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Why is Parshat Bamidbar always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot?

On Shavuot, the Torah reading for the festival also begins with a reference to Bamidbar, the wilderness of Sinai. The entire episode of Shavuot takes place in the barren Sinai Peninsula. Bamidbar 21:18 states “umimidbar matanah,” which the Talmud in Nedarim 55 explains as “The gift of the Torah came out of the wilderness.”


Why was the Torah given in a desert, a desolate and inhospitable locale where it is impossible to plant or bring forth fruit? And why is Shavuot is identified with the mitzvah of bikurim (bringing the first blossoming ripe fruits to the Temple)?

How do these two, seemingly contrary, concepts of barrenness and fruitfulness merge into the festival of the Giving of the Torah?

Perhaps the connection of Bamidbar and Shavuot is obvious. A world without Torah is a midbar, a barren wasteland. A world with Torah becomes bikurim, a blossoming and fruitful paradise.

A world without the moral law of the Torah quickly wastes away into spiritual desolation. A world with Torah can become a Garden of Eden.

On that first Shavuot 3,327 years ago at Mt. Sinai, God proclaimed that we can transform a wilderness into paradise, a midbar into bikurim, a barren wasteland into a fruitful garden. God reached out to us and announced that we are able to come up to Him (Shemot 24).

Shavuot is not only the day of the Giving of the Torah but also a day to recreate the world. Before the Giving of the Torah, the world was a wilderness (tohu vavohu – void and empty). But through the Torah, the world had the potential of become a Garden of Eden again.

The concluding verse of the first chapter of Bereishit is “Vayehi erev vayehi boker yom hashishi – It was on the sixth day that heaven and earth were completed.” The Talmud in Shabbat 88 makes note of the “hei hayediah” (the letter hei which is the definite article) of the word hashishi. The Talmud explains that this refers not only to the sixth day of Creation but also to the sixth day of Sivan, the day God gave the Torah.

God made all of Creation conditional on the acceptance of the Torah by Israel on the sixth day of Sivan. Only then would heaven and earth find fulfillment. If Israel had not accepted the Torah, the world would have returned to void and emptiness.

Only by our willingness to say na’aseh v’nishma, to completely subject ourselves to God’s authority, can we transform the world from a barren desert into an orchard, bringing forth bikurim.

That is why the mitzvah of bikurim is tied to Shavuot, when God gave us the Torah. If we don’t accept the Torah, we are lost in the midbar of immorality and corruption.

On this Shavuot, let us turn our personal midbar into a Garden of Eden by rededicating ourselves to our holy Torah.


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Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.