Who is Leading Us?
Whether it was two days or a month or a year—however long the cloud lingered over the Tabernacle—the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp. (Numbers 9:22)
Everyone seems to know that the Jews wandered 40 years in the desert. But most of the nations of the world believe this wandering was because the Jews did not know where they were going. The cartoons below are typical examples:
I guess if these nations sent spies to the desert to see what the Jews were doing it would look like they were completely lost, so I can’t really fault them.
But that is not what happened. The Jews did not wander. They followed G-d Himself through the desert. This was done by following the “Cloud of Glory” which hovered over their camp, but when it lifted, everyone knew it was time to move on.
G-d knew how long the Jews needed to remain in each camp, and He Himself lead the Jews to the Holy Land in the path that he wanted.
The Jews themselves did not complain as it says in the verse:
…the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp.
The commentator Ohr HaChaim (1696-1743) says that the words “al pi Hashem” (through the sign of G-d) mean that the Jews wanted to do G-d’s will. They were happy to encamp where G-d told them, and happy to break camp and move to a new camp when directed. Sometimes they arrived at a new site, and after spending the morning setting up camp, they were then told to break camp and move! Sometimes they would stay in the same place for a full year!
But wherever they stayed, the Jews knew that it was where they were supposed to be, because G-d Himself brought them to this place.
We can apply this lesson to ourselves today: We might not notice G-d directing us, but He is, and wherever we are right now it is because that is where G-d wants us to be. We thought we were going to be on a particular plane, or move to a particular house – or stay in the current house. But it is not happening. We can kick and scream about it, or we can accept it and say, “This is where G-d wants me to be right now.”