Traveling tips from the Torah 

Insight into: Masei

Do you travel a lot? Are you one of those people who takes half the house with you when you go on vacation? Imagine being on the road for 40 years like the Jews were in the desert!

In this week’s Torah portion, Masei, the Torah describes the 42 stops that the Children of Israel made in the desert. At each site, as soon as they arrived, the Levites immediately erected the Tabernacle, their portable Temple. 

Sometimes they camped in one place for years, and sometimes they just stayed overnight. But no matter how short the stay, the entire Tabernacle, with hundreds of man-hours involved, was erected each and every time. 

Why? Was this not a waste of time and energy?


The Lubavitcher Rebbe once pointed out that the journey in the desert was not just a means of traveling to a destination. The journey itself was a lesson for all future generations. The Jewish people were destined to always be on the go, sometimes by choice and often by force. 

Throughout our exile, we literally ended up traveling the world, and G‑d wanted to give us traveling tips that would ensure our survival. 

Wherever Jews end up, no matter how long or short their stay, a “home for G‑d” must be built. Throughout history, whenever a few Jews moved to a new place, regardless of whether they were welcomed guests or not, they immediately formed a community. A synagogue was built, a school for children arranged, teachers were fetched, and before you knew it, there was a vibrant community. 

The first one in recorded Jewish history who did this was our forefather Jacob. When Joseph invited him to move to Egypt with all his children and grandchildren, the first thing he did was to send his son Judah ahead to Egypt. Judah’s mission was to set up a school where the children’s studies could immediately resume. 

This was practiced all the way up to modern times. Immediately after the Holocaust, a group of Chasidic survivors arrived at a DP camp in Germany. There they found thousands of Jews sitting around and waiting for their visas to Israel, America, and other countries. The Chasidim all knew that this stop was only temporary, yet right there in the camps, they immediately set up schools where children could resume their Jewish education.


This lesson also applies on a personal level. Wherever you travel, immediately upon your arrival, set up shop. Check out the time when Shabbat begins, take out your candles, and who knows, you may even be able to find challah for Shabbat. Build a “tabernacle” right in your own tent, cabin or hotel room. 

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Solon Chabad.