This week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei, begins, “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…” (Num. In 33:1, the Torah spends several verses listing 42 places that we visited, stopped at or camped in over 40 years. (Num. 33:1-37) A collection of 12th century midrash on Numbers compares Torah’s telling of our journeys with the parable about a king who lost his child.
[The king] The place was chosen to heal him. When they returned, his father began recounting the stages, “Here we slept. Here we cooled down. Here you had a headache….” (Bamidbar Rabbah 23:3) I like to think of God as an attentive parent who is always there for us. And the story of our journey serves as a constant reminder that God, whom we name, is with us at every step.
As a fanatic of Douglas Adams of a certain generation, the number 42 brings to mind his work. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyIn which 42 represents “life, the world, and everything.” R. Laura Duhan Kaplan points out that the word “life” is 42 letters long. v’ahavtaThe prayer instructs us to “love God when we are here, when we leave and when resting.”
To the mystic Baal Shem Tov the Torah’s list…