Parshat Masei: Growth or Destination?

Parshat Masei begins by summarizing Bnei Yisrael’s travels throughout their forty years in the desert. Many commentaries question why the Torah repeats this list of “masaot” (journeys), when they have already been described earlier in the Torah. The answers they provide contain wisdom on finding meaning within our own life’s journey.

The midrash Tanhuma likens the repetition of the journey to a parent who takes his/her sick child to various places in search of healing. Afterwards, the parent recounts the experiences they had through each location. So too, God wants Bnei Yisrael to draw strength from hearing about overcoming hardship in their past and be reminded that they can do it again in the future. Rambam in Guide to the Perplexed teaches that re-telling the places Israel traveled highlights the miracles God provided for the Jewish people’s survival in the desert. Through preserving the memory of these miracles, future generations will find inspiration and faith. Sforno sees this as highlighting the goodness of Bnei Yisrael in the desert. He explains that the journeys are repeated “in order to compliment the Jewish people,” who followed God through a vast and dangerous desert, despite the hardship. 

These interpretations are similar to what psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as the “growth vs. fixed mindset.” Her research demonstrates that the most successful way to navigate life – including disappointments and difficulties – is by taking on new challenges and viewing setbacks as part of the journey. The fixed mindset cares only about the outcome, while the growth mindset finds value in each step of the journey. May the journeys of Bnei Yisrael inspire us to find meaning, strength and growth in our own lives. Chazak chazak ve’nitchazek. Shabbat shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

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