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Am I willing to give up what I have in order to be what I am not yet? Am I able to follow the spirit of love into the desert? It is a frightening and sacred moment. There is no return. One’s life is charged forever. It is the fire that gives us our shape. -Mary Caroline Richards
The fourth book of the Five Books of Moses, the book of Numbers, is called Bamidbar in Hebrew. It means “in the desert.” In the first sentence of the book, God orients us as to where and when we are in the story of our ancestors. We are in the Sinai Desert on the first day of the second month of the second year since the Exodus from Egypt.
The most important event after the Exodus was the receiving of the Torah in an historic divine revelation on Mount Sinai.
Rabbeinu Bechaye on that first sentence, Numbers 1:1 (Bamidbar) quotes the Midrash which states that the Torah was given via three things: fire, water and desert. Both blazing fire and a downpour of water accompanied the giving of the Torah to the nation of Israel in the desolation of the Sinai desert. There are pure, elemental forces at work here.
Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that just as all three of those elements: fire, water and the desert, are free to all that want it, so too the Torah is free and available to all those who wish to acquire it.
Additionally, the symbolism of the Torah being given in the desert is that just as the desert is “Hefker,” ownerless, so too a person who wishes to truly acquire the Torah must also make themselves “Hefker,” ownerless, without any other master but God, and the desire to acquire His Torah, His rulebook.
When one taps into the forces and elements around us, to free ourselves of extraneous masters, we are able to acquire the wisdom, the insight, the light, the well-being and the strength that the Torah can impart.
May we become free of the extraneous and focus on the basic, the essential and the divine.
Shabbat Shalom
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Ben-Tzion Spitz is a former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and current candidate for Knesset with the Zehut party. He is the author of ten books on biblical themes and over 700 articles and stories dealing with biblical and rabbinic themes at his blog ben-tzion.com. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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