Commentary on Parashat Masei

This week all the Synagogues in Israel finish reading the book of Numbers. The reading is from chapter 33:1 to the end of the book.

The first thing we read is seemingly a boarding list of 42 stations that the Israelite tribes stopped in during the forty years of wondering in the Wilderness of Sinai. Now there are some interesting facts that this text brings to us, the first is that on some of these stations we know nothing other than their mention here in this summery. What can we learn from this fact?

1. We can learn that the Holy Spirit chose to report to us only the events that are important for us to know and learn from things that would help us even now thousands of years later. The Holy Spirit did not give us a detailed account of every event and every spot that the Israelite tribes encamped in. The aim of the account was not only to give historians material, but to teach us about life.

2. The second thing that we can learn from this list of 42 stops is that the formula used by the text: “They moved from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. They moved from the Red Sea and camped in the Wilderness of Sin.” (Num. 33:10-11) This formula “The moved from xxxxx and they camped in xxxxx.” repeats itself every time in order to teach us that in every case the same thing happened. The cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night were their guide. This is the language of the command of God: “Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey (moved); and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents (camp). At the command of the LORD the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped.” (Num. 9:17-18)

This kind of routine for forty years sound very boring and trite, but the beauty of it is that when God is leading us and we are always in the palms of HIS HANDS, He feeds us, and protects us, and shows us HIS love and HIS grace, there is no reason to look for change and new excitements because in HIS presence we always will find peace and joy and plenty. The itch to always run after the new and different, the fashionable and the popular, and leave behind the OLD TESTED PATH is an itch that does not always bring us a blessing.

Please think of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. They had the Manna for near 40 years every day. It was the most wonderful food from heaven. A daily miracle of provision directly from the Almighty God they were fed and blessed. Yet, after many years they said: “And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Num. 21:5) Do you remember what happened after this event?

This is what happened: “So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.” (Num. 21:6-7)

Jews learn from this event that ungratefulness is usually “rewarded” with temptation and this temptation opens you to fall into the hands of the “serpent that “is most cunning from all the animals of the field.” This issue is not only dealing with physical things and issues, but also with lack of satisfaction from the spiritual gifts and blessings that God has blessed us and continue to bless us daily. The privilege of talking to God in prayer is one of these great gifts that are given to every man and especially to those who are children of God. The privilege of fellowship with fellow brothers and sisters is another of these gifts given to all of us, and yes, sometimes there is the same old same old every meeting and fellowship, but it is a part of our journey in this world and we ought to be happy that we can have a community of brothers and sisters, even if they and we are less than perfect. Being less than perfect is being like the children of Israel. You can see how merciful and gracious God was to them even after they sinned He heard the prayer of Moses and gave the brass serpent that was lifted up and brought relief and salvation from the fiery serpents and their venom. Please take this simple teaching to heart and pray for yourselves and for your brothers and sisters in the Lord, and pray for your Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel.

This article originally appeared as a part of The Jerusalem Prayer List by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, August 5, 2016, and reposted with permission.