I had the great zechus (privilege) to live in Eretz Yisrael for eleven years, both as a single person in yeshiva and for six years as a “young married” with four children, including twins! Fourteen years ago, we moved to America, dreaming one day to return to our beloved land…but we’re still here. This past week, I experienced a slice of the dream, as I spent an amazing week in Eretz Yisrael with my son, who becomes a bar mitzvah after the summer.
It was beyond incredible – a walk back in time. I was able to visit all the places of my early married years. We roamed through Maalot Dafna, where we lived and sent our children to gan (nursery). We walked the streets of Har Nof, where I spent many a Shabbos with relatives, rabbis and friends. We met with many of my close Rebbeim. We also toured various parts of the country.
This trip coincided with Parshas Maasei, which lists all the different journeys of Bnei Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until they were to enter the Chosen Land. The Torah even commands us to remember the entire journey – forty-two stages in total. The Sfas Emes says all individuals in their own lives, also have forty-two different stages through which they must journey. As it says in the second sentence of Parshas Maasei, “…v’eileh maaseihem – …” …and these are their travels. The numerical value of “v’eileh” is forty two, indicating there will be forty-two legs in every individual’s life journey.
The forty-two legs of a person’s life are also alluded to in the first paragraph of Shema, which contains forty-two words and directs us to be close to Hashem and His Torah. From this we learn that throughout our life’s journeys, we must always remember it is Hashem Who is directing our path. This paragraph of Shema also says, “… vedibarta bam,” – “…you shall speak concerning them.” The word “bam” equals forty-two. The Gemara tells us this mitzvah is specifically referring to Torah learning. One must instruct and teach his children in the ways of the Torah. It can also mean one must teach his children about the forty-two different stages of life.
The Imrei Emes says there is a constant mitzvah to remember the Bnei Yisrael’s travels, as the Torah tells us, “Vezacharta es kol haderech,” – “You shall remember your entire journey.” There are different challenges in life and each one is a book in itself, as illustrated in Parshas Beha’alosecha, with the upside-down letter “Nun” bracketing the journey away from Har Sinai.
On my first day of this trip to Eretz Yisrael, I was going to the Koteland Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, where I learned for ten years. But where would I go first? The answer should be the Kotel, but my inner self led me to Mir Yerushalayim. I realized the Kotel represents the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People. For me, the Mir Yerushalayim, where I spent ten years immersed in Torah study, day and night, represented a place of incredible personal growth for me. This was my foundation stone for everything else I have since accomplished in life. Before I could confront the immeasurable destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People, I first needed to connect with my own inner source of direction and strength. I realized that rebuilding requires tools, and the Mir served as my inner toolbox.
We all have different stages and phases in our lives. In fact, as mentioned above, we have forty-two of them. Within these stages and phases, we have experienced various challenges that contributed to our development. In some cases we triumphed and in some cases we may have failed, but we learned from that failure. Wherever we find ourselves in our journey, it’s important to remember our accomplishments so far — they will give us the fortitude to move forward. Any failures, on the other hand, serve as a necessary pause for reflection, redirection and rededication, to move to the next leg.
As we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash in this period of the Three Weeks, let’s not forget to tap into our inner reserves, review lessons we have learned from our experiences and goals we have accomplished on our journeys. This will help prepare us for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may it happen speedily in our days.