The Rabbi's Study

Not All Days Are Created Equal

One of the best aphorisms I began using after settling into parenthood was, “the years are short, but the days are long.” Like most pithy observations, it contains a significant truth couched in a general sentiment. It also contains a unique truth regarding the narrative of Torah – when one considers the number of years covered between Creation and the Children of Israel arriving at the borderland of the plains of Moav and Eretz Yisrael, it’s really a pretty short book; but that last day, oh is that last day long! Tradition holds that Moshe delivers the entirety of his reflection which makes up the book of Deuteronomy in one long speech. He manages to condense the entirety of a generation of wandering into a single, extended soliloquy.

In the Book of Exodus, God explicitly states that the people will be taking a round-about journey rather than what could have been a three day walk into the land from Mitzrayim. And since the Torah rarely gives us any mention of how long the people camped at each of their 42 stops over the course of forty years, and while a majority of the narrative dedicated to the wandering takes place in the first two and final years, it is not always clear just how far from the land they may be were they to take a direct route from any of their stops. At the beginning of Parashat Devarim, in the introduction to Moshe’s speech, the Torah makes mention of the distance between Horev (Mount Sinai) and Kadesh Barnea: tthe 33rd stop in their wandering, near the border of Edom, not too far from their final destination. The Torah tells us that it is an eleven day journey from Horev to Kadesh Barnea, and the commentators disagree (obviously) about whether this means they journeyed for eleven days, or had they gone a more direct route it would have been an eleven day journey when in fact it took them 39 years; or, it should have taken eleven days but they did it in even less. Or, perhaps it’s not speaking of actual days at all…


Moshe said to them: ‘See what you have done?! There is no shorter route from Horev to Kadesh Barnea as the route of Mount Seir, it would be an eleven day walk but you walked it in three days!’ On the 20th of Iyyar they journeyed from Horev…on the 29th of Sivan they sent the spies from Kadesh Barnea, they went thirty days eating meat at Kivrot Ha’Taavah, seven days at Hatzeirot waiting for Miriam, which means it took them three days to walk the route. ‘This is all because the Divine Presence exerted itself to hasten your journey to come into the land; but since you messed up, you were wandered around Mount Seir forty years.’

Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson):

One who is wise understands that this verse is only written in light of what is written later, “we journeyed from Horev and we walked through the whole great and terrible wilderness by way of the Mount of the Emori and we came to Kadesh Barnea,” (Deut. 1:19), that it is around eleven days. Kadesh Barnea is where they sent the spies, and as a result they remained in the wilderness forty years, as is explained later. When they journeyed from Horev going by way of Mount Seir, the direct route, they could have entered the land in eleven days from Kadesh Barnea, but since they mis-stepped they traveled around the mountain many days for forty years. Deducting the days which they were not walking, they actually only traveled eleven days…

So Rashi says, they journeyed forty years but they managed the eleven day journey in three days; Rashbam says, they journeyed forty years but they actually only spent eleven days walking.

And now for something completely different…

Aderet Eliyahu:

The simple explanation would be that it is an eleven days walk from Horev to the place mentioned had they gone by way of Mount Seir. Meaning, even if they had gone a direct route and not circled Mount Seir…But the allusive explanation is that this signifies the eleven journeys that a person needs to journey until they arrive at their rest, meaning: 1) from their home to their grave, 2) from the grave to Gehinom, because even a totally righteous person needs to traverse Gehinom, 3) from Gehinom to Gan Eden, 4) From Gan Eden to the Seven Firmaments, from there to the Supernal Gan Eden, and in each place a person needs to give accounting and judgment. This is what it is written “eleven days,” it means to say the eleven journeys from Horev, meaning from their resting place when they experience destruction (hariva) and that is why it is called Horev…




Sharing is caring

Check out the "Rabbi's Study" archive for Rabbi Goldstein's previous posts.