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Journeys in Life
The Torah portion of Maasei lists 42 journeys that the Jewish people took through the desert, on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, said that these journeys are a prototype for the traveling that every soul undergoes, from the moment of birth until it reaches its ultimate state of tranquility.

Not all of the journeys in the desert were pleasant ones. In many of their stops, the Jewish people underwent some traumatic experiences. In Kivrot Hataavah, for example, the Jews complained about the Manna and demanded meat. In response, G-d sent them a wave of Slav birds. The Jews gorged on the meat and many hundreds died in an ensuing plague. Therefore, the stop was named “Kivrot Hataavah” - burial of temptation. This stop certainly doesn't seem to have a positive component. The Jews displayed ingratitude towards G-d, brazenly demanded meat, and were punished as a result. Is this journey a necessary part of our life path?

The Baal Shem Tov explains that each of the 42 stops that the Jewish people made in the desert were all potentially positive and uplifting experiences. The decisions that the Jews made at each stage determined the quality that the stop would have. In Kivrot Hataava, had the Jewish people utilized its spiritual potential appropriately, they could have literally “buried temptation” and elevated themselves to a state where they were above physical enticement.

This is true for all the journeys that the Jewish people made in the desert, and for the journeys that we make through life. At every stage, we control how the potential inherent in that situation will manifest itself. We can channel the particular energy of that time and place into positive action, and thus release its dormant potential. Or we can cause the energy go to waste or come to negative ends, G-d forbid.

This concept also applies to the course of human history. There have been many stages where an enormous potential existed for a sea change in human relationships; where actions could have been taken that would have altered history and ushered in the Messianic era that much sooner. However, poor decision-making lead to the potential being squandered, and negative results ensued.

Looking back, it's easy to feel discouraged when we think about what might have or should have been. However, like a wise person once said, the past is like a rearview mirror: Look into it only to see how to get ahead. Dwelling on past mistakes rarely helps us move forward, except when we use the lessons of the past to help us build the future.

This lesson is especially relevant in the current time, when we are in middle of the three-week mourning period commemorating the destruction of the Holy Temple. We can use this time period to contemplate all the calamities that befell the Jewish people, some due to our own foolish decisions, and fall into depression. Or we can look forward. Nothing is stopping us now from correcting past mistakes, and utilizing the potential of this very moment, to amend the negativity and bring the redemption. Then, the days of mourning will be transformed to holidays and we will know of no more agony and sorrow.

(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichos Vol. 4, pp. 1083-84)


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