Parshas Mase'e opens by listing the 42 stations where Be'ne Yisrael encamped during their 40 years of journeying from Egypt to the Land of Israel. . . The obvious question arises: Why would the Torah find it necessary to list these stations?
When Be'ne Yisrael left Egypt, they were far from the spiritual stature they would need to achieve before they could enter the Land of Israel. . . The 40 years of travel from Egypt to Israel served to prepare the nation spiritually for their entry into the Land. The 42 stations represent the 42 stages of spiritual growth. The events that transpired at each location served as a learning experience upon which the the nation would build in the subsequent station, such that they were constantly improving and developing. Stage by stage, Be'ne Yisrael grew and elevated themselves . . .
The Torah thus recorded these locations to impress upon us the importance of gradual, incremental growth. A person cannot leap to the highest levels of piety overnight; spiritual growth entails a long, gradual process of small, incremental steps.
Every so often, I am approached by someone who has recently decided to become observant, and now expresses an interest in studying Kabala. I tell him that before studying Kabala, one must first master the entire Tanach, Talmud and Shulhan Aruch—which is itself a lifelong project. One cannot skip to the top step; he must ascend one step at a time. More often than not, those who try jumping to the highest levels of spirituality will succeed in maintaining these levels for only a brief period, after which they experience a "systems crash" and fall lower than where they had begun.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, the renowned Rabbi and addiction psychiatrist, has a sign in his office that reads, "The elevator to recovery is out of order; please use the stairs." The same applies to religious observance: we must take the stairs, not the elevator. The Torah does not demand what we live perfect religious lives, but only that we continuously grow, one step at a time, that at every stage we can look back at our conduct a year earlier and see how we have progressed.
—Rabbi Eli Mansour