The Midrash characterizes the entire book of Shemot (Exodus) as describing the exit from “darkness to light.”  However, we see that both the beginning and the end of this second book of Moses seem to be the opposite.  In the beginning of Shemot, we find the tribes descending to Egypt, which was a place of darkness and slavery, and at the end, we find the Jews setting off on their forty-year journey through the desert.  This also was certainly not a journey into light.

Moreover, at the end of our parsha, the Torah tells us that the Jews got busy with their “journeys.”  Rashi tells us that what the Torah means is that the JEws got busy with their “encampments.”  That is, since the encampments were the places from which the Jews launched their journeys, therefore even the journeys were called “encampments.”  But, if so, why doesn’t the Torah just call them “encampments”?  Furthermore, the Talmud describes the encampments of the Jews as “permanent” since they were dictated by God Himself, and therefore were beyond the considerations of man.  So, how can Rashi describe the journeys, which were temporary, as “encampments,” which are permanent?

The answer is that there are two ways of looking at a journey.  We can look at it as a process that has no intrinsic value of its own – it is merely a means of traveling from one place to another.  In that case, a journey is just that – it is a temporary stage in an ongoing process.  However, we may also look at a journey as more than an empty process.  It may also be a bridge and a plateau that contains its own content.  Since each journey leads us to a new level of life and spirituality, we may look upon the journey as a minor encampment of its own.  When we do so, we can understand how Rashi commented that the journeys of the Jews were really “encampments.”  Since each journey was a step to a higher level, it was a form of permanent encampment of its own.

The world was created as passive matter, without any intrinsic spiritual content.  It is when Jews do mitzvoth and follow the 613 commandments, most of them utilizing the physical world, that the world receives an elevation and takes on some intrinsic spirituality.  The same is true of the journeys in the desert.  Without the presence of the JEws, the desert was empty and desolate.  But, as the Jews proceeded upon their divinely ordained journeys, while fulfilling the mitzvoth of the Torah, the desert was purified and elevated.  And when that occurs, the journeys (the “process”) itself takes on meaning because each step along the way contributes to the final goal.  Because of that, it is possible to refer to the journeys as Rashi does – as “encampments.”

For a longer and more detailed explanation, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

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