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Go Into the Desert

Topic: Prayer & Meditation | Posted:July 23, 2014

This portion speaks about the 42 places that the Israelites traveled in the desert. Those of us who study Kabbalah hear the number 42 and know it connects to the Ana b’Koach, the 42-letter Name of God. On this Shabbat, the kabbalists teach that the 42-letter Name is the secret of the Final Redemption, and if a person is able to connect completely to those 42 letters, he is able to remove any darkness. And when enough people come to a true connection to this 42-letter Name, we can come to the Final Redemption.

In the Torah, when it talks about the Israelites traveling through the desert, the desert is simply an indication of klipot (shells); meaning, every time we feel down, every time we feel sadness, every time we experience darkness, we are experiencing desert. So it’s not talking about the physical place, it’s talking about that energy. Therefore, although it physically happened as well, the Israelites traveled through the desert as a means of beginning the process to allow humanity to connect through the 42-letter Name. The kabbalists explain that each one of the letters was connected to each one of the places that the Israelites traveled, and the spiritual work that the Israelites did in each place was to awaken the Light and take out one of the letters of the Ana b’Koach.

However, although the Israelites were able to reveal that Light in the world to some degree, they did not complete the revelation; if they had, the End of the Correction would have come. So, they did not complete the work, but they began it. As such, the kabbalists teach that the work of every single one of us today is also to reveal one of those letters. In fact, the 42 stages of travel that the Israelites went through in the desert correlate to both the 42 stages that each of our souls has to go through for its perfection as well as the 42 stages that humanity has to go through in order to come to the Final Correction.

It says in this week’s portion that Moses wrote down the places of the Israelites’ travels. However, it is pointed out that these places were in the desert, which would mean that they wouldn’t have names. So, where did these names come from? The kabbalists explain that Moses gave them their names; the name of the place represented the klipot, the shells that were around it.

It says that the first place the Israelites went was Ramses. And by doing the work that took apart the klipot that are called Ramses, they revealed the letter Aleph of the Ana b’Koach. Then, they went to Sukkot and took away the shells of the Sameach, Chaf, and Tav (which make up the word Sukkot), and revealed the Bet of the Ana b’Koach, and so on. All these places were not previously named places, but rather, as the Israelites were revealing the sparks of Light or letters, Moses was writing down the names of the shells that they removed.

Therefore, what is revealed on this Shabbat is the awakening of the power of the 42 letters and the removal of the shell of darkness that was around each one of them. As such, all the strength that every single one of us needs to break through our own klipot, our own desert, is given to us on this Shabbat. And it’s not just what we need now; we can get all the strength on this Shabbat that we will ever need to reveal the Light of the 42 letters, which is the Light of the Redemption.

Both the Zohar and the Midrash tell us that the Israelites did not want to stay in the desert. They wanted to run away, like every single one of us does when we experience difficulty. During those moments of difficulty, we are experiencing the power of the desert; so, do we break the power of the desert, or not? We actually don’t have a choice, because our work, just like the Israelites’ work in the desert, is to break the forces of Negativity. Every single time we face a difficult situation, we have to understand that an opportunity is hidden, just as the Aleph was hidden in the place called Ramses.

When the Israelites came to each one of the 42 places in the desert, they felt the klipot, the darkness and power of the desert. As the Zohar says, there is no darker place in the world than those places, and they wanted to run, but Moses said to them, “No. This is the work. There are the ultimate sparks of Light, the 42 letters that have the power within them to bring the Final Redemption. Do not run away from it.”

Every single time there is difficulty in our lives– it could be from the smallest thing to the greatest thing – it is as if we are the Israelites that were in the desert. It is like we are coming to Ramses or Sukkot and there is Light, but it is hidden by darkness. The reality is that until we complete the 42 stages, and each one of them begins with a difficulty, we will never complete the purpose for which we came to this world.

The Ohr Chaim, Rav Chaim ben Atar, speaks about the fact that the whole purpose of the Israelites’ travel in the desert in this portion is to elevate these sparks of Light that the Negative Side overtook. Because that is the Negative Side’s greatest power - to make something so difficult that we don’t want to go through it. Therefore, we have to remember something that we might have heard many times, which is that all the spiritual work that we do, yes, reveals Light, but it cannot reveal the ultimate Light, the ultimate removal of pain, suffering, and death from this world unless we go into the desert.

But, when we come to the desert, when we experience the desert, what is our reaction? Do we retreat, as the Israelites sometimes did? We need to remember that if we leave or retreat, it’s not over. We will have to go back there, or it will come towards us again. This is the work of our life. And the ability to do it, the ability to have the right consciousness about it, the ability to push ourselves as we are meant to, is given to us on this Shabbat.

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