News From Ramaz
By Julia L. '18
The reading of Parashat Bamidbar is always juxtaposed to the holiday of Shavuot. After looking at some of the text of the parasha, the connections become clear. The parasha begins with the simple phrase of וידבר ה׳ אל משה במדבר סיני which takes place on Rosh Chodesh Iyar of the year after Yetziat Mitzrayim right as each member of Bnei Israel will be counted.
The wording of the phrase becomes a little strange when it comes to במדבר סיני -- why does the Torah have to specify that God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert? Isn't it obvious that they are in the Sinai Desert? (it has been the location for most of the narrative thus far!) It is from this specific reference to the desert that so many commentators have taught that the Torah was given through three mediums.
The first of these mediums is the desert, as shown through this phrase, and the other two mediums are water and fire. We attained the Torah through the medium of water in the pasuk in Sefer Shoftim in Perek Hey Pasuk Daled,
ה׳ בצאתך משעיר בצעדך משדה אדום ארץ רעשה
גם שמים נטפו גם עבים נטפו מים,
and we see the Torah given through the medium of fire through the pasuk in Parashat Yitro Perek 19 Pasuk 18
והר סיני עשן כלו מפני אשר ירד עליו ה׳ באש ויעל עשנו כעשן הכבשן ויחרד כל ההר מאוד.
ָDesert, fire, and water teach us something significant about the Torah as we prepare ourselves for Shavuot, the commemoration of the receiving of the Torah: The words of the Torah are like those three mediums: natural resources of the world that are available to anyone for use.
Alternatively, the emphasis on מדבר סיני in the first pasuk of Parashat Bamidbar can also be a reflection on the Jewish people themselves and how they should receive the Torah - they themselves should be like the desert, parched, dry, and empty, waiting for the words of Torah to fill their lives with meaning and take a leading part in their life.
Comparing the Torah to the natural, everlasting elements or saying that we ourselves have to be like the desert when faced with the Torah seems to hint at a limitless image when it comes to Torah - that we can live freely with the Torah and make it our own. However, upon a closer look into the parasha, we realize that this is not exactly the case. Parashat Bamidbar is also all about order - the counting of the different tribes, and the divisions and locations of each tribes' camps.
This hints at the structure of the Torah itself - there are laws and halachot that we must use in the Torah to create rules and limits in our lives. Through the lens of Bamidbar, we begin to see the Torah as this balance between a limitless supply of knowledge that we can see in infinite perspectives, and a book that provides the building blocks for the constant structure in our lives, bringing together all the Jews under a shared history and halachot.
This unity in Bamidbar shown by our counting (which according to Rashi is a symbol of God's love for all of us as an entity) as well as the emphasis on each individual tribe and the areas each tribe positions itself under a given flag, symbolize the dynamic between collective and individual Judaism and how the Torah, the gift of the holiday of Shavuot, encompasses it all.