Parshas Masei notes the 42 encampments that the Jews took on their 40 year journey through the wilderness until going into Eretz Yisroel. The boundaries of the land of Israel are also defined, and cities of refuge are established for unintentional murderers, and we conclude the book of Bamidbar/ Numbers.
I saw in the Sfas Emes that the journeys can be counted either to sum to 49 or 50 based on how many times the Yidden returned to certain places. Each journey was a tikun for some other midah that needed to be fixed... for the places correspond to the 49 levels of tumah that the Yidden merited to be mesaken by leaving Egypt. As we know, aveiros can be turned into mitzvos with Teshuva, and that was the purpose of the travels, to do a hagala of sorts before entering Ha'Aretz.
The journey through the wilderness is one which offers many opportunities for insight into the trials and travails that the Jews had to endure before meriting to enter the Land of IsraelWe see that the posuk at the beginning of Parshas Masei states, “These are the journeys of Bnei Yisroel who went out of Mitzrayim in organized groups under the
leadership of Moshe and Aharon.” It is true that the journeys of Klal Yisroel began after their redemption from Mitzrayim, but why is it necessary once again to remind us of this
fact? Theoretically, the posuk should have simply said that these were the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel. It what way could we somewhat understand what the reference to Mitzrayim is revealing to us?
R’ Ahron Rapps starts a great exposition of this question by having us first look to the mishnah in the 2nd perek of Pirkei Avos which lists the results of having certain thigns in excess- some positive (more we study- more wisdom we acquire) , some negative (more wives, the more witchcraft will be prevalent)...
Rashi in Maseches Sanhedrin cites the Yerushalmi which discusses that Shimon ben Shetach was successful in killing eighty witches by having them all picked up off the ground. The powers of tumah which are the source of the witches’ evil ability are grounded on the earth of Olam Hazeh. When a witch isn’t standing on the ground, the machshefa can’t sap the tumah to be able to manifest its abilities. In the ideal framework, the isha relates to the physical world, enabling it to be elevated by the ish. In the imperfect state, she simply relates to the physical and becomes a natural part of the process of the machshefa. Further, the Maharal (in Derech Chaim) explains that the more wives a person has, the more chance there is that the balance and relationship won’t be ideal. Thus, more witchcraft could develop. The Sfas Emes explains that, essentially, this idea can be found with the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel. The Sfas Emes says that as long as a person is connected to and bound in the physical gashmius of Olam Hazeh, he can’t soar towards Olam Haba. Just as a witch can only do her earthly craft when she is anchored on earth, so too, the nefesh can’t find its true address until it is freed and allowed to fly.
We know that Mitzrayim was the most immoral nation of its day. The Mitzriyim lived their lives relying totally on the Nile River and the idea of G-d never played a role in their existence. They were totally connected to the physical world of Olam Hazeh. When Klal Yisroel was redeemed from their midst, the Yidden were released from such an identity and given the ability to develop spiritually to be able to dwell in the holy land of Eretz Yisroel. Klal Yisroel couldn’t possibly go directly into the Holy Land, directly after leaving the tumah of Mitzrayim.
Leaving Mitzrayim enabled the Bnei Yisroel to be removed from the physical realm, and through their journeys in the midbar, they were able to advance in a positive sense towards kedusha. As such, we can strive, learning out from this week’s Parsha, to always look for the Olam Ha Ba elements of daily life and yearn to allow our neshamos the ability to soar above the mundane and into the profound teshuka of heavenly actions and thoughts.