Parsha Bamidbar: In the Wilderness

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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28 thoughts on “Parsha Bamidbar: In the Wilderness

  1. I am honored to feel simplified by people who are real honest with intentions and only want to give their best back to our planet & the world around them. What I don’t understand about Donald Trump I will let Gd lead the way. Thanks to you Abigail & my true friend helping me have faith in Gd around me.

    • Many thanks for reading and engaging, Lisa. When I wrote about losing our voices to narratives that aren’t our own, I thought of gossip, invalidation, marginalization, ableism, and labels put upon us that we don’t choose for ourselves. Blessings to you.

      • I was reminded of humility, again. Thank you so much for this insightful and spiritual Midrash. You created a platform where I have a voice.

          • I didn’t realize all the significance of salt. It is good to know the connection with all our traditions. Our food certainly would not be as tasty without salt, although most store bought food uses too much. Thanks for your very enlightening post. I always learn from your posts! I didn’t know where the expression. “Salt of the earth” came from. Now I know because of you!

  2. Beautiful and true. I am so glad you found my blog and in that way I could find yours. I am one of those who was sort of “separated by birth” — LOL! –from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and from the importance of the Torah and Tanahk — because I was raised in and practiced Christianity. Thankfully, I am old enough that it was not what passes for the sad state of affairs that “Christianity” is in much of America today, and I have found so much of importance to what I now call my Judeo-Christian worldview and faith in The God of The Book. This has been largely due to study in what we erroneously called the “Old Testament” and in the writing of Rabbis and other Jewish “faith-processors” (like yourself). Also in “Christian” writers that wrote during other great wilderness times, like Bonhoeffer, Blumhaardt, and Lewis. And of course, yes, in the words and life of that amazing Jew in the wilderness, Jesus. I am thrilled to find this source of yours for exposition and also of spiritual encouragement. We are indeed in a wilderness time, and if we do not CHOOSE to be in that wilderness in spirit and truth, we will never know what it is to “trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, souls and minds” — let alone make it to the Promised Land. Sorry for the long comment — I am excited to find your blog and rather babbling. Shalom ~~ Jane

    • I’m thrilled that you are here as a spiritual companion and co-journeyer! Many thanks for sharing your reflections and thoughts! I’m a big fan of your writing and very happy to have found your blog. Rav Brachot (abundant blessings)! 🌷

  3. In some ways we can compare it to what’s happening today the wilderness can be us in our house not able to travel or get out.
    We are learning to make do with what we have,in some ways living a simpler life .
    We’re all learning to be more reflective and just think more in process more question more maybe question ourselves and look deep within ourselves.

    • Excellent reflection on our current situation. Thank you for commenting and visiting with me.

  4. This Parsha really struck a nerve in me. The only interpretation that even makes sense is yours. Humility is the only way to Hashem. All the rest is superfluous. The shallow and disingenuous ways in which organized religion manipulates the masses is abhorrent. It is especially egregious the way many of us are arbitrarily dismissed and overlooked. I concur that all of us are offered our equal share in Torah..

    • Many thanks and much appreciation for your input! The system can crush people. There is a tendency to reward and recognize the few, rather than expand the opportunities to distribute the spiritual and emotional wealth.

  5. Oh, Wow. You gave me recognition for the term that I coined,” social capital.” This is so special to me. It is the kindest thing anybody has ever done for me. Great d’rash!

    ;

  6. I totally enjoyed your Torah portion. Yes I do totally agree we need the wilderness in order to grow. I walked away from a close 25 year friendship which was becoming more harmful than beneficial and I entered into the wilderness. What a beautiful gift I was given.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your wilderness experience! I’ve had to let harmful people go and set out into the wilderness alone. Sometimes we have to walk away to find ourselves and be found by our people. Being with people that value us makes all the difference in the world.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! You made a great connection to this parsha/d’var and Isaiah 40:3. Love it.

  7. Excellent commentary on the Parsha! My take is very close to yours. We tend to be distracted by things. There is constantly the oneupmanship that occurs in society, where everyone tries to out do everyone else. There is something about possessions and wealth that causes people to focus on the wrong things, many times losing faith and trust in G-d because one has all they need. We recall the people after leaving Egypt and going out into the desert where they were forced to rely upon G-d, wanting to return back to Egypt. But, G-d wanted His people to learn to walk by faith, and to trust in Him. The only way he could teach that lesson was to strip them down to the basics where they learned the lesson in humility, I recall Micah 6:8 where Micah admonishes Israel that G-ds demands are simple, “He has told thee, man, what is good and what the L-rd requires of thee: Only to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy G-d.” I recall another important admonishment that is similar in Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” I really believe the entire lesson to be learned in this Parsha is exactly what you indicated. That G-d wants us to turn away from relying on the things of this world, and in humility, seek Him and He will provide nourishment to our souls. That may well mean reevaluating those things that are important, and maybe even separating yourself from all the distractions of this world where you can find real connection with G-d. Your lesson is something we definitely need to hear and focus on now with all the distractions and concerns we face with the virus. Now more than ever, we must put our trust in the L-rd!

    • Rav todot (many thanks) for the in-depth comment, input and feedback! You’re a great chavruta (Torah study partner)! I’m looking forward to continuing our conversations. You inspire me to continue this work that actualizes my passion for Jewish exegesis and for creating spaces to Jewishly connect, learn and grow. 🖖

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