The Jewish People journey towards Mount Sinai; it is time to receive the Torah. Their travels are described in the following passage:
“In the third month after the departure of the Jewish People from Egypt, on this very day they came to the Sinai Desert”
“They traveled from Refidim, arrived at the Sinai Desert and camped in the desert”.
The time-frame in the passage is difficult to follow.
We are already told in the first verse that they arrived at their destination, the Sinai Desert. Surprisingly, the second verse does not follow their arrival; it backtracks and describes their departure from their previous location, Refidim!
Sensitive to this problem, the Ibn Ezra notes that the phrase, They traveled from Refidim, means They had ALREADY traveled from Refidim. However, it remains unclear why the Torah presents this particular journey retrospectively rather than in the regular way? What was unique about the journey to Mount Sinai?
The Shem Mishmuel beautifully explains how the verses are in the correct order, because they describe two processes, not one. The first stage took place in our minds, while the second stage was the physical relocation.
According to the Midrash, we encamped at Refidim – which comes from the root rafah, weak – because that is how we felt; we were drained, overwhelmed and exhausted. The first verse tells us that while physically stationed in Refidim, we traveled in our minds to Sinai. A person’s thoughts determine where he is. We were fixated on Mount Sinai; we dreamed of Mount Sinai; all we thought about was Mount Sinai. It is as if we were already there; we had freed ourselves from Refidim with our dream. We were able to break out from our apathy with a vision and were inspired to get up because we knew where we were going.
It was our ability to imagine something better that allowed us to move on to the second stage, the physical stage of moving, as described by the second verse. Once we were able to imagine improvement, once we believed in our capabilities to improve, then we were ready to move.
May we all be blessed to learn from the example of our ancestors.