His Faithfulness Is Eternal
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parhsa, Masei, begins with a listing of all the places where the Jews camped during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. That bleak period of Jewish history was coming to an end and they were poised to cross the Jordan and conquer the land. Still it was deemed necessary to meticulously enumerate all the journeys that they had taken on their trek to the promised land. The question raised by many commentators is, why is it important to cite the various places where the Jews tarried in the Midbar?
Many people go through periods of difficulty and struggle at some point in life. In order to achieve worthy goals one must be able to work hard, persevere, and endure setbacks and rejection. When people achieve success after a long period of struggle and disappointment, there is a tendency to focus on their newfound happiness and block out the negative experiences of the past. The memory of failures is painful and at odds with a new self image of being a “winner.”
Judaism maintains that while legitimately earned success is a good thing it can, however, go to one’s head and have negative spiritual consequences. Indeed we live in a culture in which many people are ruined by great success. According to the Rambam the most important virtue is humbleness. In describing the greatness of Moshe it says, “And Moshe was more humble than any man on the face of the earth.” It is very important for “successful people” to retain a proper perspective and not overestimate their abilities. They should always remember the past and revisit the days of failure and disappointment. They should also acknowledge that they did not “make it” all by themselves. If they are honest they will acknowledge all the people and institutions that lent a helping hand and provided meaningful assistance. This type of remembering is vital for it will prevent a person from assuming a feeling of “my power and the strength of my hand has acquired for me all this wealth.” We should develop an attitude of Hakarat Hatov (recognition of the good) and be thankful to all who have helped us along the way. We should appreciate all who have contributed to the molding of our character and development of our mind. Most of all we should always be grateful to Hashem for His Goodness which is beyond comprehension and His mercies which constantly surround us. We can now understand why Moshe recorded the stations at which the Jews had lodged, precisely on the eve of their entry into Eretz Israel. Every place mentioned recalled some aspect of their behavior in the wilderness, bad as well as good. Remembering the forty year journey would give them a realistic sense of their shortcomings as well as their virtues and, most important, an absolute sense of gratitude to Hashem for His eternal faithfulness to them despite their provocations. This teaching has great relevance for us as we observe the three weeks. The dominant theme of the period is mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the lengthy and painful exile we have endured as a result of our many sins. The lesson of the stations is that we can overcome our flaws and return to Hashem who will then redeem us, for His Faithfulness is Eternal.