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Rocks and Sand for a Wedding

Thursday, 21 May, 2020 - 6:01 pm

 Why was the Torah given in a desert?  The Sinai desert is a bleak place, mainly sand and rocks.  What a place for such a monumental event!  The question becomes stronger when we think of what the Talmud says that the day of the Giving of the Torah was like a wedding.  The relationship between the Jewish people and Hashem is compared to a marriage between a husband and wife.  There are many explanations for this metaphor in classic writings, especially in Chassidus.  The “wedding” was when the Torah was given, when the covenant and eternal bond was sealed, and the Tablets were the marriage document.  When was the last time you attended a wedding in the middle of a sandy and rocky desert?  Maybe now for safety it would be a good idea, but in general, when you have a choice of any environment, would you choose that one?


It is easy to say that this was where the Jews were at the time, on their journey from Egypt to Israel along the southern border.  Nevertheless, every detail of Torah is exact and teaches us a lesson in life.  In fact, that is the meaning of the word “Torah” – teaching.  So it makes sense to assume that there is a lesson here too.  One of the reasons that our Sages taught is that the desert is a place with no ownership.  It is a place where nobody can claim that it belongs to them, and Hashem was teaching us that the Torah is nobody’s property, anyone and everyone can study it and connect to it.  One of the fundamental values of Judaism is that the Torah is the domain of every individual, not just the leaders and scholars.  Nobody needs to feel that they are not worthy of Torah, and nobody can claim that they have exclusive rights to it.


However the Rebbe takes the question a step further.  Halacha (Jewish law) talks about two types of public places.  There is a street or marketplace, that is called in Hebrew “reshut harabim” – the property of the many, or the community, meaning it belongs to “everyone.”  Then there is a desert, which belongs to no-one.  If the location of the Torah giving is supposed to send a message that it is available to everyone, it would seem to make more sense to hold the event in a place owned by all, not owned by no-one?


The answer can be found by understanding the function of Torah in the world.  We are charged with “bringing the upper worlds below, and raising the lower worlds above.”  By studying Torah, and by observing a Mitzvah, we bring together the spiritual and the physical.  So there are two entities here, the physical, or “below,” and the spiritual, or “above.”  In order to bring them together, the Torah combines them both.  On one hand the Torah is Hashem’s wisdom and will, something that is not possible for a human to fathom.  On the other hand, Hashem has made it accessible to our minds, on some level, so that we can relate to it on the physical plane.  Torah study is a very intellectual pursuit, and it is important for us to study with our minds.  It is our minds that make us human, and the idea of Torah is to permeate every part of us, not just our actions, but also to fill our minds.  Sometimes, when we get caught up in the understanding, we may tend to forget that the Torah is still, even in its current intellectual state, Hashem’s wisdom.  It originates, and is connected to the “above.”  So in order to truly “get” Torah and have it accomplish its purpose, we must always remember that in actuality the Torah is beyond our understanding and above any possibility for us to grasp.  In practical terms that means that we cannot just decide on our own what the Torah should mean or hope we think it should be interpreted.  We must always look into the Torah, remembering its Divine source, and try to understand what the Torah is teaching us – what Hashem’s will and purpose is for us.


This is why the Torah was given in the ownerless desert.  While each of us has the ability to study and understand Torah, it is not ours to interpret and twist as we wish.  It is Hashem’s Torah, which in His kindness he has given us access to with our minds.  This also explains why on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the day of the Giving of the Torah, we read the Parsha “Bamidbar” which means “in the desert.”


I think we can glean a special message for our times.  Shavuot is an especially important time for us to be in the Synagogue and to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments from the Torah with a minyan.  It’s still a week away and who knows, maybe here as in some other states, we will be permitted to hold safe, outdoor services.  But if not, despair not.  The Torah is not bound to one particular place.  It is free and open to all, all people and all places.  This week is a great time for us to contemplate our relationship with Torah, and to prepare for Shavuot by strengthening that relationship and working on bringing together the spiritual and physical.  Everyone, bar none, can do it.



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