Matos Masei – Where are we headed

A chasid once went to the Baal Shem Tov and asked, “Rebbe, I really want to see Eliyahu HaNavi. What can I do to merit this?” The Baal Shem Tov smiled, “It is actually quite simple! All you have to do is get two big boxes. Fill one with food and the other with children’s clothes. Then go to Minsk, in Belarus, Erev Rosh HaShanah and find the house on the edge of town right before the forest begins, when you arrive stand outside the door and listen until it is almost time to light candles – then, knock and ask for a place to stay.” The Chasid came home and told his wife that he would be away for Rosh Hashanah. She wasn’t pleased but after he told her this was a chance for him to see Eliyahu Hanavi, she agreed that it isn’t an opportunity he should allow to slip away. The Chasid did as the Besht instructed and arrived shortly before candle lighting with his two boxes, he heard the children crying on the other side of the door; “Mommy, we’re hungry. The New Year is coming and we don’t even have decent clothes to wear!” He then heard the mother respond, “Children, we must believe God will send us help even in the last moment.” The chasid waited a few more minutes and then knocked on the door, the mother opened the door and he asked to stay for Yom Tov, she replied, “How can I host you when I have no food? I am sorry but…” “…but I brought enough food for all of us” interjected the Chasid pointing at the first box. “And clothes for your children” he said pointing to the second. He came in and gave the children to eat and handed out new clothing. He was there for two days, waiting to see Eliyahu Hanavi. He couldn’t sleep, how could he? How often do you get a chance to see Eliyahu Hanavi? But he saw no one.

He returned to the Besht and said, “Rebbe, I did everything like you said but I did not see Eliyahu Hanavi.” “Then you will have to go back for Yom Kippur, again take a box of food, go to the same house and wait till it is time to light candles before you knock.”, instructed the Besht. So he went back to Minsk before Yom Kippur and stood at the door, listening. Inside he again heard the children crying, “Mommy, we are starving. We haven’t eaten the whole day, how are we supposed to fast?” “Children!” said the mother. “Did you forget how you cried before Rosh Hashanah that you had no food or clothes? And I told you that we must believe God will help us. Wasn’t I right? Didn’t Eliyahu Hanavi come and bring you food and clothing? He stayed with us for two days! Now you’re crying again that you’re hungry. We should surely believe Eliyahu will come now too and bring you food!” Then the Chasid understood what his rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, had meant. And he knocked on the door. 

We each have a specific mission we must accomplish. And sometimes we have to go on a journey to understand what we must do. Parshas Masei begins with a list of the forty two journeys the Jewish people took when they “left Mitzrayim”(33:1) on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Rashi poses the question of what the point is in enumerating the journeys the Jewish nation took, and he answers with a mashul; This is like a king whose son the prince is ill so they travelled together far away to find a cure. And on their way back, after the prince is healed the king points out to him, “here we slept… and there it was cold that night… and there was when you had a headache…” But even with Rashis explanation, the purpose of recounting each stop in the journey seems to remain unanswered. 

What is Rashi alluding to with this Mashul? We each have a mitzvah that is ingrained in our soul. There are many journeys and challenges that we must travel and overcome before we arrive at our personal, spiritual, Eretz Yisrael and each challenge that we have is for our benefit, no one else in the world can benefit from our challenges but ourselves. This is why the pasuk specifically says, “These are the journeys of the Bnei Yisrael, when they left Mitzrayim…”(33:1) why is it that we are leaving Mitzrayim, wouldn’t it be better to say “These are the journeys of the Bnei Yisrael, on their way to Israel” Let us focus on the destination, not the origin. But this is not so, because in order to continue onto something great we must recognize how we got there. That is the Mashul Rashi brought down, that when we are healed – when things are on the up and up we must take a moment to recount how we got there, and through that we will uncover our true mission and be able to enter into our personal Eretz Yisrael. And just like the Chasid in the story, through the journeys we take we will come to recognize our mission, our purpose. Knowing where you came from will help you determine where you’ll go next.

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