Bamidbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, June 4, 2022

This Sunday we celebrate Shavuot, the holiday where we celebrate receiving Torah at Sinai and this Shabbat we begin the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, or in Hebrew Bamidbar (In the Wilderness).
This week’s Torah portion begins with these words, “God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai,” (Bamidbar 1:1) In late March I returned to Israel with the Junior and Senior classes of the Jewish Community High School for the first time since the COVID pandemic began. One of the highlights of the trip is an evening hike in the desert, near Masada. We require that students leave their cellphones behind so they are not distracted. In a dark and quiet spot we stop, have the students sit quietly, and look up at the stars. After a few moments we ask them to consider why Torah was given in the wilderness. After some reflection they answer, because it is an open and free space.
This is the same answer our sages shared in Bamidbar Rabah, a collection of rabbinic commentaries from late antiquity: “Just as [wilderness] is free to all the inhabitants of the world, so too are the words of Torah free to them, Another explanation: ‘And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness’ — Anyone who does not make themselves ownerless like the wilderness cannot acquire the wisdom and the Torah.”
Our students experienced one of the truths of the wilderness. It is in the quiet and the stillness, without distractions that we can tune in to our inner voice and the majesty and wonder of the world that God created.
The challenge is to find ways to make ourselves “ownerless” and “free,” to rid ourselves of the distractions of daily life so we can connect to the profound and sublime voice that whispers softly in our ear.