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Just One More Step

At the base of the mountain, the climber reaches out his foot and takes one step. And with one step, he begins his journey. But to continue on towards his goal, he must take another step, and another step, and yet another step.

This week’s Torah portion, Maasei, begins, “These are the journeys of the Jewish people when they left Egypt...” But to leave Egypt, it only took one journey. Why does the Torah use the term journeys, in plural? All their subsequent stops were on the way to the promised land, but they were not journeys to leave Egypt – they had already left.

After leaving Egypt, the Jewish people wandered for 40 years, making 42 stops in all on their way to the land of Israel. Egypt, or Mitzrayim in Hebrew, represents limitations and boundaries. In Egypt the Jews were sunk in 49 levels of impurity, and they faced many difficulties and challenges. With the first journey they took, they left those difficulties, that impurity, behind them, and they set off on the path to freedom and expansiveness.

However, they still needed to undergo many more journeys before arriving in their ultimate destination, the promised land. In relation to their ultimate destination, the “freedom” of the desert was still a limitation, a step closer to Egypt.

This is a lesson for us in our Divine service. When we are in a lowly place spiritually, we must never despair. After all, our ancestors in Egypt were in the lowliest spiritual state possible and yet they managed to transcend all that, received the Torah and went on to conquer the land of Israel. With effort, we can achieve the same feat and lift ourselves out of whatever morass we find ourselves in.

At the same time, we must remember that to leave Egypt, one step isn’t enough. “These are the journeys of the Jewish people.” It takes many steps, many journeys, to reach the final destination. The important thing, though, is that we are traveling. We are making progress. Every step brings us closer and closer to our goal.

Sometimes we might feel that there is nothing left to do. We have already reached the pinnacle of our capabilities; we can’t go any further. We’ve already “left Egypt.”

That’s where the lesson from this week’s portion comes in – even after they left Egypt, the Jews needed to make many more long, grueling journeys before entering the land of Israel. Compared to Egypt, where they were previously, these stops in the desert may have seemed like freedom. But they were still far from the final goal. They kept pressing onward until they reached their destination.

Twenty years ago, the Rebbe promised us that Redemption was at hand. All we had to do was “open our eyes” and see that the Redemption is a reality. Yet since that time, so many years, so many journeys have passed! Is it possible that we have not yet entered the Holy Land? What more could possibly be expected of us? Yet, like our forefathers in the desert, we keep pressing on, step after step, full of faith and hope that with just a bit more effort, we will reach our goal, the true and complete Redemption.


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