Machshavot Halev Bemidbar/Shavuot 5772
- Rabbi Mordechai Machlis
- May 25, 2012
Why is it that the Torah was given in the desert? Is the midbar really the ideal location for the greatest revelation in world history?
According to one approach in rabbinic literature, one of the messages of the Torah of the midbar –desert is to encourage each one of us to behave accordingly. We, too, are to behave – and to become – like amidbar. In the language of the Midrash to our parasha (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:7): “למה במדבר סיני?כל מי שאינו עושה עצמו כמדבר הפקר אינו יכול לקנות את החכמה והתורה.” “Why in the desert of Sinai? &he! llip; Those who do not open themselves up (to others) like a desert will not be able to acquire wisdom and Torah.”
The desert – midbar represents a certain level of accessibility to all. The Torah that each one of us possesses must be made available to everyone! If we are privileged to have certain spiritual or material resources which can bring benefit and blessing to others, we are enjoined to make deliberate efforts to open ourselves to all – to turn ourselves into a midbar.
The Torah teaches in Parashat Chukat (Bamidbar 21:18): “וממדבר מתנה”. Although the plain meaning of the text may indicate the order of the travels of the Jewish People form the desert to Mattana, Chazal inMasechet Eruvin (54a) read these words in a homiletic fashion: “וממדבר מתנה ...אם משים אדם עצמו כמדבר זה שהכל דשין בו, תורה ניתנה לו במתנה.” “If people make themselves like a desert-midbar which everyone treads upon, the Torah will them be given to them as a gift.” We learn from the desert how to be humble before others. We consciously allow people to often speak and act to us even in ways which may be improper, for we are students of the desert Torah. The midbar setting guides us in our pathway of proper interaction with people. The midbar person acting like a desert will be rewarded with the precious gift of the Divine Torah of the desert.
If we study the life and practices of one of the most outstanding personalities at the time of King David, we can gain further insights into the Torah of the midbar. Yoav Ben Tzeruya (known most for his outstanding accomplishments as the leading general in the army of Dovid HaMelech) is spoken of in the world of Chazalas being one of the most learned and pious Torah sages of his generation. In Sefer Melachim (I Kings 2:34) we learn that Yoav’s house was in the desert. Yoav’s home was a desert!? The Gemara in Sanhedrin 49a is most intrigued by the unusual description of Yoav’s home.
בביתו במדבר? אטו ביתו מדבר הוא? אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: כמדבר, מה מדבר מופקר לכל - אף ביתו של יואב מופקר לכל.
Was Yoav’s home really a desert? Rav Yehuda taught in the name of Rav: The text is teaching us that Yoav’s home was similar to a desert. Just as everything in the desert is ownerless and free for all to take, everything in the house of Yoav was ownerless and free for all.
Yoav internalized the message of the Torah of the desert. The poor and the wretched felt ever so comfortable and welcome in Yoav’s home, for the foundations of his home were based on the concept of midbar. When one widely opens the gateway of the home and of the heart to the needy, one is demonstrating a deep level of understanding of why the Torah was given in the desert locale.
Our great and beloved Sages teach us that the tent of Avraham and Sarah was open on all four sides. On the most basic of readings, our rabbis are teaching us the special levels of sensitivity of our revered father and mother. They never wanted to trouble anyone to have to walk around in order to enter their home. Regardless of where he or she was coming from, the wayfarer always had direct and immediate access. However, Rav Kook (see Ein Ayah to Berachot 58) understands the four-sided openness on yet another level. Many hosts are prepared to open their homes to visitors on condition that the visiting guest is from a very same mindset as the host. If we are both from the conceptual west or both from the conceptual east, there’s plenty of room in the tent. What happens when one is from the conceptual north and the other is from the conceptual south?!? Are such guests welcome? Avraham and Sarah opened ! their loving tent on all four conceptual sides, for they founded the nation that bases itself on the Torah on the midbar – desert.
May our study of Parashat Bamidbar, coupled with our spiritual preparations for the holiday of the Torah, help each of us move closer and closer to the inner meaning of the midbar revelation.