Parashat Bamidbar // “In the Wilderness”

- ר א ה -

Why did God choose to establish a covenant with Israel in the desert?

The Israelites form an army in the desert

“And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers…So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel;” Numbers 1:44 – 45

  • The Israelites leave Egypt after witnessing extraordinary miracles. However, God does not want the Israelites to rely on miracles alone, but rather to act out of faith and freewill. That is why all of the tribes volunteer to form an  army that will eventually conquer the land of Israel. “But didn’t Rabbi Elazar say that those on the path to perform a mitzvah are not susceptible to harm [throughout the process of performing the mitzvah]? The Gemara responds: In a place where danger is commonplace it is different, [as one should not rely on a miracle]” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate of Pesachim 8b). In other words, each person needs to create their own faith through effort.
  • The fact that the Israelites begin their national history and are given the Torah in the wilderness is not incidental. A desolate and quiet desert, free from external distractions, is the perfect place to connect to oneself, listen, and internalize God’s wisdom. Growth and refinement of relationships can only take place through undisrupted calmness. The bond between Israel, the Torah, and God is forged in the desert – for better and for worse. This covenant has proved to be so extraordinarily stable and effective that it continues to this very day. 

The Levites are Israel’s spiritual military

“All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, throughout their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand” Numbers 3:39

  • The tribe of Levi is exemplary in its devotion to doing good. They are the only ones who do not participate in creating and worshiping the Golden Calf. As a result, they are considered God’s “soldiers.” We must all seek the company of those who dedicate their life to good deeds and help those around us become better human beings. By performing kind deeds and clinging to the source of good – even in times of adversity – we can attain eternal life. This is an opportunity that is always there for us to seize.

Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “In the Wilderness”

  • We all dwell in our own inner deserts. Every individual wants to enter the Promised Land, attain perfection, and indulge in spiritual abundance. To achieve this, we need to connect to the angels through our thoughts and deeds. In turn, the angels will direct us and help us fulfill our life’s purpose.
  • However, we also have the power to create evil angels who try to mislead and depress us, causing us to stay in the wilderness. This is our constant struggle – to try to receive the angels’ positive influence.
  • Our responsibility is to direct and engage good angels. This task allows us to tap into God’s blessings. Therefore, our level of performance will also be part of our divine judgment.
  • A person should not rely on miracles. Instead, we must attempt to do the best we can and not expect that everything will be given to us without any effort. That is the very reason that the land of Canaan must be conquered in a conventional manner – i.e., through military means.
  • God’s choices are always premeditated. He decided that the Israelites should begin their national history and be given the Torah in the wilderness. A barren place, free from external temptations, is the perfect stage for forging a bond between Israel and God.

Positivity is realizing that every single thing comes from the creator and is therefore good.