19 May Parashat Bamidbar: “Just As They Encamp- So Shall They Travel”
P a r a s h a t Bamidbar describes the formation in which Benei Yisrael traveled through the wilderness. The Torah emphasizes that Benei Yisrael were to maintain this formation both during their periods of encampment, and while they journeyed: “Ka’asher Yachanu Kein Yisa’u” – “Just as they encamp – so shall they travel” (2:17). It has been suggested that this emphasis conveys an important message relevant even to contemporary life, particularly so in anticipation of the summer months. People often have a tendency to lower their religious standards when they travel or when they leave for the summer. There are Jews who would normally never even consider eating in a nonkosher restaurant, missing the prayers with a Minyan, or dressing improperly, but when they travel they are prepared to compromise their standards of religious observance. When people leave their normal routine they assume a more relaxed disposition which can easily lead to compromising spiritual standards. In fact, it is told that the Chafetz Chayim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, Lithuania, 1839-1933) would carry shrouds with him when he traveled in order to remind him of his mortality. Recognizing the tendency to become less meticulous in one’s observance during travel, this great sage found it necessary to take this drastic measure to ensure that he retained his strict standards away from home. This, perhaps, is the underlying message of the verse, “Just as they encamp – so shall they travel.” The Torah here emphasizes that one’s level of observance must remain consistent during “encampment” and during “travel,” when he is at home and when he is away from home. Others derive a different lesson from this verse, one which relates to the particular Mitzva of Shabbat. Shabbat observance entails more than wearing our finest clothing and eating hearty, delicious meals (though certainly this is proper and required by Halacha). Shabbat is a day for spiritual rejuvenation, for Torah study, sharing words of Torah with our children, and singing the Pizmonim at the table. The spiritual charge that we receive over the course of Shabbat serves to protect us throughout the week from the negative influences that we confront. By devoting one day a week to Torah, we enhance our ability to withstand the religious challenges that we encounter over the course of the workweek. The Torah alludes to this unique power of Shabbat observance in the verse, “Just as they encamp – so shall they travel.” The degree to which we “encamp,” we “rest” in the spiritual sense on Shabbat, and observe it as a day of religious rejuvenation, “so shall they travel” – that is how successful we will be in maintaining proper religious standards as we go about our business during the week. In our generation, more so than at any other time, we are bombarded throughout the week by the perverse values of the foreign culture within which we live. It is thus vitally important that we fortify ourselves through the proper observance of Shabbat in order to succeed in resisting these influences. Of course, one who makes no effort to resist the foreign influences will fall prey regardless of how he observes Shabbat. But if we do make the necessary effort, observing Shabbat as a day of spiritual engagement can go a long way in helping us maintain our standards during the workweek and overcome the pressures imposed upon us by the general society.