The Parsha this week is Parshas Bamidbar. In Parshas Bamidbar the Torah begins by telling us “And Hashem spoke to Moses in the midbar – in the desert: (Numbers 1:1). Our Sages are bothered by this seemingly unnecessary statement. Don’t we know that Moses was in the desert when Hashem spoke to him? Why does the Torah have to begin the book of Numbers by telling us where they spoke?
Most years Parshas Bamidbar is read right before the holiday of Shavuos. The Medrash tells us that when the Torah told us that Hashem spoke to Moses in the desert, the Torah is really telling us that the only way we can acquire Torah is to learn from the desert. As the Medrash says, “The Torah is given in three ways: With fire, with water, and with the desert. How do we know it is given with fire?.... How do we know it is given with water?...How do we know it is given with the desert? As it says, “And Hashem spoke to Moses in the desert”… (Numbers 1:1) What does this mean?
Water, as we know, flows to the lowest point possible. This, our Sages tell us, symbolizes humility. The Torah only goes to one who acts in a humble way, one who feels that he or she is not better than others. This is the reason we are taught that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, as opposed to being given on a higher mountain. We are supposed to learn from this the importance of humility, the importance of not feeling that we are better than someone else.
Fire symbolizes movement, action, and change. Fire is not stationary. It doesn’t sit still. It is a force that constantly either gets bigger or smaller. A person can’t hope to learn Torah by osmosis. We have to exert the energy to learn, to study, to obtain knowledge. The lesson of the fire is that we have to study Torah with an excitement, with feeling, and with a passion. If we just let ourselves live by nature, the natural instinct of being lazy can easily overcome us. We have to exert ourselves, to have the “fire” of searching for more knowledge kindle our passion to keep on learning more and more.
Finally, the Torah is compared to the desert. The desert symbolizes staying away from luxuries in life. Just as one who is in the desert doesn’t concern himself or herself with having fancy furniture; with having a stylish car; or with having a trendy set of clothes. When we are in a desert all we think about is simple survival. We appreciate the simple things in life that we often take for granted; a cup of water; food to eat; a place to rest in. So too, if we want to dedicate any amount of time to study Torah, we have to focus on what really counts in life, and on what really matters.
This lesson is the beautiful introduction that we are reminded of every year as we approach the holiday of Shavuos and prepare again to accept the Torah anew.