Moses recorded their going out for their journeys according to the word of God, and these were their journeys for their going out… Numbers 33:2
We need to understand the change in language in this verse, for it first says “their going out for their journeys,” and then “their journeys for their going out.” It seems to me this is connected to the teaching in the Zohar, that all the journeys of the Children of Israel in the great and terrible wilderness were brought about by God, in order to discover the sparks of divinity hidden in all those places and to raise them up, and that is why they camped in some places a long time and in others a short time, because they stayed as long as they needed in order to discover all the hidden divinity in that place.
[Before entering Israel] Joshua sent spies to scout out the Land, but Scripture says they went to “lachpor the land.” What is lachpor? Now the way the Children of Israel truly conquered the land was by doing mitzvot and good deeds there. By serving the Creator in enlightened awe and true love, they transformed the corrupt forms of love and awe that existed in the land of Canaan into their pure forms, and raised the sparks of divinity within them to their holy source (1). So it was only natural that the land should give way before them, for the land itself was humbled by them, since it is the nature of the receiver to feel humbled before the giver. This is the meaning of lachpor, as the prophet Isaiah used it: “the moon will be humbled (chafrah)…for the Lord of Hosts will reign on Mount Zion” (2).
The Torah describes the forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel, saying, “they camped in Charadah,” which means “trembling,” as in “trembling before God,” and “they camped in Mitkah,” which means “sweetening,” as in “sweetening the evil in the world to turn it to good” (3), and “they camped at Har Shepher,” which means “refinement,” because they “refined” the corrupt forms of awe and love by serving in true awe and love and reverence. In this way they returned the divinity in each place to its source in true holiness.
This is the meaning of “Moses recorded their going out,” which more accurately means “taking out,” for in each place they “took out” the sparks of divinity trapped in the material world. The verse continues, “for their journeys according to the word of God,” to say that it was all part of God’s plan, and then the Torah restates it, “these were their journeys for their taking out,” to let us know that this was not incidental, but was the very reason why they went on the forty year journey through the wilderness — to discover the divinity in each place and to raise it up to its holy source.
Sources: all the journeys… Zohar II 157a; lachpor the land… Joshua 2:2; the moon will be humbled… Isaiah 24:23;
1) When the Canaanites served their gods, there was something holy in that impulse (see Zecharia 1:11), but the way they did was corrupted (polytheism, child sacrifice…). The job of the Children of Israel vis-a-vis the Canaanites’ worship was to reclaim the divine impulse and purify it by serving God in the proper way. 2) though the English words look totally different, in Hebrew they are the same, two versions of the root CH.P.R. 3) “sweetening the judgments at their source” is actually a very deep and even revolutionary idea in Jewish mysticism, far beyond the scope of a footnote, so I simply gave an approximation of the idea in the body of the text; if you’d like to learn more about this fundamental idea, ask your local Hasidishe rebbe or mystically-learned rabbi 4) from The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, by Daniel Ladinsky
To the Hasidic masters, there is no person, no place, no time that does not have some aspect of holiness. As the Zohar says, “there is nowhere God is not.” We can imagine the distress of the Children of Israelites as their journey dragged on and on and turned into what felt like wandering, as they saw their goal of reaching the Promised Land, really only a few weeks’ walk away, recede further and further from realization. I know that’s how my life feels sometimes, when I think I know where I need to go and what I need to do and life doesn’t seem to be cooperating. The Kedushas Levi here reminds us to take our eyes off whatever prize we think we’re making for and look at what’s right in front of us, and find God in this person, place, and time, and serve God here and now. In the words of the Sufi poet Hafiz, who starts to sound more and more like a Hasid the more I learn about Hafiz and Hasidism, “This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you” (6).
Below is the original teaching (sorry, I only have it in Rashi script). Here it is in PDF: KedushasLeviMassei