The forty year-long Ulpan

During their forty years of desert wandering, the most crucial lessons of Israel's essence were tested and learned.

Danny Ginsbourg ,

Traveling the desert
Traveling the desert

We read in this week's Parsha that Moshe Rabbeinu admonishes Bnei Israel:(8:1-3)

Observe all of Hashem’s commandments, ‘So that you may live and increase, and possess the Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers; You shall remember the entire road on which Hashem, your G-d, led you these forty years במדבר: in the wilderness, so as to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would observe His commandments or not. He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the manna that you’ and your forefathers ‘did not know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live’.

The Netziv asks:’Why did Hashem cause these wanderings to last for forty years? Why did those who were under the age of twenty, at the time of the sin of the spies, also have to suffer this lengthy wandering?

‘To answer this, we should note that Moshe Rabbeinu, at the time of the awesome decree, said:(Shelach 14.34)’And you shall comprehend straying from Me’, meaning: You will yet know כוונתי: My intention, in this decree.

‘Now, in our Parsha, this is revealed:’To afflict you’- that you should be ‘used’ to exile, Galut, by the wanderings from place to place, as Bnei Israel did, in their forty-two journeys in the desert’, as was, sadly, to be the fate if our people, over the centuries.

‘And- the Torah here states - this is ‘to test you’, to ‘know that which is in your hearts’, if you will be able to keep the Mitzvot, the time for which has not yet come, AND, as only after forty years, do we know ‘what is in a person’s mind’.

‘Now, after the forty years wanderings in the desert, we indeed know that Bnei Israel have the strength to do so, and Moshe Rabbeinu, now, warns them to do so now, and in the future periods of galut’.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, on sees this passage as directed not to galut, but to educate, teach and shape the character of Bnei Israel:’The Torah here lays down that only the observance of Mitzvot, gives us personal life and prosperity, and grants us independence from outside forces, and growth and prosperity in our Land.

‘Always remembering all the way that Hashem brought you through the Wilderness these forty years’, says Moshe Rabbeinu, teaches that:The only condition, that is essential and sufficient, is to observe the Mitzvot, and to have complete בטחון: trust, in the power of keeping the Mitzvot, as this is the foundation of our destiny.

‘We learned all of this in our forty years of wandering, which was to test whether Bnei Israel had attained the requisite level of בטחון: to completely subjugate themselves to Hashem, trusting completely in Him, and that He would provide all that they needed.

‘This is alluded to in the words:’To teach you that man does not live by לחם: bread alone’: ‘bread’ is the food that man נלחם: battles for, contending with the forces of nature, and other men; this, in itself, can be dangerous to our faithfulness to Hashem.

‘Whilst the concern to support, and provide sustenance, for his family, is a legitimate one, it may delude man into thinking that his efforts alone determines this.

‘In the forty years wanderings, in a place where neither nature, nor man’s own strivings, could in any way ‘earn’ bread, Bnei Israel learned that the only true ‘cause’ for our existence, is Hashem- which is so easily overlooked in ‘normal’ conditions.

‘The bread which man seemingly earns by his efforts, is, in reality, only by the decree of Hashem, in his Hashgacha Pratit.

‘In these forty years, Bnei Israel learned this essential truth, by the manner in which the manna was provided, by Hashem’.

The Malbim adds:’Had Bnei Israel entered the Land immediately, without first wandering for forty years through the Wilderness, they would have totally engaged in their material pursuits, on entering the Land. To to preclude this, Hashem delayed their entry, until the Torah had become established in their hearts.

‘The forty years wandering in the desert-which they are here commanded ‘to remember’- had two objectives: First, to weaken their physical nature, by the ordeals they underwent there, AND, second, at the same time, to strengthen their spiritual side, by the constant miracles they saw there, and, after having ‘starved’ them of physical food, feeding them the ‘spiritual’ food: the manna.

‘This was to teach them that ‘not by bread alone does man live, but by that which comes from the mouth of Hashem’: and to thereby לנסות אותם: to elevate them, spiritually, so that they merit to enter the holiness of the Land’.

The Alshich Hakadosh comments:’The injunction to remember ‘all the way..forty years in the desert’, was because the poverty and want that they experienced there, was necessary to bring them to submissiveness, so that they would not be haughty and ‘forget’ that all was from Hashem, when they entered the Land; for, as our Sages say:’He who keeps the Torah when poor, is destined to also observe it when he prospers’.

‘Therefore, do not wonder why he afflicted Bnei Israel, by these wanderings, for seemingly no fault of theirs’.

The Ben Ish Hai offers the following original explanation, for the forty year wanderings in the desert:’The words:’To test you to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep the Mitzvot, or not’, alludes to the two different ‘purposes’ of yearning to enter the Land’- The physical pleasure of savoring its fruits and its goodness; OR the spiritual pleasure of being able to perform the מצוות התלויות בארץ: the Mitzvot ‘dependent on the Land’, which can only be performed in the Land.

‘Hashem therefore lengthened their wanderings in the desert, as a test of what their prime reason for entering the Land: If they קצו: ‘detested ’, the delay, it signified that they could not wait for the material pleasure.

‘If, on the other hand, their yearning was for the Mitzvot of Hashem, they would not be concerned at the length of the wanderings, as these, too, were in fulfillment of Hashem’s command, as ‘they camped by Hashem’s command, and they embarked by Hashem’s command- and they would, therefore, not chafe at the length of the wanderings.

‘This is the meaning of the verse, passuk:’And remember all the way..these forty years to afflict you..’: And why was this necessary? ‘To know what was ij your hearts, whether you will keep Hashem’s Mitzvot, or not’: Whether your yearning to enter the Land to be able to fulfill Hashem’s Mitzvot, or not- but for your physical pleasure.

‘And the test, was how they ‘viewed’ the lengthy wanderings, in the desert’.

A parting message from Rav Zalman Sorotzkin:’And remember all the way..the forty years wanderings in the desert’: And it will surely be difficult in your eyes: Why did Hashem do so, and not bring us into the Land that He promised our forefathers, straight from Egypt, or, at the very least, after we accepted the Torah, and before we transgressed with the golden calf?’.

Answer:’Because our inheritance of the Land, as the Torah makes clear in several passages, is dependent on us keeping the Torah and the Mitzvot.

‘It was therefore necessary to lead them through the desert, ‘to afflict you and to test you, to know what was in your hearts, whether you would keep My Mitzvot, or not.

‘And, whilst all is ‘revealed’ before Hashem, the purpose of the ‘test’ here, was to show the nations of the world, why Bnei Israel, and not they, merited to inherit the Land’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.