Parashat Bamidbar: In the Wilderness
Have you ever felt like you were wandering in the wilderness of life? Wandering in a great and vast desert? Unsure of your future? Of course none of us actually know what the future holds. So, I am sure at some point every single person has felt lost, unsure of what to do. Scared of all the possibilities, or perhaps feeling a lack of them. Think of the Israelites. Think about what they must have been feeling from the moment Moses demanded, “Let my People go!” After being saved, they were thrust into a life they couldn’t even begin to dream about. Slavery to freedom. But, what does Freedom actually entail? Freedom can seem vast and even scary if you don’t know what to do with it.
Up to this point in the Torah, the Israelites have been freed from slavery, crossed the Red Sea, received the Torah, and built the Tabernacle. Now as we are about to begin the Book of Number, they are about to truly wander the wilderness until G-d deems them ready to reach the promised land, the land of Milk and Honey. Which leads us to this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, literally meaning “In the wilderness.” The very first verse starts with G-d speaking to Moses, “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 (Numbers 1:1).” This really isn’t so crazy or far-fetched because G-d speaks to Moses all the time. However, on this day, the Torah highlights that G-d speaks to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai. According to Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), one of the great tannatic sages, this is a very important detail because, “The Torah was given to the people of Israel in the ownerless desert. For if it were given in the land of Israel, the residents of the land of Israel, the residents of the land of Israel would say, ‘It is ours,’ and if it were given in some other place, the residents of that place would say, ‘It is ours.’ Therefore it was given in the wilderness, so that anyone who wishes to acquire it may acquire it.” Torah is for everyone. The Torah was meant to be explored and lived by all who wish to discover its lessons. The wilderness was an essential piece of the Israelite journey because it gave them a chance to discover what Torah could be, how it would give them a framework for their new lives. What those lives would look like. They had to find who they were and who they could be outside their promised land, in order for them to be the People they were meant to be. For them to start our destiny as the Jewish People. We had to wander to gain the necessary tools to live our lives. We had to wander the wilderness to lessen our fears of the future, of the unknown, of our freedom. So, we could become one with ourselves, so we could become one with Torah.
This Saturday night starts the Holiday of Shavuot. The Holiday that commemorates when we received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The moment that gave us a touchstone on our life path. Gave guidance to the vastness of freedom. A light that will be there to always guide our path. Perhaps a light that we could try and explore more of, especially in our world today because Torah is all a part of the journey. So this Shabbat leading into Shavuot, remember anyone can engage in the lessons of Torah. Life lessons. Think of the lessons of our Ancestors and the lessons behind our commandments. Think about what experiencing and exploring more Torah could mean to you, and what it could do for the world.