It now remains only for Moses to prepare the Israelites for life on their own soil, but first comes, in this week’s reading, a detailed listing of where they had been and what had befallen them.
The purpose of the list is not so much historical and geographical as spiritual. “Write the stages of Israel’s journeys in the wilderness,” God says to Moses according to the Midrash, “so that they will know the miracles I performed for them”.
Some of the miracles we know about already, dramatic events that impressed themselves on that generation and those that would follow. The biggest miracle, however, is not spelled out. It happened so regularly, day by day, that it was like a constant backdrop – the miracle of sheer survival.
Here was a people facing an unfriendly environment that in all logic should have defeated them and brought an end to their history. Here was a people that normally would have been overcome by the ruthless heat, hunger, thirst and lack of shelter.
The miracle was that they lived, and this was the beginning of their history.