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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings

Bamidbar-Shovuos 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

In Chassidic thought, a desert has twofold significance.

On the obvious level, the symbolism is negative: a barren and desolate land unfit for man - and surely unfit for G-d.

On the other hand, it is also used as an allegory for a level of revelation too great to be confined within the limits of our ordinary existence. (See Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 4c.)

The lives of all those who have been touched by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita are saturated with such twofold significance today.

That we are in a desert - a period of barrenness - is all too painfully obvious. But we cannot forget that we are journeying *through* the desert. It is merely a temporary phase, and soon its positive import will be revealed.

Think of how the Jews felt on their way to Eretz Yisrael.

They got up in the morning and looked at the horizon and saw only empty sand. But that is when they viewed only the physical horizon.

When they considered the spiritual horizon, they understood that they were getting closer to Eretz Yisrael.

Each day, we are drawing closer to Mashiach's coming. So why look at the desert. Look toward Mashiach.

May studying the teachings of the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach, arouse G-d's blessings, including the blessings which are most necessary at present: the complete and immediate recovery of the Rebbe Shlita and his consummate revelation as Melech Ha Mashiach.

Erev Rosh Chodesh
Sivan, 5754

The Fruit of a Barren Land

Adapted from:
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, p. 236ff;
Vol. XXVIII, p. 22;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bamidbar 5745

What the Background Says

In the art of communication, the choice of a setting in which to convey a message is very important.

Indeed, the setting itself imparts a significant portion of the message, for a message's application should not be separated from its content.

Choosing an appropriate setting not only facilitates the comprehension of a concept, it can point to - and actually begin - its application.

Similar concepts apply with regard to G-d's choice of a location for the giving of the Torah.

Our Sages ask: [1] "Why was the Torah given in the desert?" G-d was not compelled to give the Torah in any given place. As such, His choice of location was purposeful, and can provide us with insights.

This significance, moreover, is relevant, not only for the Jews who received the Torah at Sinai, but for man in every generation.

For we praise G-d as Nosain HaTorah, "the Giver of the Torah," using the present tense. [2]

The insights we can derive from the setting of the giving of the Torah teach us how to approach the Torah at all times, and in all places.

Where No Ownership Exists

The first of the explanations given by our Sages in response to the above question is that a desert is an ownerless place; it does not belong to anyone individually.

The same holds true for the Torah. It is not the exclusive possession of any particular individual, tribe, or type of personality.

On the contrary, "The crown of the Torah is set aside, waiting, and ready for every Jew.... Whoever desires, may come and take it." [3]

The ownerless nature of the desert also provides a key to understanding how a person can apply the above lesson and take possession of the Torah.

As our Sages continue, a person must "make himself like a desert, relinquishing all concerns" i.e., he must let loose all the constraints which hold back his commitment to the Torah.

The Torah is G-d's will and His wisdom, and is thus infinite and unbounded as He is Himself.

Therefore approaching the Torah requires a person to step above himself and accept a different framework of understanding. [4]

This was reflected in our ancestors' pledge: Naaseh VeNishmah, "We will do and we will listen." [5]

The order of the promises they made is significant.

Instead of first listening to G-d's commandments and then deciding whether to accept them or not, they showed no hesitation and promised to obey Him regardless of what would be entailed.[6]

Rather than have their understanding shape their commitment, they promised to have their commitment shape their understanding. [7]

A Declaration of Dependence

When a person makes such a commitment, G-d molds his environment to enable him to express it. [8]

This is also alluded to by giving the Torah in the desert, as our Sages say [1]: "Just as a desert is not sown and not tilled, so too, when a person accepts the yoke of Torah, the yoke of worldly concerns is removed from him."

In the desert, our ancestors had to depend on G-d for every element of their existence. There was no natural means on which they could rely.

Nevertheless, this was not a cause of anxiety or worry.

On the contrary, despite the barrenness and desolation of the desert, our ancestors entered it with loving trust, as the prophet declares, [9] "I have remembered for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after Me in the desert, in an uncultivated land."

And G-d responded with loving care.

Their food, their water, even their clothing, were all granted to them miraculously. G-d cared for everything they needed, giving them the opportunity to devote themselves solely to the Torah.

So perfect was the setting in which our ancestors lived that our Sages declared: "The Torah was given... solely to those who partook of the manna." [10]

This is not merely a story of the past.

Even though seemingly we have natural means of deriving our livelihood, the truth is that nature itself is a series of miracles.

Because of their constant recurrence, we no longer see these miracles as special. [11]

But this should not obscure the truth - we must realize that at all times, we are relying on G-d.

This awareness should motivate an obvious ordering of our priorities.

Instead of giving primacy to our material concerns, we should give precedence to the Torah. When we do so, we can be confident that G-d will provide us with our needs as He provided for our ancestors.

Even when, like our ancestors in the barren desert, we see no natural means to provide for our livelihood, we should persevere in our commitment to the Torah and rely on Him.

For the Desert to Bloom

The barrenness of the desert can also serve as an analogy for a person's spiritual state.

Although a person feels empty and desolate - and perhaps with good reason, for he has been living in a spiritual desert - there is no need for despair.

The Torah was given in the desert.

G-d descended into the wilderness and gave man His most precious possession, the Torah.

And the same is true today, regardless of a person's spiritual level, G-d extends Himself to him and offers him the opportunity of establishing a connection through the medium of the Torah.

Encouraging that we emulate this initiative, our Sages [12] urge us to "be the students of Aharon,... loving the created beings and bringing them close to the Torah."

In Tanya, [13] the Alter Rebbe explains that this statement teaches that we must reach out and love every Jew, even one who is barren like a desert, and whose only redeeming characteristic is that he is G-d's creation.

Our Sages relate [1] that during the Jewish people's forty years of wandering, they were able to transform the desert into "settled land" to the point where trees flowered and gave fruit.

Our study of Torah can produce a similar effect.

The aspects of ourselves and of others that appear barren can become productive through the influence of Torah.

The Ultimate Flowering

Parshas Bamidbar, "In the desert," is always read before the holiday of Shavuos. [14]

The Jewish holidays do not merely commemorate the events of the past, they also provide us with an opportunity to relive them. [15]

To prepare to relive the Sinai experience, we have to pass through - at least in a spiritual sense - the desert and its lessons.

This is the message communicated by our Torah reading.

In particular, these lessons are relevant at present, for our generation is awaiting a new phase in the revelation of the Torah, the era when "new [dimensions of the] Torah will emerge from Me." [16]

The giving of the Torah will never be repeated, as the Rambam writes [17] with regard to the Era of the Redemption: "The essence of the matter is: This Torah, with its laws and statutes, is everlasting. We may neither add to them, or detract from them."

Nevertheless, our Sages have said [18] that the Torah teachings of the present age are "as nothing compared to the teachings of Mashiach."

For in that era, the G-dly dimension of the Torah will be openly revealed, and everyone will be able to appreciate its spiritual message.

Just as the Jews eagerly underwent the preparations for the revelations at Mount Sinai, anxiously counting the days until they would receive the Torah, [19] we too should prepare for the revelation of Mashiach's teachings with excitement and joy.

And then "the pastures of the desert will sprout, and the tree will give its fruit," [20] with the coming of the Redemption.

May it be in the immediate future.



  1. (Back to text) Bamidbar Rabbah 19:26.

  2. (Back to text) The text of the third of the blessings recited before Torah study (Siddur Tehillat Hashem, p. 10) and the blessings recited before and after the communal Torah reading (loc. cit., p. 70).

  3. (Back to text) Sifri, commenting on Numbers 18:20.

  4. (Back to text) In this context, Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 4c, uses the barrenness of a desert as an analogy in a positive light, interpreting it as reflecting a level of revelation too great to be confined within the limits of our ordinary existence.

  5. (Back to text) Exodus 24:7.

  6. (Back to text) See Shabbos 88a.

  7. (Back to text) Thus instead of man interpreting the Torah according to his mortal limitations, this approach establishes a bond between man and G-d as He is in His infinity.

  8. (Back to text) See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:1.

  9. (Back to text) Jeremiah 2:2.

  10. (Back to text) Mechilta, commenting on Exodus 16:4.

  11. (Back to text) Chacham Tzvi, Responsa 18.

  12. (Back to text) Pirkei Avos 1:12. Note the explanation of this mishnah in In the Paths of Our Fathers (Kehot, N.Y., 1994).

  13. (Back to text) Ch. 32.

  14. (Back to text) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillah 13:2, Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 428:4). In most years, Parshas Bamidbar is read on the Shabbos directly preceding the holiday of Shavuos. Even in those years when Parshas Naso is also read before Shavuos, and Parshas Bamidbar is read a week earlier, the lessons it conveys serve as spiritual preparation for the holiday.

  15. (Back to text) Although every day the giving of the Torah is renewed as mentioned above, on Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, the renewal is more encompassing in scope.

  16. (Back to text) Vayikra Rabbah 13:3, commenting on Isaiah 51:4.

  17. (Back to text) Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 11:3.

  18. (Back to text) Koheles Rabbah 11:8.

  19. (Back to text) Rabbeinu Nissim, end of tractate Pesachim.

  20. (Back to text) Joel 2:22.

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