Gimme Some Torah #264
Welcome to new subscriber Avraham!
וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד בְּאֶחָד֩ לַחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֜י בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשֵּׁנִ֗ית לְצֵאתָ֛ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃
On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, יהוה spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:
Why does the Torah make a point of saying that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai? Didn’t we know that already? The Tur (bio) explains that the Torah specifies the location because the wilderness symbolizes a mental state, one that is required for the study of Torah:
The last verse of the previous parashah (Beḥukkotai) says “These are the commandments that יהוה gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.” The Torah mentions the wilderness in the first verse of Bemidbar in order to tell us that unless we make ourselves like the wilderness, we can’t learn Torah and the commandments.”
How does the wilderness represent a mental state, and what is the nature of this state? The wilderness possesses paradoxical qualities that we have to appreciate in order to be students of Torah.
The wilderness is humble and quiet, but it is also vast place that can roar with howling wind and storms. Likewise, we should approach the study of Torah with quiet humility, but we must also know when to roar our opinions when passionately arguing its meaning for the sake of Heaven.
The wilderness is beautiful, but it is also home to the disturbing sight of predators seizing their prey. By the same token, Torah in all its forms is beautiful—but it can also be home to unfamiliar ideas that we may find unsettling. Just as the predators are an essential part of the wilderness, unsettling ideas are inextricably bound to the Torah’s beauty. If you don’t like having your ideas and preconceived notions challenged, you will find the study of Torah very difficult.
The wilderness is a place that is “open to all, where everyone treads,” but it is also a place that demands the mastery of serious survival skills. The same is true of Torah in all its aspects. The study of Torah is open to all and millions of people tread through its words every day. At the end of the day, however, real תַלמוּד תוֹרָה (talmud torah, the study of Torah) requires a kind of dedication that has become uncommon.
There is nothing wrong with occasionally engaging in a little casual Torah study. Having said that, the serious study of Torah is not for dilettantes and dabblers. It is for those who are ready to master the skills necessary for a life of learning.
Apart from your family and friends, what captures your dedication?
Can Torah be “binged” like a Netflix series? Or is there something about binging that makes it categorically unlike the study of Torah?
If you liked this d’var Torah, tap the ❤️ icon and consider leaving a comment or supporting me on Ko-Fi!
Rabbi Eli Garfinkel is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Somerset, New Jersey. He is the author of The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary.
Thanks for the thoughtful explanation of this commentary. I have a much better appreciation of it now!