by Moshe Kempinski
The book describing the people’s journey through the wilderness (the book of Numbers) is reaching its completion. It is not happenstance that this book of Bamidbar is culminated in the midst of the “three weeks of longing”. We are in the midst of mourning for and yearning for the absent House of G-d. The placement of a torah reading in a specific time in the calendar year is never happenstance. What, then, can the portion teach us regarding the yearning for and the preparation of the rebuilding of this place that is destined to become the House of Prayer for all nations?
We must first ask the question as to why HaShem asked that a house be built for Him, even though He clearly knew that it would be destroyed. In the same vein, why did HaShem plant Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden whilst fully knowing that would fail and be expelled. Why did HaShem create Man and Woman as one, only to then separate them again?
The answer to all those questions is connected to “the power of yearning”. The greatest spiritual force in the Universe is yearning. The world and reality is built along a framework where perfection is displayed and then hidden, where paradise is revealed then lost. The Garden of Eden is revealed and then lost. Man and Woman are created as one and then they are separated. G-d reveals Himself in all His power and Glory during the Exodus in Egypt, and then goes into hiding. The First and Second temples are built and experienced, and then they are lost.
Spiritual existence is about the yearning to reveal that which was hidden and find that which was lost. It is that spiritual force of yearning that fixes the world and restores it to its purpose. G-d created a reality that would provide need and imperfection and the yearning to restore the world to perfection.
Yet the process of that spiritual repair would necessitate a long and arduous journey. The torah portion of “Maasei“ would provide insight into that journey. In the last portion of the book of Bamidbar (Numbers) we read of the 42 stations in the wandering of the people of Israel in the wilderness until their arrival at the gates of the land of Israel.
“These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt intheir legions, under the charge of Moshe and Aaron. Moshe recorded from their starting points for their journeys (motza-eyhem lemasa-eyem) according to the word of HaShem, and these were their journeys to their starting points. (masa-eyem lemotza-eyhem)” (Numbers 33:-21)
First we read “from their starting points for their journeys and then the verse says “their journeys to their starting points“. Why the repetition of the idea and why the reverse order?
The words “motza-eyhem lemasa-eyem” teach us that we need to remember where we came from and what we have experienced. Our past is our guide. As the Baal She Tov taught “Forgetfulness leads to exile. Memory is the source of redemption”.
Yet at the same time we cannot lose sight of the goal, ”masa-eyem lemotza-eyhem” With those two compass points we can endure, survive and grow in the long voyage that we have been set upon.
We have seen the glory of Hashem filling His house and then experienced its destruction. Yet at the same time we have been assured that
“And it shall be at the end of the days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall stream to it.” (Isaiah 2:1-2)
The two compass points have been set into place. When it will be built, it will not be done in a time fraught with conflict and destruction. It will be built when
“for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 9:11)
. Every living mortal will want it built.
The key to that unfolding of destiny will be our level of yearning. In Psalm 122, King David writes
“I rejoiced when they said to me,“Let us go up to the house of the Lord’. Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem”. (Psalm 122:1-2)
Shouldn’t it have said “I rejoiced as we went to the house of G-d?”. King David was not destined to rebuild the Temple, but he rejoiced nevertheless when he heard of the blossoming and growing yearning of those who cried out “Let us go up to the house of the Lord”.
It is that yearning that will bring about the redemption. As our sages teach that “whoever mourns over Jerusalem will merit experiencing the joy of her rebuilding. As it is written in
”Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.” (Isaiah 66:10)
May we see it speedily in our days.