At a first glance, the opening of this week’s parasha and the fourth book of the Torah seems general and vague:
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–לֵאמֹר
God spoke to Moshe in the wilderness/desert of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month of the second year since leaving Egypt, saying:
While the names of each of the five books of the Torah are taken from the first significant word of their first verse, for the rabbis these words were not random or coincidental. Rather, they can provide insight about the essence of the entire book and often an intention for ourselves. The following midrash goes beyond the fact that the entire book of Bamidbar is set in the wilderness, ultimately turning into forty years of wandering, and gives us a prescription for how to bring the experience into our lives (Bemidbar Rabbah 1:7):
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
Another interpretation: “God spoke to Moshe in the desert/wilderness of Sinai” – anyone who does not make themselves open and owner-less like a desert is not able to acquire wisdom and Torah — this is why it is written: “in the desert of Sinai.”
For me, this interpretation makes me think about the privilege which I have had over the past year to be part of Bais Abe, and the openness which each of you have shown as you welcomed me into the community. I have learned so much which I hope to take as I move towards semikhah and the official beginning of my rabbinate, especially through Bais Abe’s unique mission of openness and lowering barriers to entry and participation.
How can you make yourself open like a desert or wilderness as we begin the book of Bemidbar and prepare to receive the Torah in just a few days on Shavuot?