroes, and all we need to do is make the sacrifice of coming home to Eretz Yisrael in this difficult time, crossing the Jordan River, and taking back and settling our land. עם ישראל needs you here- please don’t ignore our call to come home.
The end of our parsha also marks the end of Sefer Bemidbar, and we will call our “חזק חזק ונתחזק.” To the heroes serving in Gaza, enabling us to live safely, strengthen in your fighting and courage for the sake of the Jewish People. To the future heroes who will cross the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael, strengthen yourselves, and join us, as your sacrifice is also crucial for the sake of our People.
With Hashem’s help, we will see all of the Jewish People heeding this call to return home, and merit the coming of the Mashiach very very soon. Shabbat Shalom.