4

I, and many others I know, have a mental image from childhood of b'nei Yisrael being frequently on the move between the exodus and the conquest of the land. But if you look at the list of encampment locations in Bamidbar 33 there are only 42 locations total. Further, Rashi notes there that if you subtract the ones at the beginning and the end for which we have time-points, there were only 20 locations for the 38 years in the wilderness. This gives a very different impression, that the people tended to be settled for a couple years at a time between moves, on average.

Do any of our sources say more about how that time was divided up? Was it a fairly even distribution -- camp here for a year or two, then move and do the same? Or did there tend to be periods of higher activity? This question came up in our weekly torah study when talking about all the work involved in setting up and taking down the mishkan. I pointed out that it was every couple years, not every couple days or weeks, but that's on average, which got me wondering about the distribution.

  • See Numbers 9:17-23. I recall hearing that there was at least 1 instance of each of the mentioned durations (i.e. at least one 1-day period, one 2-day period, etc.), so that gives at least a handful more encampments and camping times. – Salmononius2 Jun 21 at 2:45
  • @DonielF Going from vague memory at the moment - I think Rash"i near the end of parshat Bemidbar around the verse that says how long it took until they crossed Nachal Arnon, is quite comprehensive. There's also something there mentioning how they travelled backwards to Hor Hahar. I'll see if I can locate it tomorrow, but you may find something additional. – DanF Jun 21 at 2:47
  • I could be wrong, I don't think that we're able to know the duration of all the encampments. Here is a website with the information we know about the different encampments he.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – IsraelReader Jun 21 at 10:57
  • @DanF The Rashi's in Devarim 10:6, based on Seder Olam Rabbah. They fled from Hor HaHar backwards eight stops. That was in their last year in the Midbar, so if I'm reading the question correctly it's not so relevant here. – DonielF Jun 21 at 18:23
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If I understand your question correctly, you're asking specifically about the middle 38 years. I have a partial answer to address that time, and I can flesh this out further with times for the first and last year as well if you'd like.

  • Har Sinai: Left on 20 Iyar, 24491
    • Travel to Kivros HaTa'avah: 20-22 Iyar, 24492
  • Kivros HaTa'avah: 22 Iyar2-21 Sivan, 24493
  • Chatzeros: 21-28 Sivan, 24493,4
  • Kadesh Barnei'a: 28 Sivan, 2449-24683,5
  • Rimon Peretz through Etziyon Gever (seventeen stops6): 2468-24873,7
  • Kadesh: Arrived on 1 Nissan, 24878

Sources and footnotes:
1Bamidbar 10:11.
2Bamidbar 10:33.
3Seder Olam Rabbah, chapter 8.
4Rashi to Bamidbar 14:1.
5Rashi to Devarim 1:46.
6Bamidbar 33:19-35.
7Seder Olam Rabbah only says that they spent 19 years in Kadesh and 19 years wandering between these places; I don't know of a source which provides a more detailed breakdown for these stops, hence why I said at the top that it's a partial answer.
8Seder Olam Rabbah, chapter 9.

  • 1
    Thank you! This is great. I didn't know (until I asked and you commented) that they spent 19 years in one place. At the other extreme, wow, only a week in Chatzeros -- by the time they got set up it was probably time to leave. And that's the curiosity at the root of my question -- how much were they settling a while vs moving frequently. I'm trying to correct my mental model of life in the midbar. – Monica Cellio Jun 21 at 18:32
  • @MonicaCellio Remember, Kadesh Barnei’a is right on the border with Eretz Yisrael - that’s why they sent the spies from there. They spent 19 years with their destination in sight, unable to reach it. – DonielF Jun 21 at 18:41
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    That's so sad -- looking right at it and knowing they'd blown it for all that time. I somehow thought that they were mostly farther away, deeper in the wilderness. – Monica Cellio Jun 21 at 18:50
  • "by the time they got set up it was probably time to leave". See about middle of parshat Beha'alotcha which says that there were times when they camped a day and a night. So, yes, there were a number of times when they set up the Mishkan, kept it there for perhaps a few hours, and dismantled it. again. I assume that they had a good staff of people to help do the work, so, perhaps they could do this quickly. It may be worth asking how long it took to assemble and dismantle the mishkan. (Don't assume that dismantling was quicker. There were many rules about how to wrap everything.) – DanF Jun 23 at 20:47
  • @DanF You mean the end of ch. 9? The problem with bringing a proof from those Pesukim is that they may not refer to encampments in the middle 38 years; there’s several encampments in the final year for which dates are uncertain as well. – DonielF Jun 23 at 20:53

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