A Water Hole in the Desert
The parsha of Bamidbar - literally meaning “in the desert” – in most years,
precedes the holiday of Shavuot which will occur in that very coming week.
There is an obvious logic to this order of things since the revelation and
acceptance of Torah by the Jewish people occurred in the desert of Sinai.
There are many interpretations and insights offered as to the choice of the
desert to be the locality of the granting of the Torah. An idea that has
struck me is that in the ancient world, deserts were not territorial
properties of nations. Egypt did not own or control the Sinai desert. Only
Bedouin nomads inhabited the space and they were not numerous in number or
major players in the diplomatic scene of the times.
The granting of the Torah in the desert of Sinai signaled its universal
extra-territorial status. Even though the Land of Israel occupies a special
and central role in the Torah and in Jewish life and has many commandments
that are capable of being followed and observed only there, and the Land of
Israel imparts a special quality to all of the commandments performed there,
nevertheless the Jewish people existed for thousands of years in very
far-flung places in the world, and were bound together by their Torah
commandments, values and traditions.
The Torah was granted to us in a desert, in a place of no particular
sovereignty, language, culture or government. The Torah, in its general
sense, has no limitations of space or time. It represents the Eternal and
therefore takes on all of the characteristics of its Creator, Who is
unlimited in space and time.
What makes a desert a desert is the lack of rain and water. As Israel has
proven with its own Negev desert, water irrigation can push back the
desert’s grip. However, all deserts have particular oases and water holes.
These are of immense value simply because there is no other source of water
in the desert. An oasis or water hole in a country much rained upon attracts
little of any attention or worth.
The Torah foresaw that throughout Jewish history Jews would find themselves
at times living in a spiritual desert. Immorality, licentiousness and
decadence would reign in the general society. The righteous would be mocked
and the wicked would be popularized and exalted. The spiritual desert, its
emptiness and jadedness cannot slake our inner thirst for immortality and
connection to our Creator.
And the Torah, given and nurtured in the desert would then be recognized as
the ultimate oasis of life giving water. The Torah is always symbolized as
being water in the words of the prophets and in the Talmud. The prophet
implores us that “you who are thirsty [for Godliness and spirituality in
your lives] go forth to fetch the water [of the Torah.] Perhaps only one who
is wandering and suffering in the desert can truly appreciate the oasis and
water hole. Our times demand our presence at the oasis that only the Torah
provides for us.
Rabbi Berel Wein