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The Journey Challenge

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“They journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to circle the land of Edom, and the spirit of the people grew short on the way (path). The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this desert, for there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread.’ The Lord sent against the people the venomous snakes, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:4-6)

What exactly were the people complaining about at this juncture? Previously, there were complaints concerning water and food (which were settled by God). Moshe struck the rock and the water came forth. The nation had been punished with the quails after a similar complaint. Rashi points out that whenever the expression ‘and the spirit grew short’ is used, the reason for the shortening of spirit (irritation or aggravation at something difficult) follows immediately. Rashi, therefore, explains that the correct translation here should be “…and the spirit of the people grew short because of the way (path).” Rashi explains that because the people were travelling away from the Land of Israel, they became frustrated saying: “When our forefathers travelled back the last time, they remained in the desert for thirty-eight years!”

When one feels one is progressing towards a goal, an apparent setback can be very frustrating. Rather than thinking a minor setback is occurring, one’s mind tends to run wild and projects the worst possible scenario as the only possible outcome. This leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger, which leads to irrational and damaging behavior. The Torah is teaching us to notice and avoid this pattern of behavior.

A number of years ago, it occurred to me that one may  explain the verse as Rashi does: “… and the spirit of the people grew short because of the way (path)“, but in a simpler and profound way. The people were frustrated with the journey itself. They wanted to be at their destination already! That’s it! When your life’s purpose and focus is only on a future goal, the journey can get very frustrating. God created a world with both journeys (paths) and destinations (goals). Therefore, the journey must also be important and worthy of focus, attention, appreciation, and enjoyment! Living only for future events is not a pleasant or meaningful way to live and the results can be devastating. While we look forwards to future events and attainments, the journey of life is a precious destination in and of itself!