Why in a Desert
Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )
"Bamidbar – In the desert" – describes God’s chosen setting for giving over the Torah to the Jewish people. A desert.
A seemingly strange choice!
Usually when a leader wishes to make an announcement to his people, he does so from an impressive, stately setting. Why choose a barren and desolate desert?
One of the reasons for this choice was to impress upon the nation the importance of humility.
If one's life is filled with his own ego, no space will be left for other people. This prevents a person from becoming a giver, and a fully developed human being. Helping those around him will be limited and he will struggle to learn from the those that he comes into contact with for risk of lowering his status. Not only will he be hesitant to listen to others opinions, but he may even avoid mixing with certain people altogether. With this attitude a person will be unable to acquire true wisdom.
A humble person is able to take a step back and to create space for other people in his life. He is able to both help them and learn from them, no matter what their status or relationship to him.
In his humility the focus is not on himself and fueling his own ego, but on how he can make a difference to those around him whilst simultaneously learning from them.
Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? He who learns from every person… (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).
Receiving the Torah in the desert, amongst a plain and empty, sand-filled backdrop, was a powerful, visual reminder. A reminder that it is impossible to acquire wisdom, help others, and let the Divine spark shine within us, unless we step back from our own ego and make a space for others in our lives.