Points of Departure and Journeys
The Sfas Emes teaches that the departure points in the pasuk allude to the original departure point, Egypt. In fact, the first pasuk states clearly, “אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אַשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt …” (Bamidbar 33:1) The departure from Egypt was our point of reference throughout the sojourn through the desert culminating in our arrival in the land of Israel. Until we arrived in the land of Israel at the end of all the journeys mentioned, we were considered to be leaving Egypt. Each milestone further distanced us from Egypt and brought us a step closer to our destination. The Exodus was complete only upon our arrival in the land of Israel.
Leaving Egypt and arriving in Israel is a metaphor for separating from the physical in order to attach to and experience God. The physical world serves the purpose of helping us reach God. The metaphor teaches us that it is important to separate from the physical in as much as this helps us to come close to God. There is no requirement to be disgusted by the physical per se. In fact, God made the physical attractive to us specifically so that we would not hesitate to use it for the sake of Heaven. The pasuk therefore first stresses the departure points to show us that we need them for the journey.
The physical world is our point of reference in serving God. As we “travel” and come closer to God the departure point fades, we have left some part of the physical behind and the “leaving” is complete. The second part of the pasuk stresses the journeys because really, the journey is the key thing. The journey is our main focus of attention until we reach the next milestone in our life journey of coming close to God. The departure points – the physical world – give us a context, a reference point, for our journey to come close to God and the journey – our work to serve God – gives meaning to the departure points.