Bamidbar is translated as “in the desert” or “in the wilderness.” It derives from the Hebrew root words dabar דבר which means “talk” and medaber מדבר which means “speak.” Root words are always significant in Jewish exegesis.
The Zohar tells us that before the Israelites went into the desert, they had lost their ability to tell their own stories (Zohar Va’era, 2:25b). They were defined by an ‘other’ and an ‘othering’ narrative. How many of us have been confined and defined by a narrative put forth by others? How many of us have been enslaved by an external narrative? How many among us lost their voice to a narrative that was not their own?
In the wilderness they regained their ability to speak. We all want our voice to matter, count and be heard. We all have stories inside longing for release.
It is said in the Talmud, “If you want to learn Torah, you have to make yourself like a desert.” What does that mean? The desert wilderness is a raw, expansive and borderless place bringing forth the gift of discovery, humbleness, heightened awareness and simplicity. In the desert everything matters and everyone counts.
In the Torah we read, “from the wilderness matanah”— “from the wilderness a gift.” (Bamidbar 21:18)
The desert wilderness is mufkar, “a free and ownerless place.” (Talmud). If the Torah were given elsewhere, each person would have claimed it as his own. (Midrash Tanhuna/Mekhilta d’RaShBi).
Since the wilderness was ownerless, no one could claim exclusivity to the knowledge garnered there. Everyone had a portion. The community…the congregation…belongs to everyone, not just a few that have status and clout…or “social commodity” as chavruta Shaina would say.
In the wilderness there is no pretense or pretentiousness. There’s no pomp and circumstance. The congregation had to be open and receptive to the raw gifts and untapped potential that was all around them.
Anyone who does not make themselves ownerless like the wilderness cannot acquire the wisdom and the Torah. If you want to acquire higher consciousness you must “oseh atzmo k’midbar” — “make yourself like the wilderness.”Midrash / B’midbar Rabbah 1:7
So many people are trapped in systems that are short-sighted and possessively holding onto an old, tired standard that only caters to a privileged few. Higher consciousness can not be cultivated in a such a narrow and constricted space
In the wilderness, the Israelites cut ties with everything that had gone before. The wilderness challenged their old priorities and beliefs.
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