The journey through the desert was a constant, seemingly unsettling set of travels that the Jewish people went through. How did the Jewish people navigate their way through the desert? G-d surrounded them with clouds called the Ananei HaKavod – the “Clouds of Glory” throughout their journey. “When the cloud would rise above the tent [of the Tabernacle], after that the Children of Israel would travel, and in the place that the cloud settled, there the Children of Israel camped. By the word of G-d, the Children of Israel travelled, and by the word of G-d, they camped. (Bamidbar 9:17-18).”
There were times they stayed in one place for years, and at other times they would move on after only a day. They also did not know how long they would sojourn in any location ahead of time. Each encampment meant pitching tents for their families and erecting the Mishkan (Tabernacle). As they went through the trouble of setting up the camp for millions of men, women and children, they knew that the following day G-d might lift the cloud again and direct them to travel further. Nonetheless, they dutifully set up camp each time and then broke it down to follow Him onwards.
We might consider such a life unsettling, not knowing where they would be and what would be expected from one day to the next. But in reality, our own lives are no different. Do we know what tomorrow, or even today, will bring? Often, it’s not what we anticipated or prepared for. The fear of the unknown is real, even when we follow our daily routine.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains if someone is travelling, and you ask them, where are you now? They will give you the precise geographical location they are at. However, if you ask a child cuddled by their loving parent, where are you? The child would respond: in mummy’s arms.
“By the word of G-d they travelled, and by the word of G-d they camped.” The Bene Yisrael understood that they are constantly in G-d’s protective embrace regardless of their destination. To thrive in a world of uncertainty is to feel G-d’s embrace, follow His lead, and know that we are in His protective hands. His roadmap, not ours, leads us through life. Remembering and accepting is the guarantee for a safe and meaningful journey.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay