|Why was the Torah Given in a Desert?
Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 06:01:52 PM
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Why is Parshat Bamidbar always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot? On Shavuot, the Torah reading for the Festival also begins with a reference to Bamidbar, the Wilderness of Sinai. The entire episode of Shavuot takes place in the barren Sinai Peninsula. The verse in Bamidbar 21:18 states, "UMIMIDBAR MATANAH". The Talmud in Nedarim 55 explains this verse, "The gift of the Torah came out of the wilderness."
Why was the Torah given in a desert, a place that cannot be planted or bring forth fruit? Yet Shavuot is identified with the Mitzvah of Bikurim (bringing the first blossoming ripe fruits to the Temple). How do these two concepts of barreness and fruitfulness merge into the Festival of the Giving of the Torah?
Perhaps the connection of Bamidbar and Shavuot is obvious. A world without Torah is a Midbar, a barren wasteland. A world with Torah becomes Bikurim, a blossoming and fruitful paradise. A world without the moral law of the Torah quickly wastes away into spiritual desolation. A world with Torah can become a Garden of Eden.
On that first Shavuot 3327 years ago at Mt. Sinai, G-d proclaimed that we can transform a wilderness into paradise, a Midbar into Bikurim, a barren wasteland into a fruitful garden. G-d reached out to us and announced that we are able to come up to G-d (Shmot 24).
Shavuot is not only the day of the Giving of the Torah, but also a day to recreate the world. Before the Giving of the Torah, the world was a wilderness (Tohu Vavohu – void and empty). Now through the Torah the world could become a Garden of Eden again. The concluding verse of the first chapter of Bereshit, "Vayehi erev vayehi boker yom HASHISHI", "It was on the 6th day that heaven and earth were completed." The Talmud in Shabbat 88 notes the "Heh Hayediah" (the letter Heh which is the definite article) of the word, HASHISHI. The Talmud explains that this refers not only to the 6th day of Creation, but also to the 6th day of Sivan, the day that G-d gave the Torah.
G-d made all of Creation conditional on the acceptance of the Torah by Israel on the 6th day of Sivan. Only then heaven and earth will have found fulfillment. However, if Israel would not have accepted the Torah, then the world would return to void and emptiness (TOHU VAVOHU).
Only by our willingness to say NAASEH V'NISHMA, to completely subject ourselves to G-d's authority, can we transform the world from a barren MIDBAR (desert) into an orchard, bringing forth BIKURIM. That is why the Mitzvah of BIKURIM is tied to Shavuot, when G-d gave us the Torah. If we don't accept the Torah, then we are lost in the MIDBAR of immorality and corruption.
Thus, on this Shavuot let us turn our personal MIDBAR into a Garden of Eden by rededicating ourselves to our Holy Torah.