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In the beginning of Parshah D’varim the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering is recounted. I had always pictured this as one large, nomadic group moving in unison around the desert. In D’varim [1:2] Kadesh-barnea is mentioned as one of the stopping points. On p. 1161, footnote 2 of Plaut’s “The Torah A Modern Commentary” (Revised Edition), it says of the geographic location Kadesh-barnea, “It was the Israelites’ headquarters for most of their forty years of wandering.” A stationary headquarters seems inconsistent with the picture of a single, large group traveling in unison. Can someone provide a more accurate description (and source) of how the Israelite community traveled about during these 40 years? For example, was it in smaller, separate groups that remained in communication with the stationary headquarters; or something else entirely?

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I believe the wording of "Israelites’ headquarters" does not mean that there was some central location that a 'stationary headquarters' stayed in while other 'pods' traveled about. I suspect that when the book you were reading called it a 'headquarters', it just meant that was a location that the Jews were camped at, and as seen in Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:46, of the 42 travels that they did over 40 years, the single longest encampment the Jews had was at Kadesh for 19 years.

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As calculated in Seder Olam Rabbah (Chapter Eight, in turn quoted by various commentaries) the Israelites camped at Kadesh Barnea for 19 years. This may be what is being referenced in the footnote.

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