The Torah and the Desert
This week’s parshah, Bamidbar, is the first portion of the fourth Chumash, the book of Bamidbar. The Shabbos when this parshah is read usually precedes the festival of Shavuot. The parshah of Bamidbar is a preparation for the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah by the Jewish people.
But what is the connection between Bamidbar and the receiving of the Torah?
Bamidbar means “in the desert.” The Torah was given to the Jewish people in the desert – but this was quite specific and not a coincidence: Hashem chose to give the Torah to the Jews in the desert for many reasons, some of which can be learned from the ways in which the Torah and the desert are connected. Here are a few examples:
1) A desert is an abandoned, empty space that has no designated owner. it belongs to everyone and is a free place for all. similarly, the Torah is not the exclusive property of an elite group of individuals. It is the inheritance of every Jew which is itself an indication of the fact that every Jew has the ability to learn and study the Torah. By the same token, it is important that we recognize that the Torah is relevant to us as Jews wherever we may find ourselves: at home, at work, or on vacation, and that every day of our lives should be imbued with the study of Torah.
2) The desert is a place that is devoid of life. There is no water in a desert and little can grow in its space. The Torah was given in this place to teach us that it remains our obligation even if we are “as poor as a desert.”
3) For all the reasons listed above, the desert is a place free of distractions. The Torah was given to the Jews in this space to teach us that we must not let anything distract us from the Torah – that our devotion to the study of Torah should at all times resemble the devotion of the Jews in the desert who had no distractions to keep them from studying the Torah.
4) The Torah was given to us in a desert – a lifeless, dangerous place – to teach us that Torah gives us the power to transcend all obstacles that may arise, and to transform even a desert into a hub of life, in the most profound sense of the word, that is, a life informed by the Torah.