(This article is inspired by student articles written by Aharona Ganz and Chaya Berdugo)
|The Judean Desert|
Becoming Desolate like the Desert to Deserve Torah
ספר במדבר פרק א פסוק א וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי“Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai…” (Bamidbar 1:1).
The Torah was given with three things: with fire, water and wilderness. With fire as it states, “The entire mountain of Sinai was smoking because Hashem descended upon it with fire (Shemot 19:18). With water as it states, “Oh Hashem, when you came forth from Seir, when you marched forth from the field of Edom, the earth trembled; the heavens dripped, yea, the clouds dripped water” (Shoftim 5:4). In wilderness as it states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai” (Bamidbar 1:1). Why was the Torah given through these three things? To teach you that just as these things are free for all people in the world, also the Torah is free for anyone who desires it. Similarly, it states, “Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water” (Yesha’yahu 55:1). Why was the Torah given in the wilderness, to teach you that a person cannot acquire Torah until he has made himself הֶפְקֶר/hefker – ownerless like the desert (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 1:7). The word hefker is hard to translate. It seems to me that in this context it refers to being free of attachments, like the empty desolate desert, which consists of nothing but a vast space of emptiness. This is also, why the Torah is compared to water, as water descends from a high to a low place. Similarly the words of Torah pass over the arrogant person and settles with the humble. For the same reason Hashem gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai – the very lowest mountain. Living in the desert or just spending some time there is truly a humbling experience. When we shed all the comforting trappings to be alone with the essentials and ourselves, we realize that money, possessions, career, title are only exterior wrappings. They do not entail any intrinsic value. It takes the humility of the desert to experience the greatness of ‘being’ rather than ‘having.’ Therefore, “the Torah was only given to those who ate manna” Mechilta b’Shalach 17). To those who do not seek luxury, but desire only the minimum to sustain their souls. “Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, ‘fortunate are you, and good is to you’ (Tehillim 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World to Come” (Pirkei Avot 6:4).
Decluttering Desert Drive
The Torah was given in the bare wilderness to teach us that in order to become steeped in Torah we need to live simple lives devoid of luxuries. However, today even the bare necessities like good bread without toxic additives and good chlorine-free water has become a luxury! It is hard to return to simplicity in a world where we are so bombarded with advertisement for endless amounts of items, which supposedly will enhance our lives. The secret is to minimize what we buy and bring into our space and just keep a few quality items that we enjoy. For example, instead of all kinds of cosmetic products, I stay with basic stables like coconut oil, which is a perfect makeup remover, body lotion and even face-cream. I use shea-butter as a heavy hand and foot-cream that protects the skin before and after gardening and doubles up as a lip balm for parched and sundried lips. I would love to learn to minimize other areas in my life; being a collector, this is not easy. We tend to collect too many words as well. Who has time to read all of these emails and articles in our excess overflow society? Each time I sit down at the computer to write my weekly Nature in the Torah, I decide I am going to keep it brief, but somehow the words sneak in. I think my writing is not good enough if I don’t add more. Perhaps this insecurity about our own self-worth is the underlying reason why we think we need so much. It is possible that the desire for excess expensive pampering comes to fill the void feeling of unworthiness. Allowing the Torah to fill us with value and meaning may help us appreciate the free pleasures such as taking a brisk walk with our loved ones. When it really comes down to it, we can manage with so much less than what we have. We spend the first half of our lives accumulating things, then the rest of our lives trying to rid ourselves of all the extras. We all know what happens to the things we put in storage. When we find these boxes a year or so later, we can’t believe we ever needed any of this stuff. Driving through the desert, we pass numerous Bedouin enclaves where families live in bare minimum tent colonies, a remnant of how people used to live thousands years ago. I’m always amazed and in awe of how these people can live this way today in our modern world. Somehow, the desert is conducive to deep decluttering.
Walking in Avraham’s Path of Simplicity
The numerical value of the word מִדְבַּר/midbar – desert is 248. This is the number of positive mitzvot in the Torah. The concept of the desert facilitates our receiving the Torah and its mitzvot. It teaches us to be like the desert free of distractions that takes us away from keeping the mitzvot of the Torah. The name אַבְרָהָם/Avraham also shares the gematria of 248. Avraham was like the desert because he needed nothing for himself. In this way, he was like the sand of the desert that absorbs nothing, recharging with every day in the sunshine. Avraham became recharged through his constant giving to others. Becoming like the desert is like being an empty channel – a clean conduit without sediments for Hashem’s goodness to flow through. Avraham perfected the level of loving Hashem. He had no unrectified fears. It is our fears that makes us hold on to things, like holding on to a rope or a stick that we think may save us from ourselves. Sometimes, we cushion ourselves with layers of excess stuff, because we are afraid to face our naked selves. The desert is a powerful place to discover the pieces inside of our true selves. Here we can strip ourselves of all the non-essentials and allow the daily complexities to settle into simplicity. In the desert, we can reconnect with our soul – the part of us that guides the journey into truth – Avraham’s journey of understanding, love, connectivity and healthy relationships.
May we merit to walk in Avraham’s path of simplicity feeling perpetual fulfillment through keeping Hashem’s Mitzvot. Shavuot Sameach!