The first verse in the portion Bamidbar says that the Creator spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert. And since we know that all the words in the Torah were put there on purpose, there is something interesting to look at here. It is clear even in the most basic reading of this portion that they were still in the desert; obviously, then, when the Creator spoke to Moses, it was in the desert. So, why does the Torah feel it is important to let us know where Moses physically was when the Creator spoke to him? What lesson are we meant to learn?
Rav Yaakov ben Asher, in his commentary, Ba’al HaTurim, addresses this by quoting from the Midrash, saying that unless a person makes himself free and open for all, like a desert, he cannot possibly be spiritual or gain true spiritual wisdom, which is the essence of the Torah. Just as in the desert anybody can come in and do as they wish, so too a person needs to achieve this level.
The Midrash uses a term, hefker, which doesn’t have a true translation in English, but basically denotes something or someone who is completely free and open to do whatever it is they want, someone or something that has no owner or overseer – like a desert. This lesson, therefore, is an important one: the Torah is actually telling us that there is a prerequisite, which, unless fulfilled, will block us from achieving spiritual growth or connection to the Creator. We must be without any ego, not caring if someone did or didn’t do something to us, not becoming angry with another person if he does not do as we wish, for we are hefker, like the desert.
This idea of being like the desert is far-reaching into almost all facets of our life, and, in truth, is quite a daunting task. From the time we are born and throughout our lives, our nature is exactly the opposite of a desert. We fiercely guard all that is ours or that we think should be ours. We feel the need to strike back at anybody who infringes in any way on what we think is our territory. But regardless of the imposing nature of this task of making ourselves like a desert, the Torah is telling us that without this transformation, we cannot truly connect to the Light of the Creator.
It is a task that we need to take upon ourselves if we wish to grow spiritually and connect to the Light of the Creator.
It is important to remember, however, that we are not expected to transform ourselves into being hefker in one day. Rather, what is expected of us is that on a regular basis we do what is necessary to bring about this transformation. It is a lengthy process, for which we are given a lifetime to complete, and with the help of the portion Bamidbar, we can take the first steps to begin that transformation. As long as we are constantly transforming ourselves, we will be able to connect to the Light of the Creator; it is only if we make no effort to develop this trait of being like a desert, that we will not be able to connect to the Light.