Collectively, the Jewish people have been subjected to the paradoxical phenomenon of being hounded by the other nations who threaten to exterminate us, and being provided by G‑d throughout history with places of refuge that have guaranteed our survival. This phenomenon is what our Sages referred to when they spoke of “exile,” that parallels the City of Refuge.
When we lived in the Land of Israel and had possession of the Holy Temple, we lost our sensitivity towards G‑d and one another, because we did not feel our own vulnerability. By going into exile, G‑d was not punishing us, but forcing us to realize the precariousness of our own existence, so that we do not take it for granted and that we become more sensitive to G‑d and others.
The purpose of exile was not a punishment for the sake of punishment, but a way to make us more receptive to G‑d and other people.
While we cannot comprehend or make peace with exile conditions, no matter how benign they might seem, we must learn the lessons that exile imparts to us:
Don’t take G‑d, Torah, Mitzvos, our fellow Jew and human being for granted. Be sensitive to all of the above, even as we pray to finally be liberated from the need to learn this lesson.
 42 Journeys; One Continuum
70% of the Torah—the material covered from the beginning of the Book of Exodus through the end of Deuteronomy—is encapsulated in this week’s parsha of Masei-Journeys, which reviews the 42 journeys the Jewish people made from Egypt to the Promised Land. It is a suggestion that although the 42 journeys cover a large expanse of time, they form one unit and one continuum.
These 42 journeys should not be viewed, exclusively, as an historical event. Rather, as the Ba’al Shem Tov taught, these journeys are, primarily, the story of the vicissitudes of our own lives’ journeys. 
The Number 42 in Kabbalah
According to Kabbalah, the number 42 is significant. For one thing, it is the number of words of the first paragraph of the Shema. One of G‑d’s names has the numerical value of 42, and is referred to as shem mab, “the Name of 42.” 
What is the significance of this name of G‑d?
We need special assistance when we climb mountains. The resources needed for traveling across level ground do not suffice for climbing mountains. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Whenever we make the transition from one level to the next higher level, we draw our inspiration and energy from G‑d’s power as it is channeled through the name Mab-the name of 42.
The paradigm for this is the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt—the nadir of depravity and spiritual lowliness—to the Promised Land—the pinnacle of spirituality and holiness.
However, while some of these journeys were pleasant, others were challenging, beset with setbacks, mistakes and wrong choices.
All of the above describes our own life’s odyssey, providing us with comfort in the knowledge that all aspects of our life—even the setbacks—can be redeemed.
From Womb to Womb
Let us examine the first journey, from Goshen, where the Jews resided, to Ramses
To understand the significance of this first journey it is necessary to clarify what the Exodus from Egypt represented. One of its salient features is that the erstwhile slaves were passive recipients of G‑d’s extraordinary generosity. On all levels—physically, emotionally and spiritually—the Jews were not ready for freedom. So crushed were they by the most extreme form of oppression known to humankind, they could not even digest the message of freedom that Moses brought to them. In the words of the Torah: “They did not listen to Moses from shortage of breath and hard labor.”
If the departure from Egypt was the birth of the Jewish nation, as the prophet Ezekiel described it, then the first journey to Ramses—which was still in Egypt—can be characterized as the period between conception and birth.
When Pharaoh demanded that they leave, it can be said that the Jewish people were transferred from the womb of Egyptian oppressors into the womb of G‑d’s protection and kindness.
What changed in their first journey is everything and nothing.
Nothing changed because they were still unborn, contained as they were in a state of confinement, which is the very definition of the Hebrew word for Egypt: Mitzraim.
However, everything changed inasmuch as they were no longer confined to the womb of Pharaoh. Instead they were completely enveloped within the Divine “womb.” 
The Fetus in Jewish Thought
To better understand the situation, we should reflect on the state of a fetus in Jewish thought.
On the one hand, the mother’s womb is the ideal state for the child. He or she is secure and protected from outside influences. This “ideal” state is mirrored in the spiritual domain. Our Sages (Talmud, Nidah 30b) teach that the fetus is taught the entire Torah.
Moreover, the Talmud states that the fetus is administered an oath: “Be righteous.” Chassidic literature explains that this oath represents the special power the soul in utero is given to aid it to overcome all of life’s eventual challenges. The word “oath” in Hebrew (sh’vuah,) is related to the word “sated” (sova). The soul is then sated with tremendous spiritual energy.
And this is the paradox of the fetus. On the one hand, there is no time in a person’s life when he or she is more dependent than when that person is a fetus. And, on the other hand, there is no more secure time or unsullied potential for the person than as a fetus in utero.
The Paradox of Ramses
When we examine the word “Ramses” we see its paradoxical connotation: It is described as the “best of the land” (Genesis 47:11): “Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and he gave them property in the land of Egypt in the best of the land, in the district of Ramses.” Rashi comments that Ramses was a part of Goshen, which was the ideal place in Egypt.
Goshen is also associated with Moshiach inasmuch as the word Goshnah (to Goshen) which appears in the story of Egyptian bondage has the gematria value of Moshiach. This suggests that, in one sense, their existence in Goshen (Ramses) was a form of utopia.
And Ramses is, simultaneously, the site where everything crumbled. As the Talmud states (Sotah 11a): Why was it called Ramses? Because everything they built crumbled.”
These two features of Ramses, though opposites, are not contradictory. Both King David and Moshiach are referred to as bar nafli, people who were initially destined to be stillborn. They represent the elite of Jewish leadership, and the ultimate in life, as well as being the most vulnerable and precarious.
This Ramses paradox reflected the paradoxical state of the Israelites at that juncture.
Prior to their arrival in Ramses, the Israelites were in the womb of Pharaoh. They had no independent identity; their identity was that of their overlords.
When they arrived in Ramses, they emerged from the non-identity status of a fetus. They were no longer subservient to Egypt. However, they did not yet emerge as an independent nation. They were now fetuses in the “womb” of the Divine, as it were.
This state was both positive and negative. It was positive in that they were now “subsumed” within the Divine, but also negative because they had no will of their own. G‑d’s overwhelming kindness, showered upon them, deprived them of their ability to give of themselves voluntarily. They simply had no choice.
Ramses, where everything built is eventually swallowed by the earth, symbolizes the manner in which the identity of the Jewish nation was swallowed within the secure embrace of the Divine.
But, being in utopia without the opportunity for voluntary service is still a form of exile. We were created to relate to the world outside of ourselves and affect the world. To be denied that ability is painful for the soul.
Many people resist the first stage of development because they feel too dependent on others for support. The first journey, to Ramses—which is counted as one of the 42 journeys—conveys the powerful message: As a first step it is crucial to receive support from others, be they parents, siblings, teachers, friends, etc. To wait until we are ready to climb out of this dependent state on our own is both futile and egotistical. The Talmud declares: “a prisoner cannot free himself from prison.” (Berachos 5b). But, at the same time, we have to realize that to be completely liberated from exile we must become independent servants of G‑d, harnessing our minds and hearts to bringing the Geulah, the Final Redemption.
The Rebbe counseled us not to rely on his efforts but to do our part. That itself represents the dynamic of Geulah. In the Rebbe’s own words: “Do everything in your power to bring Moshiach.”