GrowTorah Core Value: Incubating Emunah

Bamidbar – in the desert. This parsha, and the whole sefer, is named after the wilderness: unworked and unworkable, unowned nature at its purest. Here is where we received the Torah. What values can we learn from the desert?

Lesson Title: Desert

וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד בְּאֶחָד֩ לַחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֜י בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשֵּׁנִ֗ית לְצֵאתָ֛ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃

On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:

וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי (במדבר א, א), לָמָּה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, מִכָּאן שָׁנוּ חֲכָמִים בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים נִתְּנָה הַתּוֹרָה, בָּאֵשׁ, וּבַמַּיִם, וּבַמִּדְבָּר. בָּאֵשׁ מִנַּיִן (שמות יט, יח): וְהַר סִינַי עָשַׁן כֻּלּוֹ וגו'. וּבַמַּיִם מִנַּיִן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שופטים ה, ד): גַּם שָׁמַיִם נָטָפוּ גַּם עָבִים נָטְפוּ מָיִם. וּבַמִּדְבָּר מִנַּיִן וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, וְלָמָּה נִתְּנָה בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, אֶלָּא מָה אֵלּוּ חִנָּם לְכָל בָּאֵי הָעוֹלָם כָּךְ דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה חִנָּם הֵם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה נה, א): הוֹי כָּל צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם, דָּבָר אַחֵר, וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, אֶלָּא כָּל מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה עַצְמוֹ כַּמִּדְבָּר, הֶפְקֵר, אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִקְנוֹת אֶת הַחָכְמָה וְהַתּוֹרָה, לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר: בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי.

"And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness" (Numbers 1:1). Why the Sinai Wilderness? From here the sages taught that the Torah was given through three things: fire, water, and wilderness. How do we know it was given through fire? From Exodus 19:18: "And Mount Sinai was all in smoke as God had come down upon it in fire." How do we know it was given through water? As it says in Judges 5:4, "The heavens dripped and the clouds dripped water [at Sinai]." How do we know it was given through wilderness? [As it says above,] "And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness." And why was the Torah given through these three things? Just as [fire, water, and wilderness] are free to all the inhabitants of the world, so too are the words of Torah free to them, as it says in Isaiah 55:1, "Oh, all who are thirsty, come for water... even if you have no money." Another explanation: "And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness" — Anyone who does not make themselves ownerless like the wilderness cannot acquire the wisdom and the Torah. Therefore it says, "the Sinai Wilderness."

GUIDING QUESTIONS:

Why was the Torah given in the desert?

  • Just as the wilderness is free and ownerless, equally available to everyone, so too is the Torah free and available. We must also make ourselves ownerless like the desert in order to be receptive to the Torah.

אמר ליה לא תתיב אכרעיך עד דמפרשת לי הני קראי מאי דכתיב וממדבר מתנה וממתנה נחליאל ומנחליאל במות ומבמות הגיא

אמר ליה אם אדם משים עצמו כמדבר זה שהכל דשין בו תורה ניתנה לו במתנה וכיון שניתנה לו במתנה נחלו אל שנאמר וממתנה נחליאל וכיון שנחלו אל עולה לגדולה שנאמר ומנחליאל במות

ואם מגיס לבו הקדוש ברוך הוא משפילו שנאמר ומבמות הגיא ואם חוזר בו הקדוש ברוך הוא מגביהו שנאמר כל גיא ינשא

Rav Yosef said to him: Do not sit on your knees until you have explained these verses to me: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And from the wilderness to Mattanah; and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; and from Bamoth to the valley in the field of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looks out toward the desert” (Numbers 21:19–20)?

Rava said to him: If a person makes himself humble like this wilderness, which is open to all and upon which everyone treads, the Torah will be given to him as a gift [mattana]. And once it is given to him as a gift, he inherits it [neḥalo] and God [El] makes it His inheritance, as it is stated: “And from Mattanah to Nahaliel.” And once God has made it His inheritance, he rises to greatness, as it is stated: “And from Nahaliel to Bamoth,” which means heights.

And if he becomes haughty, the Holy One, Blessed be He, lowers him, as it is stated: “And from Bamoth to the valley.” And if he repents, the Holy One, Blessed be He, raises him back up, as it is stated: “Every valley shall be exalted” (Isaiah 40:4).

אמר ליה לא תיתיב אכרעך עד דאמרת לי פירושא דהדין מילתא מאי דכתיב (במדבר כא, יח) וממדבר מתנה וממתנה נחליאל ומנחליאל במות א"ל כיון שעושה אדם את עצמו כמדבר שהוא מופקר לכל תורה ניתנה לו במתנה שנאמר וממדבר מתנה וכיון שניתנה לו במתנה נחלו אל שנאמר וממתנה נחליאל וכיון שנחלו אל עולה לגדולה שנאמר ומנחליאל במות ואם הגביה עצמו הקב"ה משפילו שנאמר (במדבר כא, כ) ומבמות הגיא ולא עוד אלא ששוקעין אותו בקרקע שנאמר (במדבר כא, כ) ונשקפה על פני הישימון ואם חוזר בו הקב"ה מגביהו

Rav Yosef said to Rava: Do not sit on your feet until you tell me the explanation of this matter: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And from the wilderness Mattana and from Mattana Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel Bamot” (Numbers 21:18–19)? Rava said to him that it means: Once a person renders himself like a wilderness, deserted before all, the Torah is given to him as a gift [mattana], as it is stated: “And from the wilderness Mattana.” And once it is given to him as a gift, God bequeaths [naḥalo] it to him, as it is stated: “And from Mattana Nahaliel.” And once God bequeaths it to him, he rises to greatness, as it is stated: And from Nahaliel, Bamot, which are elevated places. And if he elevates himself and is arrogant about his Torah, the Holy One, Blessed be He, degrades him, as it is stated: “And from Bamot the valley” (Numbers 21:20). And not only is he degraded, but one lowers him into the ground, as it is stated: “And looking over [nishkafa] the face of the wasteland” (Numbers 21:20), like a threshold [iskopa] that is sunken into the ground. And if he reverses his arrogance and becomes humble, the Holy One, Blessed be He, elevates him,

GUIDING QUESTIONS:

How do these Gemaras compare and contrast?

  • Both say similar things about each stop on the journey: starting with the humility of the wilderness, people are given Torah as gift, God gives it as inheritance, and through Torah they rise to greatness, but if they get haughty they are lowered, and raised back up if they reverse their ways.
  • The first says the desert is humble because everyone treads on it, the second because it is deserted by all.

How do they explain the significance of the desert?

  • see above

What values do we learn from Hashem's decision to give Bnei Yisrael the Torah in the desert?

  • Humility, acceptance

Living the Lesson

(ג) ק֣וֹל קוֹרֵ֔א בַּמִּדְבָּ֕ר פַּנּ֖וּ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהוָ֑ה יַשְּׁרוּ֙ בָּעֲרָבָ֔ה מְסִלָּ֖ה לֵאלֹהֵֽינוּ׃
(3) A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert A road for the LORD! Level in the wilderness A highway for our God!

וּמִמִּדְבָּר מַתָּנָה. שֶׁנִּתְּנָה לָהֶם בַּמִּדְבָּר לְשַׁמְּשָׁן. דָּבָר אַחֵר, לָמָּה נִתְּנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר, שֶׁאִלּוּ נִתְּנָה לָהֶם בָּאָרֶץ, הָיָה הַשֵּׁבֶט שֶׁנִּתְּנָהּ בִּתְחוּמוֹ אוֹמֵר אֲנִי קֹדֵם בָּהּ, לְכָךְ נִתְּנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר שֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַכֹּל שָׁוִין בָּהּ. וְעוֹד לָמָּה נִתְּנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר, כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמִּדְבָּר לֹא נִזְרָע וְלֹא נֶעֱבָד, כָּךְ הַמְקַבֵּל עֹל תּוֹרָה פּוֹרְקִין מִמֶּנּוּ עֹל דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמִּדְבָּר אֵין מַעֲלֶה אַרְנוֹן, כָּךְ בְּנֵי תּוֹרָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. דָּבָר אַחֵר, בַּמִּדְבָּר, מִי מְקַיֵּם אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, מִי שֶׁמֵּשִׂים עַצְמוֹ כְּמִדְבָּר וּמַפְלִיג עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכֹּל. (במדבר כא, יט):

And from the wilderness Mattana. That the Torah was given to them in the wilderness for their use. Or: why was it given in the wilderness? Because if it were given to them in the land, that the tribe in whose territory it was given could say "I am the most important," therefore it was given in the wilderness so that everyone would be equal in it. And furthermore, why was it given in the wilderness, since the wilderness is neither sowed nor worked, so too everyone who takes on the yoke of the Torah takes from it the yoke of derech eretz. As the wilderness is not the heights of Arnon, so too the children of the Torah are free in this world. Another thing, in the wilderness, who upholds the Torah, that one who makes himself like the wilderness and separates himself from everything.

GUIDING QUESTIONS:

What does the desert teach us about how to approach learning Torah?

  • freely, equally, with concentration
וְהֵיאַךְ הִיא הַדֶּרֶךְ לְאַהֲבָתוֹ וְיִרְאָתוֹ. בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיִּתְבּוֹנֵן הָאָדָם בְּמַעֲשָׂיו וּבְרוּאָיו הַנִּפְלָאִים הַגְּדוֹלִים וְיִרְאֶה מֵהֶן חָכְמָתוֹ שֶׁאֵין לָהּ עֵרֶךְ וְלֹא קֵץ מִיָּד הוּא אוֹהֵב וּמְשַׁבֵּחַ וּמְפָאֵר וּמִתְאַוֶּה תַּאֲוָה גְּדוֹלָה לֵידַע הַשֵּׁם הַגָּדוֹל. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר דָּוִד (תהילים מב ג) "צָמְאָה נַפְשִׁי לֵאלֹהִים לְאֵל חָי". וּכְשֶׁמְּחַשֵּׁב בַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלּוּ עַצְמָן מִיָּד הוּא נִרְתָּע לַאֲחוֹרָיו וִיפַחֵד וְיוֹדֵעַ שֶׁהוּא בְּרִיָּה קְטַנָּה שְׁפָלָה אֲפֵלָה עוֹמֶדֶת בְּדַעַת קַלָּה מְעוּטָה לִפְנֵי תְּמִים דֵּעוֹת. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר דָּוִד (תהילים ח ד) "כִּי אֶרְאֶה שָׁמֶיךָ מַעֲשֵׂי אֶצְבְּעֹתֶיךָ" (תהילים ח ה) "מָה אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ". וּלְפִי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלּוּ אֲנִי מְבָאֵר כְּלָלִים גְּדוֹלִים מִמַּעֲשֵׂה רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּהְיוּ פֶּתַח לַמֵּבִין לֶאֱהֹב אֶת הַשֵּׁם. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים בְּעִנְיַן אַהֲבָה שֶׁמִּתּוֹךְ כָּךְ אַתָּה מַכִּיר אֶת מִי שֶׁאָמַר וְהָיָה הָעוֹלָם:
But how may one discover the way to love and fear Him? When man will reflect concerning His works, and His great and wonderful creatures,1But he must make thorough study. C. and will behold through them His wonderful, matchless and infinite wisdom, he will spontaneously be filled with love, praise and exaltation and become possessed of a great longing to know the Great Name, even as David said: "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God," (Ps. 42,2); and when he will think of all these matters,2Sifre, Deut. 6.5; Shabbat, 30–31. G. he will be taken aback in a moment and stricken with awe, and realize that he is an infinitesimal creature, humble and dark, standing with an insignificant and slight knowledge in the presence of the All Wise, as David said: "For when I see Thy heavens, the wonderful works of Thy fingers, of what use is man that Thou mayest remember him?" (Ibid. 8,4). And, in harmony with these matters, I elucidate great, general principles of the works of the Lord of the universe, so that they might serve as an opening for one who understands by which to love the Name, as some sages said on the subject of love: "Out of it thou wilt recognize the One who spoke, and the universe was called into existence."

GUIDING QUESTIONS:

How can we apply the lessons learned from the desert in our garden?

  • Doesn't belong to anyone, the lessons we learn here are equally true for everyone

How can inspiration and Torah values be found in nature apart from the desert?