The Torah portions of Matos and Masi are always read during the three weeks that commemorate the destruction of the two temples. What message can we take from these portions which are relevant to the three weeks?
In Parshas Masi, all the travels of the Jewish people that took place during their forty year sojourn in the desert are mentioned. In total the Jewish people made forty-two journeys.
Why did each of their journeys need to be mentioned? The Seforno explains that this is to show the greatness of the Jewish people. Throughout the Book of Bamidbar, many of the faults of the Jewish people are enumerated: their complaints about the manna, the water, their belief in the false reports of the spies, etc. One might get the impression that the people in the desert were very evil. The truth is to the contrary. The people in the generation of the desert are euphemistically called "dor de’ah" — a generation of intimate contact with G-d.
If this is so why did they complain so much? We must look at this with a complete paradigm shift. The focus should not be on how they complained so much, but rather, for a nation which had been bitterly enslaved in Egypt, how did they have the reserve to show such trust in G-d as to follow Him in the desert for forty years to an uncultivated land? As it says in the Book of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah 2:2) "G-d says I remember how you were trusting in your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, towards an uncultivated land."
If so, why is so much time spent on being critical of the Jewish people? This is only done in order to change us. G-d never criticizes or punishes vindictively, only in the hopes that we may change.
This is how we must approach life. Each of these journeys was mentioned to teach us that in life we all undergo personal journeys (the number forty- two relates to the line in the Shema: "v’dibarta bam — and you shall speak about this [the Torah]". The numerical value of the word bam, which here refers to the Torah, is forty- two. Just as forty-two journeys were needed then to integrate the Torah before they entered the promised land, each individual needs forty-two journeys to integrate the Torah).
And inevitably there will be obstacles, and many ups and downs. But just as the Jewish people, even in their down periods, followed G-d with trust, we too must make it a priority to follow G-d with trust.
This is a particularly poignant message during the three weeks. Even though it is a time that we focus on what we lost, we only do so with an eye towards what we know we will one day regain. And that it is our acts which will hasten this future redemption.
The aforementioned verse from Yirmiyahu was specifically said after heavy rebuke. To teach us, even when we are being rebuked or punished, G-d is with us.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.