Bnei Israel have finally left Egypt and are on their way to the land promised to them by their forefathers. The journey should have taken eleven days as we learn in the opening verses of Deuteronomy. (Deut. 1,2) That was not to be. Instead we read in this week’s Portion that Hashem led them on a long journey through the Wilderness. Why so?
The Torah gives us the answer to this question. The opening verse in this Portion states that Hashem did not lead them through the short route:
כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא, “…because it was near, for Hashem said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt’.” (Ex. 13,17)
The “Sefat Emet”, written in the early 19th century, has a unique interpretation of this passage. The usual understanding of its meaning is that since it was near and if they would encounter a war they will want to return to Egypt. He explains that the fact that it is near is the reason Hashem did not want them to go in that direction. If they would have gone straight to the Promised Land they would not have been prepared to live there.
Living in Israel is not easy. Chazal said: Eretz Israel is acquired through hardship. Anyone who has made Aliya knows that while it is great coming and living in Israel, one must be prepared to undergo numerous unpleasant experiences.
While this is true for individuals it is also true for the nation as a whole. Since its founding Israel has had to contend with its neighbors and also now with the world at large. Hashem led the Jews through the Wilderness to prepare them for what was needed to obtain and to live in the Promised Land.