The Generation of the Wilderness was unique in the history of Israel, as Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains concerning the first verse of Bamidbar. Israel was slated for a special mission in the world, and this mission was begun with a special forty-year inauguration in which Israel gained an intense and unmatched closeness to Hashem.
“In the wilderness” (1:1). This subject cannot be properly understood without recognizing clearly the following guidelines:
A) Never again in the history of the holy nation was the Presence of Hashem among our people demonstrated as strongly and as clearly as in the wilderness. The Mishkan was the most holy sanctuary we ever possessed and Hashem was recognized by the Wilderness Generation in a manner far beyond any other genration or period in history.
B) Never again was our nation concentrated together in one area as they were in the wilderness. Such total national unity was never repeated.
C) Never again did our nation possess a leader who even partially approached the greatness of Moshe.
D) Never again did our entire nation have such a protracted era of leisure to study the Torah.
E) Never again was the nation isolated from the influence of the nations of the world as totally as in the wilderness. When Moshe blessed Israel and prayed for the nation’s optimum happiness, he said: “And lsrael dwelt in security, alone is the fountain of Jacob” (Devarim 33:28).
He thereby enunciated the two chief purposes for which the nation had spent 40 years in the wilderness: 1) betoch (security of trust in Hashem alone) and 2) badad (isolation). By living in an environment where a multitude could not survive, they gained the awareness that Hashem is the sole source of our sustenance. By clustering around the Mishkan; by the powerful influence of Moshe; by the clouds of glory; and by the daily mann, lsrael learned the awareness of Hashem in all aspects of l. Here they gained the attitude of total isolation from the nations and their ways. Thus the wilderness was the grand preparation for lsrael’s future history.
In addition, the period of the wilderness was the model of the great test of this world: the test to recognize Hashem and His kindliness.
“And you shall remember all the way which Hashem your G-d has led you these 40 years in the wilderness, in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He afflicted you, and He caused you to hunger, and He fed you the mann which neither you or your fathers knew, in order to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes from the mouth of Hashem does a man live. Your garment did not become worn out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these 40 years. And you should know in your heart that as a man chastises his son, so Hashem your G-d chastises you” (Devarim 8:2-7).
“For Hashem your G-d has blessed you in all the work of your hand; He has known your walking in this great wilderness; these 40 years Hashem your G-d has been with you; you have lacked nothing” (ibid. 2:7).
These verses seem contradictory; if they lacked nothing, how can it be said that “He afflicted you and He caused you to hunger” and that “Hashem your G-d chastises you?” But this was part of the test in the wilderness, and it serves as a model for the test of all mankind in every generation. Actually, they lacked nothing essential; and even when their circumstances seemed hopeless, Hashem was waiting in concealment to test them, but the help was prepared for them and was sure to come. The wilderness period supplied episodes of apparent crisis and seeming disaster or what appeared to be great discomfort and privation. But it was all a phantom, planned for the purpose of testing the people; Hashem was always nearby to succor them that they should survive. And all that happened was done solely “to do benefit to you in your end” (Devarim 8:16).
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
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