In this week’s parsha of Masei we have two subjects that relate to each other, the forty two journeys of Yisrael in the desert and the halachos of the refuge cities set aside to protect one who kills accidently. Let us explain the connection. The reason why Am Yisrael wandered in the desert for forty years was because of the chait Meraglim who spoke Lashon Harah on Eretz Yisraeland Hashem. As the passuk in Tehillim 95,10 statesארבעים שנה אקוט בדור ואומר עם תועי לבב הם והם לא ידעו דרכי. This nation which I forbade them from entering Eretz Yisrael, constantly argued with Me for forty years and they did not come to know my ways. This is withstanding the fact that during those forty years I was concerned and looked after your welfare, your clothes and shoes did not wither, I nourished you with bread and wine, all in order למען תדעו כי אני ה’ אלהיכם. Nevertheless, you did not come to know and acknowledge Me (Devarim 29,4). Am Yisrael had a paradise on earth yet they remained a wayward nation and did not attain the recognition of Hashem that was warranted and expected from them. והם לא ידעו דרכי.
The forty two journeys of Am Yisrael is the mirror story of the Jewish Nation’s galus, of wandering from place to place, country to country as our own homeland and Beis Hamikdash were destroyed because we did not come to recognize Hashem in our daily lives. The divine decree of 42 journeys in the desert is not random. The sefarim elaborate on its parallel to the Name of Hashem found in the tefillahאנא בכח which contains 42 words. In the most simplistic understanding of this Kabbalistic interpretation of the number 42, the message is that galus is not just a happenstance to Am Yisrael. It is both a deliberate punishment and a process of spiritual rehabilitation given to Hashem’s people, who forgot Him and His benevolence to them, אשר לא ידעו דרכי.
When Am Yisrael understands and acknowledges their failure and its consequence, we can then plead to Hashem תתיר צרורה (text of אנא בכח) to loosen the bonds that tie us down in galus. For when we repair the לא ידעו דרכי which is gematriah 358 including the three words, we can bring about משיח which shares the same numerical value.
The parallel subject in the parsha of Masei is the accidental killing of another Yid. He must immediately run to theעיר מקלט , the refuge city, and remain there in galus until the death of the Kohen Gadol. The passuk describes such a killing as accidental without intention and דעת. There were 42 refuge cities in the dwellings of the Levite cities which parallel the forty two journeys of AmYisrael in galus of the desert. Both share that common denominator of the lack of realizing another’s presence standing near you. The forty journeys in the desert describe the lack of consciousness of Hashem being present with the Yidden all the time. Likewise, the forty two cities of refuge came about due to the lack of individuals realizing the presence of another Yid a tzelem Elokim in their surroundings which played a role in him being killed. One can unfortunately become so self centered and absorbed that he doesn’t come to realize the presence of someone else who he affects negatively by his damaging words and actions.
There is another type of refuge city which doesn’t have any houses or walls on its premises. In fact in this particular city the only inhabitant is you, who requires spiritual fixing and repair. This refuge city is called “The Word”. Let me explain. We find by Noach that Hashem commands him to enter the ark which was the refuge city for the remainder of humanity and the animal Kingdom. It was the ark that saved Noach and the animals etc. from destruction together with the rest of the world.
בא אל התבה enter the ark. The Baal Shem Tov interprets this passuk as a directive to one who davens, that he should enter the תיבה which also translates as “word”. The measurements of the Taiva were 30x300x50 which gematriah spells in Lashon Hakodesh the word לשן which means language. The Baal Shem Tov says that the words davened can also serve as a refuge city to a Yid so long as one enters them while saying them. It is not enough merely to say them superficially but one must allow the words to penetrate his heart and become one with them. Only then they can serve to repair the loss of דעת את ה’which caused one to become distant from Hashem and His Torah. A hinting to this is that the gematriah עיר מקלט is equal to בא אל התיבה including the three words.
Now we can understand the interpretation of the Apter Rav who writes that even though today we do not have the refuge cities we nevertheless have the first parsha of Shma ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך which contains 42 words within which a Yid can find refuge and rehabilitation from his spiritual shortcomings. Three times a day a Yid reaffirms his allegiance and commitment of his love to Hashem, to learn Torah and transmit it to his children, and to fulfill mitzvos. This daily formula is to keep us on the right track of acknowledging Hashem as our master and sustainer and as the only reality that exists. If we would enter into these 42 words as the Baal Shem Tov comments, to the point that they become our essence and fiber of life, there would be no need for the other 42 journeys in the desert. As the passuk alludes to when it says ודברת בם that בם represents the first letter of the Torah ב and the first letter of Torah Shebe’alPehמאימתי ! Together they add up to 42. In Tehillim 15,2 דובר אמת בלבבו He speaks truth in his heart. בלבבו is gematriah 42. The truth must beקלוטה , absorbed in one’s heart and has become one’s essence.
We always read parshas Masei during the Three Weeks. The message is clear that with this heartfelt recitation we will build ourselves a sanctuary which will hold us back from falling into the category of being an עם תועי לבב הם and thereby merit to the final geulah swiftly in our days ומלאה הארץ דעה את ה'(Yeshaya 11,9).
– Rav Brazil