In parashat Mase all the journeys are being mentioned by Moshe. That is what Masei Bnei Israel means: the journeys of the Children of Israel. Much has happened during these 42 journeys. Much good, much trouble. Much tearing down of trust and relationships, much repair and restoration. In all of these journeys Hashem was present. The number 42, not an accidental number, is symbol of G-d’s presence as we learn in G-d’s name (I am – I am), in a prayer like Ana b’koach, in the way one the New Testament authors lists the genealogy of Yeshua (read Matthew 1:17) and in the 42 journeys which are divided into three times 14.
By this I mean that there are 14 journey descriptions with details which took place before the mission of the spies, followed by 14 without many details, followed by 14 with detail. It was Hashem who repeatedly saved Israel from the disasters. He worked overtime, even creating the whole in which Korach and friends disappeared. So the number 42 underlines G-d’s presence during the 40 years.
In order for Israel to carry out Torah within the Land of Israel borders had to be defined. This contains a great lesson for us. This lesson is for those who love the Lord and who love His Torah and who want to keep it in order to show our love to Him. Showing love to the Lord by keeping and practicing His Torah we can read about in Shemot 20:6, “Those who love Me and who keep My commandments.” Nechemya (Nehemiah) says in 1:5, “Those who love You and keep Your commandments”, read also Daniel 9:4. Of course the New Testament says the same about the combination love for Hashem-Torah, read Matthew 5:17-19, John 14:21, 1 John 5:3 and 2 John 1:6.
The lesson in keeping Torah and defining borders is the following. Without borders the land is open and vulnerable. And it is impossible to know whether you are on the soil on which you can apply G-d’s commandments or not. This can lead to uncertainty in our relationship with Hashem and to loss of motivation to serve Him. Borders are necessary for protection of our feelings, our self-image. With borders we will be able to separate the problems and responsibility of others over against those of our own. Borders will keep G-d’s love “inside”. Without borders there might never be enough love. With borders appreciation with land, without borders it might never hit home.
In the Land of Israel two types of cities were created which would have unique and specific functions: 48 cities for the Levites and 6 cities of refuge (3 in the Land and 3 outside). The cities for the Levite show one of the consequences of not receiving a regular portion of the Land. Levites need to be taken care of well. And the justice system of Israel was developed so well that these cities of refuge were there in a system which protected everybody.
If somebody took a life, four scenarios could have occurred: accidental act, resulting in forgiveness; unintentional, resulting in the need for a city of refuge; unintentional but close to intentional, resulting in punishment; and intentional with witnesses, resulting in execution. Only one out four scenarios deserved the death penalty. What a paradise to live under that Law! So not only in the journeys and not only through borders, but also in keeping Torah in these specific areas Hashem could be made visible. Like we do celebrating Shabbat.
Lion S. Erwteman, Rosh Kehilla of Beth Yeshua