This Shabbat, we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, which translates from the Hebrew as “In the Desert”. English translations of the Torah call this book, Numbers.
Why ‘in the desert’? Why did Israel have to spend so much time in the desert after being delivered from Egypt?”
To answer this, we need to go back to Bresheit/Genesis. When Hashem created Adam and Chava (Eve), He placed them in Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, which was a beautiful place of trees, fruits, flowers, herbs – everything they needed for abundant life. In addition to the beauty surrounding them, they also had the immense privilege of intimate interaction with Hashem for the text tells us that He “walked with them in the garden in the cool of the evening.”
As we all know, because they sinned, everything changed. Now – ‘in the desert’ the children of Israel themselves in an atmosphere and location that is absolutely, diametrically the opposite of Gan Eden. Mankind was created in a lush and abundant place. The desert is the utter antithesis of Eden’s bounty.
And here, ‘in the desert’, the children of Israel receive the Torah on Shavuot, the great festival we will celebrate this coming Wednesday. Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage feasts when in ancient times, Jews from all parts of Israel would travel by foot, by donkey and by camel to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to present the first fruits to Hashem and to celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
There is a profound message here. The only sure route back to Gan Eden is through the Torah.
By living according to its mitzvot, we make our way back to Hashem’s original plan for us, whose primary aspect was — and is — intimate relationship with Him.
Shavuot has the distinction of being the only one of the mandated festivals which does not fall on a specific date. Rather its celebration is determined by counting up to the 50th day after the first day of Pesach. Actually, we count 49 days – the counting of the Omer – and we don’t actually count the 50th day; it’s more that we ‘arrive’ to the 50th day.
We’ve seen many times in our study that gematria often yields interesting insights and so it will here. The number 50 brings to mind the Jubilee year which follows 7 cycles of 7 years or 49 years.
Beginning with the first day of Pesach, we count 7 cycles of 7 days or 7 weeks which totals 49 days.
The 50th day is Shavuot – signifying a realm beyond the ‘norm’; an allusion to our ability to live supernaturally, beyond the norm, beyond the limitations of the physical world.
The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot for a number of reasons which we don’t have time or space to fully cover here. However, there is one very interesting point. The country of Ruth’s birth was Moab and the gematria for Moab is 49. 49+1 is 50. Ruth took one step further than her sister, Orpah, by leaving Moab behind and choosing to take on a new land, a new culture, a new spirituality.
As a result, she received something far greater than her natural heritage would have given her. She merited to be the great-grandmother of David and an ancestor of the Messiah to come.
The word “kol” in Hebrew, which means all or everything, has a gematria of 50.
When Jacob was returning to Canaan from the house of Laban, he met up with his brother Esau on the way. Jacob had prepared gifts for his brother to appease his anger, you may remember. When the brothers met and Jacob presented his gifts, Esau replied by saying “Yesh li ha rav” – I have many [possessions}.’ Jacob responded, “Yesh li ha kol” – [But} I have everything – ‘ha kol’. Jacob was expressing, ‘Not only do I have many possessions, but I also have a relationship with Hashem.”
The Torah was given on the 50th day to convey to us that as much or as little as we may have in earthly possessions, even if we were billionaires, without Torah we only have what Esau had – ‘ha rav’ (alot). By accepting Hashem’s Torah, we have ‘ha kol’ – everything.
Ruth, in her journey from Moab to Israel, mirrors the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt to Sinai, from ’49’ to ’50’, from having material abundance (for remember that Israel left Egypt with herds and flocks and riches which the Egyptians gave them) to having everything once the Torah was given to us on that most important of all days in human history – the day that Hashem descended on Mt. Sinai and delivered His Torah to Moshe for the children of Israel.
In Tune with Torah this week – as we prepare to celebrate receiving the Torah on Shavuot, this Shabbat is a perfect day for meditating on the greatness of this gift and purposing in our hearts to live by Hashem’s mitzvot.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach Shavuot.