Commentary for B’midbar

22 May

God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, and now, at the beginning of this week’s parshah, almost eleven months later, they are finally ready to head out towards the Promised Land. A major part of this journey is the transformation of the Israelites from merely a handful of tribes with common ancestors and a common belief into a nation with its own full-fledged religion. The image in this week’s parshah of the Israelites preparing to march out to return to the Promised Land, with each tribe in its assigned place surrounding the Tabernacle, which houses (among other things) the newly-given Torah, almost begs the question: “Why did God give the Torah in the middle of the desert instead of just waiting until they entered the Promised Land?” The Israelites have not yet been punished with forty years of wandering, so why not just skip the eleven-month hold-up at Sinai just go straight to the Land of Israel?


The Torah is the holy book that is the foundation of the Jewish religion, and the Land of Israel is the holy ancestral homeland of the Jewish People, so it would seem to make perfect sense to give the holy Torah in the Holy Land. Furthermore, the Torah contains many laws that apply only in the Land of Israel, so what is the point of giving all of these laws to the Israelites before they will have the opportunity to uphold them?


The reason that God gives the Israelites the Torah in the middle of the desert and makes them carry it with them on the long journey through the desert is exactly that: so that they will carry it with them. The Torah did not become irrelevant once the Israelites left Sinai, and it was not irrelevant up until they entered into the Promised Land. Throughout all of our expulsions and exiles from the Land of Israel, it has never ceased to be relevant, and will always remain so through the end of time. We do not start being Jewish the moment we walk in the synagogue door, and we don’t stop being Jewish when we walk out of it. Just as God had the Israelites carry the Torah with them on their journey through the desert, so too must we carry the Torah with us wherever our journeys take us, and let its morals and principles guide us on our path.

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