Parashat Bamidbar / פרשת במדבר
The parsha (Torah Portion) for this Shabbat.
Many rabbis focus on the census portion of Bamidbar. The counting of the people is an important message (let everyone be counted, let everyone count and let everyone stand up and be counted!) but there’s another aspect that stands out to me as the road somewhat less traveled.
Bamidbar is typically translated as “in the desert.” A more accurate translation is “in the wilderness.” In Hebrew, Ba or B’ means In — Midbar means Wilderness. The Torah was given to the people in wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing but a vast expanse of open desert and a mountain named Sinai, for hundreds of miles in every direction.
Nothing in the Torah is insignificant — every location, setting, person, word, letter, place and thing has meaning.
The Hebrew word midbar, (wilderness) shares two important root words — dabar דבר which means “talk, word or thing” and medaber מדבר which means, “speak.” Root words are always significant in Jewish scriptural interpretation. Bamidbar is the Parsha (Torah portion) where the Israelites collectively hear and receive the word of GD.
Bamidbar is that timeless moment in the desert wilderness where a rag-tag band of Israelites become Klal Yisrael — the Nation of Israel. The Torah was given publicly to let everyone know they had an equal share. Everyone had a portion.
It is said in the Talmud, “If you want to learn Torah, you have to make yourself like a desert.” What does that mean? The desert wilderness is a place of humbleness and simplicity. It’s not a fancy schmancy synagogue with expensive dues, a trendy zip code or a high-end neighborhood. It’s not religion marketed as big business. It’s as far from those things as you can get.
The Torah calls the wilderness a gift. “From bamidbar to matanah — from the wilderness, a gift.” וּמִמִּדְבָּ֖ר מַתָּנָֽה (Bamidbar/Numbers 21:18).
The Talmud defines the wilderness as “mufkar” (free/ownerless) — “a free and ownerless place, without walls or structure.”
In the Talmud, “midbar” is viewed as the axis of transformation.
“And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness.” Why? The sages taught that the Torah was given through three things: fire, water, and wilderness. Why 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.”
Anyone who does not make themselves ownerless like the wilderness cannot acquire the wisdom and the Torah. If you want to acquire higher consciousness you must “oseh atzmo k’midbar” — “make yourself like the wilderness.”Midrash / B’midbar Rabbah 1:7
Midbar represents transformation, nature at its rawest and the most essential elements of life. The lack of materialism and socio-economic status in the wilderness leaves space for genuine wisdom to grow and flow.
For the Israelites, the wilderness represented personal growth and a fresh start. It was a place where they had to learn humbleness, teamwork and simplicity in order to survive and thrive. GD is a huge fan of the wilderness. After all, he gave the Israelites the opportunity to grow in the desert for 40 years, whether they saw it as an opportunity or not.
In the wilderness, the Israelites cut ties with their past and all their past experiences.
They became Spiritual Warriors in the wilderness, challenging the false beliefs, lies and judgments they had been fed.
A trek into the wilderness symbolizes leaving your former life behind. Wilderness represents hardship, solitude, quietude and an oasis in the midst of it all. Away from the trappings of materialism and the ‘rat race,’ the true nature of Divinity has room to unfold.
In the wilderness no one is inconsequential or excluded. Teamwork is not an option, it’s essential to sustain life.
The wilderness has come to us in this age of covidicus and we too must pull together to build new social constructs and a new way of life.
©️ 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – Chochmat halev (wisdom of the heart) is my ner tamid (eternal light)
Shabbat Shalom! Thank you for reading! I look forward to your feedback and insights. 💖