Parshas Mattos opens with the description of the 42 masaos (marches) that the people of Israel made from the time that they left the land of Egypt until the final days of Moshe on the plains of Moab.
The question everyone asks is: what do I need this for? What is the point? Clearly, the Torah says that Moshe wrote them because he was commanded to do so (al pi haShem), but for what purpose?
RaSh”I addresses this issue. He brings two answers. I would like to address only the first.
In the name of Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan RaSh”I tells us that the purpose of the list is to teach us the chassadim (merciful acts) of HKB”H. How so? Says RaSh”I if we calculate how many of the marches occurred after the punishment of the spies there are a sum total of 20 marches were made after the sin of the spies. When we consider that the punishment of the tribes of Israel was that they should remain in the desert drifting from place to place for 38 years it turns out there relatively very little actual “drifting” was done. That is the chessed of HKB”H.
The funny thing is I’m sure that if we would have asked the children of Israel what they think they would have told us a tale of woe. How difficult it was. How they had to go on 20 marches, moving from place to place. A tale of woe, not one of chessed.
That’s the funny thing about life, it’s really all judged based on our perspective.
One of my Rabbeim, HaRav Yechiel Ya’akovson shlit”a, tells a story about a school where he was principal and how he applied this to his students. He relates that the student body was misbehaving and as such he decided that he was going to give them a group punishment: they were going to go on a forced march for a few kilometers. He took the group out to the desert and off they go! Up hills, down valleys, across long stretches. The entire time the group was complaining about how difficult it was and how they were suffering.
On another occasion, when he felt that the student body deserved a reward he told them all that on this and this date classes were canceled as everyone was going on a well-deserved … tiyul (day trip). On the day trip, they went out to the same place that they went on the forced march. They went up the hills and down the valleys and this time… they loved every minute!
What was different? Perspective.
In his book The Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People author and speaker Steven Covey refers to this as a paradigm shift. Call it that if you want.
The oilam (the world) says that there is really only two things to do when life serves you lemons: either be sour about it or make lemonade!
This is a very valuable lesson that we, as parents and educators, have to try and teach our children about life. Even the most difficult situations have a “silver lining” if we take the time to look for it. The effect that this has on a person’s life is amazing!
That’s good advice for many situations, but Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan tells us that that’s not always true. Sometimes we lack the ability to get the right perspective about something. That is the time to get someone else’s view on the topic. A parent, a good friend and most importantly a Rav. If not for Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan, in all likelihood we would never have thought to look at the masaos as the chassadim of HKB”H. That requires a deep commitment and vast understanding of HaShem’s world.
Yehi ratzon that we should succeed in teaching ourselves and our children (and our students!) how to have a proper perspective on things and that if they cannot find one – to go and ask someone else to find the proper Torah perspective on life.