In the biblical book of Numbers, chapter 33, we find a summary of the 40-year nomadic camping journey in which God guided the children of Israel in the desert for (in the Torah portion “Masa’ei”). We find here and also again in Deuteronomy the preparations of a people transitioning from nomadic life to living in permanent settlements.
A group of Israelite people is now standing before the Jordan River, one moment before entering the Promised Land. This is a new generation. The old generation has died out.
These are not the ones who knew Egypt and the harsh Pharaoh. They are not the ones who experienced the crossing of the Red Sea. Nor are they the ones who stood before Mount Sinai and received the Torah. Nor did they witness the wrath and plagues of judgement in Egypt.
These are people who were born in the wilderness. They are used to a life of wandering, packing up camp, and moving from place to place.
How do such people settle down to live in one place?
How do those who have been on the move (“Go Ye” – “Lech lecha”), become those who sit “under each one’s vine and fig tree.”
The first thing Moses does in his speech to the nation in the Book of Deuteronomy is to divide the people into tribal areas and set boundaries. Boundaries are basic and important.
A people accustomed to having wide open spaces, a people accustomed to the freedom of the desert, must learn boundaries.
What is mine what is yours? Where is my property of inheritance, and where is my neighbor’s?
Separation is of paramount importance, each one staying in his place and at the same time respecting the other’s. This is the way to put down roots, create neighborhood communities and feel a sense of belonging.
The Israelites passed through 42 campgrounds on their journey in the desert.
Each place had its own character, its own story and its own lesson. The children of Israel now know that they have arrived, that they must prepare to enter the land.
They know what is in front of them. It will not be easy. They must fight and clear the land of anything that will cause them to deviate from the path – idols, temptations…
Even during the wanderings it was very difficult to get the people to cling to the unseen God. Even then they made the idol of the golden calf and were tempted to follow other gods.
They naturally sought to hold on to the tangible. Now when they come to permanent towns, the struggle with the temptation of idolatry of the material/tangible will become a daily struggle. Success will be not getting distracted and coveting what other people have.
What about us today?
Where are we today? In our day we do not have Moses and Aaron to lead us and protect us, to tell us when we have arrived at the destination.
Will each of us be able to do the work ourselves? Will we be able to understand what station in life we are at? Do we know what to prepare for? Will we be able to stay connected? To recognize God?
To hear him? To listen to him? To do as he said?
Will we know when to rest? When to continue the journey? Will we know how to get rid of idols and false beliefs? Will we know when we are in the Promised Land, even without Moses in front of us?
Each of us can hear from God. And have wisdom. And understand. He wants our good.
Let’s listen with faith and with a heart full of love.
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