Naso - The Missing 18 Months
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Let us imagine for a moment that the Jews had not sinned with the Miraglim
- Spies. Let us imagine that the Jews did not spend 38 years wandering in
the desert. How long would they have remained in the desert before crossing
over the Yarden into Eretz Yisroel?
At the beginning of this week's Parsha the Bnai Yisroel had been in the
desert for over a year. The Exodus took place on the 15th of Nissan, 2448.
Seven weeks later, on the 6th of Sivan, 2448 they received the Torah. Forty
days later, on the 17th day of Tamuz, 2448 they sinned with the golden Calf
and Moshe broke the first Luchos. 40 days later, on the 1st day of Ellul,
2448 Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to receive the second set of Luchos. 40
days later, on the 10th day of Tishrei, 2449, the first Yom Kippur, Moshe
returned with the second Luchos and G-d's forgiveness. The next day, the
11th of Tishrei, Moshe commanded the nation to begin collecting materials
for the construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was completed six months
later on the 1st day of Nissan, 2449, almost one year after their exodus
from Egypt. Three, months later, on the 29th day of Tamuz, 2449 the Spies
were sent on their 40-day mission. They returned on the 9th of Av, 2449.
The first three Parshios of Sefer Bamidbar took place between the 1st of
Nissan, 2449 and the 9th of Av, 2449.
Let us continue our imaginative rewrite of history. Let us assume that the
Spies returned from their mission elated with hope and optimism at the
prospect of G-d's guaranteed intervention in occupying the land. Following
the report, the Jews would have enthusiastically continued their
preparation for entering the land and would have advanced toward the edge
of the Jordan. How long should that national movement have taken?
I would like to suggest 50 days; two days more than the seven weeks it took
them to arrive at Mount Sinai. I would like to suggest that from the start
the Jews were intended to stay in the desert 18 months before entering into
Eretz Yisroel. Why 50 days and why eighteen months?
"The actions of the fathers are a foretelling for the children." This is a
fundamental concept in understanding the relationship between the Avos
(Forefathers) and Imahos (Foremothers) and the nation they birthed. The
Avos not only gifted us with the genetic code of our people, they also
lived the history of our people. Avraham and Sarah lived the life of the
messianic Jew. They recognized the Creator and shared their knowledge with
the rest of the non-Jewish world. So too, their offspring are destined to
do the same.
Avraham and Sarah descended to Egypt because of a "hunger in the land" and
returned to the Promised Land with tremendous wealth. So too their
children. Forced into Egypt because of the hunger in Canaan, they left
Egypt after 210 years of slavery with tremendous wealth.
As explained in previous issues of the Rabbi's Notebook, the entire set up
of the Jews in the desert, their placement and organization mirrored the
arrangement of the 12 sons of Yakov as they carried their father home to be
buried in the Promised Land. As they did so too their descendents also did.
Going way back to the prophecy of Jacob's ladder we discover other
"foretellings" in the actions of the fathers. Yakov Avinu, the Chosen One
among the Avos was about to leave Eretz Yisroel in search of his personal
and national destiny. In the course of the next 20 years he would grow from
the man named Yakov to the progenitor of his nation named Yisroel. His
entire destiny as well as the destiny of his children was shown to him in
his famed dream of angels ascending and descending a heavenly
ladder. During that vision G-d told him that the land of his fathers would
become his and that he would return to the land after his time with Lavan.
Yakov awakened from his dream and proclaimed the acme of what we know today
to be the Temple Mount as the House of G-d and the Gates of Heaven. In the
morning Yakov took the stone that was beneath his head and raised it as a
monument to the future of his children and his nation.
There is a famous Rashi on Ber.28:11 that references the Talmud in Chulin
31b. The Pasuk states that upon arriving at the place of his prophecy Yakov
"took from the stones of the place and put them around his head." The
Gemara says that the stones argued with each other as to which of them
would have the merit of being Yakov's pillow. To accommodate all of them,
G-d miraculously fused all of the stones together into one large stone.
That was the stone that Yakov used the next morning for the monument.
Regardless of whether or not the story was intended as factual or
allegorical, the intention was for us to learn a lesson from it. The stone
was the foretelling of the Bais Hamikdash - Temple. The Bais Hamikdash
could only be constructed if the twelve tribes were unified and fused into
a single whole. So too, the Mishkan and the eventual Bais Hamikdash would
be constructed through a national effort. Every craftsperson and artist
would contribute his or her time effort and talent in the construction of
In many regards, our lives mirror the life of Yakov far more than those of
Yitzchak or Avraham. It is therefore incumbent upon us to study the life of
Yakov / Yisroel if we wish to discover the hidden revelations of a future
that has both come to pass and is yet to be realized.
After surviving 20 years with his uncle Lavan, Yakov began his journey of
return to the land of his fathers. He encountered the angel of Eisav as
well as Eisav himself and successfully negotiated safe passage for his
family. The verses in Ber. 33:17-18 record that Yakov built " a home for
himself and Succos - shelters for his animals. The place was then named
Succos." Rashi references the Medresh that says that Yakov built a home
because he stayed in that location 18 months - a summer, a winter, and a
summer. (In the Middle East, like in LA, there are basically only two
six-month seasons, winter - rain and summer - dry). Yakov had been away
from his father and mother for 34 years. Fourteen years in the Yeshiva of
Shem and Ever and 20 years with Lavan. Why would Yakov delay his return
home by an additional 18 months? Why didn't he rush back to Yitzchak and
Rivkah after successfully surviving both Lavan and Eisav? More so than
that, Succos is located outside the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel. That means
that Yakov not only delayed returning to Yitzchak and Rivkah, he also
delayed returning to the greater sanctity and protection of the Promised
The key to understanding Yakov's decision is the name Succos. Succos is the
Yom Tov following Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a holiday that
celebrates the renewed relationship between G-d and us. The basis of that
renewal is G-d's forgiveness and our willingness to fully trust His
benevolent care. Therefore, we move out of the security of our permanent
homes into the relative safety of the temporary Succah - hut as a statement
of our trust in G-d and G-d alone.
When the Bnai Yisroel began their travels in the desert Hashem provided the
Clouds of Glory to protect them from the harsh elements. Those clouds are
one of the reasons offered for building the Succah on Succos. Just as the
clouds were clear manifestations of G-d's loving protection for the nation
at a time when they were unable to protect themselves, so too we build our
own Succah as a recognition of our absolute dependency on G-d, especially
at a time when we think that we can take care of ourselves!
Yakov Avinu had just bested both Lavan and Eisav. He had done so with
tremendous courage, ingenuity, and planning. Yet, at the same time he knew
that every success was really because of divine providence and
intervention. However, it still did not mask the sense of personal success
shared by every member of his household, especially his eleven sons. (Note
their emerging independence in the following chapters.)
Yakov knew that Eretz Yisroel was a place where G-d was more manifest than
anywhere else in the world. That meant that it was expected that the
inhabitants of Israel would be equally cognizant of G-d's presence. Such
cognition must always translate into an awareness of their absolute
dependency upon G-d.
Following the successes with Lavan and Eisav, Yakov wanted to make sure
that his family and household had the proper attitudes before returning to
Eretz Yisroel and the home of Yitzchak and Rivkah. As indicated by the name
Succoth, Yakov wanted to reinforce the essential humility that is the
foundation of our relationship with Hashem before entering into Eretz Yisroel.
The Ramban points out that during the 18 months in Succoth Yakov continued
to send tribute to Eisav. In spite of the fact that he had bested Eisav's
angel; regardless of the fact that he no longer feared for his life or the
lives of his family; Yakov maintained his posture of subservience and
humility toward Eisav. I would like to suggest that it was more a lesson
for his teen-aged sons in humility and thanksgiving toward Hashem than a
true sign of servitude toward Eisav.
"The actions of the fathers are a foretelling for the children." Just as
Yakov Avinu waited an additional 18 months in a place called Succoth before
returning to Eretz Yisroel, so too the Bnai Yisroel required a minimum of
18 months before entering into the Promised Land. During those 18 months
the Bnai Yisroel were to be treated to a revelation of G-d's loving care as
never before in history: food from heaven, water from rocks, protection
from Clouds of Glory, and the absolute knowledge that our trust must be in
G-d and G-d alone.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.