According to medical researchers, healthy adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. People who sleep six hours or less are subject to the effects of sleep deprivation. Those who miss out on the requisite hours can make up the difference by tactical napping of no more than twenty minutes the following day. Sleep powers the mind, restores the body, and fortifies virtually every system in the body. Sleep is essential to learning and memory. In short, sleep is essential for human life.
Hence, it is not surprising that the Torah takes pains to list in detail the various resting stations (massei, in Hebrew) of the Israelites from the exodus to entry into the Promised Land. What sleep is for its individuals, encampment is for the nation. Sharks must always stay in motion; people not. People need rest, no matter the urgency of the journey.
The Midrash Tanhuma offers two other reasons for listing the resting stations. First, having the Israelites encamping at the many places listed protracted the journey and allowed the Israelites the opportunity to have the Torah “settle into them.” In other words, before arriving in Israel, the Israelites had the time to practice living in accordance with the Torah, an opportunity that would not be afforded them had they gone directly to Israel.
Second, the list of encampments served as reminders of the events along the way. The operative parable is that of a king who took his sickly son for treatment far away. On the return journey the king would point out where they slept, where the son experienced symptoms, and so forth. The reminders, however, were not nostalgic glances of happy times but reminders of where they angered God! Having attention called to the people’s failings ought to be a reminder of how far the people need to go in behavioral improvement rather than geographical distance.