Ratzo v’Shov – Growth Through Failure

Ratzo v’Shov – Growth Through Pain and Failure

Matot-Massei – 5780

Am Yisrael, could have been taken directly from Mitzrayim to the Land of Israel, but they were not.  Instead, they had 42 encampments along their 40 year journey through the midbar. All of these encampments were previously listed and discussed in the Torah.  And yet, here in Massei, we have a summarized recap of the complete journey.  Why is this recap necessary?

“And Moshe wrote their comings and goings of their travels…” Bamidbar 33:2

The Noam Elimelech notes that the pasuk could have just said “And Moshe wrote about their travels”, that the words “comings and goings” seem unneeded. Rashi further questions why the travels were recorded at all, and why does each pasuk say “they camped”?  We can imagine that that whole account, if necessary at all, could have been written something like this, “…And they traveled from Ramses to Sukkot and from there to…”  But we know that the Torah does not waste words and, therefore, that there is not only something very deep for us to find here but something that we can use to change our own perspectives and lives.

Rebbe Elimelech goes on to point out that the 42 travels here correspond to 42 upper worlds. Each of these worlds has an aspect of judgement and an aspect of kindness and mercy. Each world is unique, with its specific mitzvot and it’s own rectifications. Without going too far into this concept, each of the 42 places noted in the travels of Am Yisrael corresponds to a tikkun and rectification that had to be made prior to their “elevation” into the Land of Israel.

Am Yisrael was coming from the 49th level of tumah of Mitzrayim where it says that they lost the power of speech. The Yismach Yisrael says on the Haggadah that “The Zohar teaches us that the story of the Exodus is really the story of the exile of speech . The words ‘Pharaoh’ and ‘Mitzrayim’ are allusions to this exile. When the letters of Pharaoh are switched around it spells ‘oreph’, restricting, just as the word Mitzrayim can be read ‘metzar yam’, the narrow place. In exile, Am Yisrael lost the power of speech.”

Reb Nosson, in Likutey Halakhot on Yoreh De’ah 1, says, “‘Who knows that the human spirit ascends on High and the animal spirit descends below’ (Kohelet 3:21) and when a person sins, they descend from the human spirit to the animal spirit, and the difference between a human and an animal is speech, for speech is the defining characteristic of the human being.”

When Am Yisrael descended to Mitzrayim and speech went into exile, they became like the spirit of an animal that cannot speak.  In order for them to enter into the Land of Yisrael, they had to rectify this and return to the level of human, the level of Am Yisrael.

Maybe we can understand the opening pasuk a little bit better now “And Moshe wrote their comings and goings” by connecting it to the Chassidic term Ratzo V’Shov, “run and return.”  Ratzo is the state of yearning for connection to HaShem, running toward a deeper and more meaningful relationship with HaShem, transcendent. While shov is the soul’s return to the reality of this world and to its mission here in a physical place with a physical body. Through the resolve to live within the real world of materiality, and to strengthen the awareness that this is HaShem’s intent, we find Him in both the Ratzo V’Shov.

Now back to Am Yisrael and the comings and goings of their journey from Mitzrayim where their speech was in exile, where they had descended to the level of “animal.”  In order for them to ascend to Eretz Yisrael, where they would become fully Human and able to be a vessel for HaShem, they had to undergo a transformation.

In the Yoreh De’ah it says that the halacha of shechitah must be followed meticulously in order for the animal to be “elevated” through it’s slaughter. Part of the process of shechitah is that the knife must be run back and forth over the neck of the animal without any downward pressure.

Reb Nosson comments that while chopping the head off directly may be quicker, it would disqualify the slaughter. He further explains that in order for the elevation to happen, the process must not be rushed but, rather, that the knife must pass through the narrow of the neck, without pause, in a back and forth motion. Ratzo V’Shov. “Comings and goings.”

Like in shechitah, Am Yisrael had to endure the process of the “comings and goings”, the back and forth motion to slaughter the “animal” in the narrow of the neck or from the narrow place, Mitzrayim. Each of the 42 camps was a place of rectification on the way to Eretz Yisrael.  This process had to take place in order to properly elevate them from the state of being like an animal whose speech was in exile, to being redeemed to the level of a human.  On that level, their speech was returned along with their ability to become vessels of HaShem’s light as human beings and not as dehumanized slaves.

Growth and transformation require the acceptance and the pain of failure. Without this acknowledgement and awareness one cannot break through current (and past) limits and realities to new levels and new heights. As the Am left Mitzrayim they had to experience progress and setback, this was the process of shechting the “speechless animal” that had been born in Mitzrayim. 

It is no coincidence that the word Torah (תורה) is numerically equivalent to the phrase ratzo v’shov (רצוא ושוב).  Rashi explains homiletically that the word “sword/knife” refers to the study of Torah (Bereshit 48:22)- and, therefore, also to the idea of ratzo v’shov.

In our own lives, we experience ups and downs, progress and setbacks- ratzo v’shov, coming and going, back and forth.  In these moments we must strengthen our Torah study, we must “sharpen the knife” to ensure that our comings and goings result in a kosher (fit for use) slaughter of our animal self. The act of sharpening is an avoda of focused, calm and steady hands – we must remain calm in our trials and challenges, observe them as part of our growth, put our trust in HaShem and keep journeying.

When we can connect to this process of removing the part of us that is like an animal, that cannot serve HaShem the way we were meant to serve Him, then we are able to walk through our pain and failures towards true and lasting victory and the ultimate redemption of geula which awaits us in our Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael. 


HaShem, Redeemer, Deliverer, G-d of  my Salvations – thank you for giving me the Torah as a tool for my life, a tool that can truly change me, develop me and transform me into a vessel of Your Divine light. Bless me with the strength of journeying, bless me to endure the back and forths of life with stillness of heart and deep understanding that not only are they part of my personal geula but that You are with me every step of the way. Give me the eyes to see that my geula is connected to the geula of all of Am Yisrael collectively.   As we all prepare to truly enter into the Land of Israel together with the Beis HaMikdash, may we have the strength to  enable ourselves to move forward, to be Kosher – and to be ready to radiate your light into the world so that all men will know that You are G-d and that you are One. Amen

Good Shabbos – Shimon Aaron

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