S.T.A.R.’s upcoming exciting events:
- Friday Candle Lighting: 7:35 pm
- Shabbat Ends: 8:46 pm
This week we complete the synagogue reading of the fourth of the Five Books of the Torah, Bamidbar — “In the desert.”
What is the theme of the Book of Bamidbar?
The captivity of the Jewish People in Egypt was more than just physical bondage. On a deeper level Egypt represents the enslavement of the power of speech. Egypt not only enslaved the bodies of the Jewish People, it put in chains the major weapon of the Jewish People — speech. Thus, the Torah writes that the Jewish People “cried out” to G-d. It never writes that they “prayed.” For in Egypt, speech itself was bound.
The power of speech is synonymous with the power to give direction. The word dabar can mean a leader or a director in Hebrew, as in “One leader for a generation, and not two leaders.”
When the Jewish People left Egypt, they went straight into the desert. There’s something special about the desert. It’s very difficult to give directions there. “Turn left at the third cactus” will not get you very far. In Hebrew, the word for desert is midbar, which is from the root mi’dibur — “from speech”. The desert is the place that is removed from speech. Since the desert is the maximum place of non-speech, of non-direction, it is the ideal place to rebuild the power of speech from the ground up.
And that’s what the Jewish People were to do in the desert. When the Jewish People left Egypt, they had to rebuild this power of speech that had been in exile with them.
If we look back over the Book of Bamidbar, the book of “In the desert”, we will notice that the vast majority of sins committed by the Jewish People there were sins of speech: those who complained about the manna; Miriam speaking negatively about Moshe; the spies speaking against the Land of Israel; the rebellion of Korach (a rebellion about who should lead the Jewish People; who should be its “speaker”); Moshe striking the rock instead of speaking to it.
The power of speech is the essence of the Book of Bamidbar. And what is the climax of Bamidbar? The concept of nedarim — “vows”. In truth, the English word “vow” is an inadequate translation of the Hebrew word neder. A neder means that a Jew has the ability to change the physical reality of the world through speech.
And where do we go after the rebuilding of the power of speech? To the “Book of Devarim” — literally, “The Book of Words.”
Sources: heard from Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter in the name of Rabbi Moshe Shapiro