Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

August 6, 2005 - 1 Av 5765

Annual: Numbers 33:1-36 - 13 (Etz Hayim, p. 954; Hertz p. 702)
Triennial: Numbers 33:1 - 49 (Etz Hayim, p. 954; Hertz p. 702)
Maftir: Numbers 28:9 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 930; Hertz p. 695)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4 - 28, 4:1 - 2 (Etz Hayim, p. 972; Hertz p. 725)
Isaiah 66:1 & 23) (Etz Hayim, p. 1219; Hertz p. 944)

Prepared by David M. Eligberg
Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


Moshe lists all the places where the Israelites encamped on their journey through the wilderness.

The Israelites are commanded to remove both the people and the cultic places that are in the land of Israel when they arrive there lest any remnant of them become either a temptation to sin or a source of trouble in the future. The Torah delineates the boundaries of the Promised Land and the assignment of heredity territories for Reuven, Gad and the half-tribe of Menasheh on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The parasha designates a leader from each tribe to work with Yehoshua and Elazar in the apportionment of land to the remaining nine and one half tribes. Each of the tribes is required to set aside towns, as well as fields around them, for the Levites. Six of the forty-eight towns established for the Levites are to be designated as cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan River.

Cities of refuge were havens for individuals who killed unintentionally, offering protection from the avenging kinsmen of the deceased until the case went to trial. Premeditated or deliberate murder was punishable by death. Involuntary homicides were adjudicated by the courts and those found guilty would remain in a city of refuge until the death of the serving Kohen Gadol. The Torah requires a minimum of two witnesses for anyone to be convicted of a capital offense. The Torah also rejects a practice prevalent in the ancient Near East wherein a murderer or a manslayer could pay a ransom in lieu of their penalty.

The parasha, and thus the book of Numbers, concludes by reiterating the geographic location of the Israelites - on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan River, across from the city of Jericho.

Discussion Topic 1: Learning From the Journey

"These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moshe and Aharon. Moshe recorded the rest stations of their various marches as directed by the Lord. Their marches, by rest stations, were as follows..." (Numbers 33:1-2)

Derash: Study

  • Why are these rest stations recorded? To demonstrate the loving kindness of the Omnipresent; even though He decreed that they wander in the wilderness, one should not say that they wandered continually, moving from place to place the whole forty years and that they had no rest, for we see that there are only forty two rest stations. Deduct from this fourteen which occurred in the first year prior to the edict [of wandering] from the time they left Rameses until they arrived in Rithma from where they sent out the scouts.... Deduct another eight stations that took place after the death of Aharon as they traveled from Mt. Hor to the Plains of Moab in the fortieth year. Thus in the thirty-eight years in between they only moved twenty times. (Rashi, quoting Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan)
  • It was important to record the stages of the wandering, for miracles convince only those who witnessed them. To future generations they will be only distant echoes or figments of the imagination. The greatest of all the miracles in the Torah is the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years with a daily supply of manna. In order to remove all doubts and to establish the accuracy of the account of these miracles, the Torah enumerates all the rest stations, so that future generations can visit them and learn the greatness of the miracle which enabled people to survive in those places for forty years. (Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed 3:50, Quoted by Ramban on the verse)
  • From the time the Holy One brought [the Israelites] out of Egypt until they arrived at the gates of the promised land much befell them, both positive and negative. The brief listing of the stations of the wandering was meant for the Israelites to read after they settled in their homeland. Reading about each station would enable them to recall what happened to them there. They would be able to take to heart the kindness shown them by God and the suffering they endured for their disobedience, so that they would act properly in the future and avoid sin. (Be'er Yitzhak)
  • We are under an obligation to acknowledge these miracles, for they are miracles that were performed for our benefit as well, otherwise we would not be here. (Toldot Yitzhak)
  • The Holy One desired that the stations of the Israelites' journey be recorded to make known their merit in following God into a wilderness, into a place that was waste, to show that they were worthy to enter the [promised] land eventually. (S'forno)
  • Our teacher Moshe wrote down all the stations where Israel sojourned and they were an entire Torah. Now Elijah writes down all the sojourns, the wanderings and difficulties of Israel. In the days of the messiah it will be a book from which all can learn. (Rabbi David of Leelob)
  • This world is called "The World of Repair" and a person must fix each day what he did yesterday. This is what 'they encamped and they traveled' means, that they always go from level to level. (Siftey Tsadikkim)
  • "Moses recorded their stops along the way" pertains to the forward advance of the Israelites and then "along the way, those were their stops," which relates to their backtracking. (Kli Yakar)
  • I do not gain by having reached my destination; I gain in the process of traveling towards my destination. (Yiddish Proverb)


  1. What can we learn from looking back atthe wanderings of our ancestors in the wilderness and throughout the ages?
  2. Some commentators saw the experience of the nation as a paradigm for the experience of the individual. How can we learn and grow along our life journey?

Discussion Topic 2: Make Yourself At Home

"You shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess." (Numbers 33:52-53)

Derash: Study

  • "You shall possess the land," take possession of it from its inhabitants, and then "you may dwell therein," meaning, safely exist there. Otherwise you will not be able to exist there. (Rashi)
  • In my opinion, this constitutes a positive command of the Torah wherein God commanded (the Israelites) to settle in the land and inherit it; for God gave it to them; and they should not reject the heritage of the Holy One! (Ramban)
  • "Return to the land of your fathers, and to your kindred; and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3) -- Your father is waiting for you, your mother is waiting for you -- I myself am waiting for you. (Bershit Rabbah 77)
  • We should not leave it in the hands of others or allow it to remain desolate. (Ramban)
  • Bring us safely from the four corners of the earth, and lead us in dignity to our holy land. (The Siddur)
  • No spot in the Land of Israel is empty of God's Presence. (Numbers Rabbah 12)
  • The Land of Israel is called life. (Avot D'Rabbi Natan 34)
  • A land whose every stone symbolizes past effort and future hope. (Max Nordau)
  • This land made us a people. (David Ben-Gurion)
  • The future of the Jewish people as a creative and self-respecting member of the human family is inconceivable without the rebuilding of the security and peace in the land of Israel, which has already brought home to its borders the scattered remnants of Oriental and European Jewry. Hence the support of the State of Israel and of its progress as a democratic Jewish commonwealth built upon the foundation of justice and equality, in which the body of the Jew will be safe and his spirit unshackled, is a cardinal mitzvah of Judaism in our day. (Rabbi Robert Gordis, Understanding Conservative Judaism.)


  1. How does Zionism find expression in our lives today?
  2. What role does the Diaspora have in the model suggested above?
  3. Can a purely secular State of Israel fulfill the aspirations expressed by Jews over the centuries?

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016