It is explained that God chose to reveal Himself and His Torah in the desert precisely because of its plain, unwelcoming and barren nature.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), meaning “In the desert,” and it opens the fourth book of the Bible: the Book of Numbers. The primary theme of Bamidbar is the census – the count of the entire Jewish people (hence the English name of the book: “Numbers”). The census revealed that there were just over 600,000 Jewish people who left Egypt and were now making their way to the Promised Land.
One will note that the entire Torah, and all of God’s commandments for that matter, were given bamidbar – in the desert. The commentators note that this is somewhat odd. If a great king wants to make an important announcement or proclamation, would he do it in a desert? No way. He’d do it in the center of the city. He’d get on national television so that his message would be received by as many people around the world as possible? Such a momentous event would be held in a luxurious palace with all types of posh and elaborate decorations. But no – God makes his announcements – the giving of the Torah and all the commandments that follow – in the most barren and unimpressive of places: a desert.
It is explained that God chose to reveal Himself and His Torah in the desert precisely because of its plain, unwelcoming and barren nature. This is because in the desert, there is nowhere to go. No street signs, no GPS systems, no flashing billboards, no parades. There is no direction: no geographical direction and no spiritual direction.
Being in the desert the Jewish people were a very obliging and attentive audience. God knew, and the Jewish people knew, that they were on their way to the promised land – to build a new society and establish themselves as a nation. They needed direction and were especially receptive to a new lifestyle filled with direction, meaning, and freedom.
This idea can be taken one step further. If one truly desires to come closer to God, one must make himself like a desert: barren, simple, removed from the “Egypt” of day to day life. The desert is humble: it has nothing to brag about. It is miles and miles of emptiness, of space, but also of potential. When sitting down to study or pray, wemust make ourselves empty of foreign influences and receptive to His word. We must be humble, and we must realize our potential. This is the message.