Numbers 33:1 – 36:13

Massei outlines the forty-two stops along the way on our wilderness journey.


SOMETIMES I THINK OF MY LIFE as one long interesting journey. Massei reminds me that every journey takes place in stages and each stage carries its own distinct blessing to be unwrapped and savored, its own messages to be gleaned and digested. The word Massei really refers to the “setting forths” we do. As each stage of a journey comes to an end, we pull up our stakes and move on, initiating a new adventure. At each stage of the journey I become aware of my own transformation. I’m never the same adventurer who set forth the last time.

Forty-two stops or stages along the Israelites path are enumerated and named. Each stopping point on the journey holds a blessing for us. The Ba’al Shem Tov reminds us, “Whatever happened to the people as a whole will happen to each individual. All the forty-two journeys of the children of Israel will occur to each person between the time he is born and the time he dies.”

We recount the itinerary of our wanderings in order to receive the lessons and blessings of each stage of our journey. As we become aware of the significance of each stage, we can receive its benefit. It is our awareness and appreciation that transform our story into a blessing.


IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER at each stage of our journey that we will encounter some obstacle or resistance. However annoying, difficult or devastating that obstacle is, its presence can call forth a particular power that lies hidden within us. The way in which the obstacle compels us to transform demonstrates the exact transformation our soul needs for its growth. In fact, the potentials that lie buried within us often require an appropriate challenge in order to be released and manifested.

It is more than a strange coincidence that the secret, unpronounceable name of God that can dissolve the obstacles in our lives has forty-two letters. Perhaps each letter represents one stage in our journey and the magic power of this name lies in its potential to embrace all the stages at once.

RABBI NECHUNIAH BEN HAKANAH, who lived in the second half of the first century C.E., wrote a special prayer with forty-two words, the initials of which comprise the forty-two letter Divine name. The first line is: “Ana B’choach Gedulat Y’mincha Tatir Tz’rurah” (Please, with the strength of your right hand, untie our tangles). Rabbi Nechuniah wanted to be able to pronounce the unpronounceable, to call out and call forth the reality of the whole in order to deal with the stubborn tangles that keep us stuck.

We move through our obstacles by knowing them in the context of our life’s journey. The spiritual challenge of Massei lies in seeing the big picture, even as we are stopped along the way by seemingly insurmountable resistances or difficulties. Those “impossible” challenges that we face represent the work of our soul’s growth. Understanding that the obstacles are the point of the journey may help us to manage the pain or despair that we may experience as we encounter these inevitable difficulties along the way.

AT THE TIME of my divorce years ago, the pain of my broken heart seemed unbearable. My tears filled up every crevice of my being and overflowed until I could barely imagine ever feeling happy again. At some point, a small wise voice spoke inside me and said, “In a year you’ll feel just fine, maybe even better than fine.” I believed that voice, embraced its promise and had a moment’s vision of myself a year from then, filled with joy. Then I saw the year ahead during which I knew I would be doing the hard work of grieving and healing from not only this divorce, but from every loss I had ever suffered. “Can’t I just skip this year?” I whined.

We learn from Massei that every stage is essential to the journey. There are no short-cuts; no way to skip over the challenges. Even what seem like mistakes or dead-ends or wrong turns along the way can provide us with the necessary raw ingredients for wisdom. Those ingredients must be prepared with self-compassion and unwavering attention, cooked with patience and humility, and served up with a sense of humor.


I originally conceived this ritual to honor a friend’s 50th birthday, that she might look back and receive the blessings and lessons of her journey thus far, and release whatever might be weighing her down from the past.

A Ritual for Honoring the Journey

PREPARATION: Invite friends and loved ones and set a beautiful table. Prepare a special cup for each decade of life and fill each cup with your most favorite drink from that era. For example you might fill your 0-10 cup with chocolate milk, your 10-20 cup with root beer, your 20-30 cup with coffee, your 30-40 cup with fine brandy, and so forth.


Kosi R’vaya (Psalm 23:5)
My cup overflows

THE CUP OF THE FIRST DECADE is then passed around the table. Each person reflects on that decade of their own life and shares what it is they learned from that stage of the journey. If the ritual is honoring a specific person’s passage, he or she receives the cup last to drink in the blessings of wisdom that the others have gathered. The cup can then be passed around once more, and if someone would like to let go of a shame or blame or regret that they may yet be carrying from that time in their life, they can release it into the cup, either aloud or silently.

AFTER EACH CUP, EVERYONE CHANTS, Kosi R’vaya. As you pass from decade to decade, only those who have lived in that decade can take the cup and share… so gradually the younger people become silent and may benefit from listening to the wisdom and experience of their elders.

AT THE END OF THE RITUAL each person can choose to sip from the cup that represents a time from their life that holds a lesson they need to remember and integrate right now.

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.