B’midbar: In the Wilderness

Va’yedaber YHVH el Moshe b’midbar Sinai b’ohel mo’ed b’echad la’chodesh ha’sheni bashanah ha’shenit l’tzeitam me’eretz Mitzrayim. 

YHVH spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month of the second year since leaving Egypt. (Numbers 1:1)

So begins the fourth book of the Torah. Its English name is the Book of Numbers, from the Greek Arithmoi, based on the elaborate census-taking that make up several of the book’s chapters. But the Hebrew name is B’midbar, which means “In the Wilderness.” It is a much more descriptive title, in my opinion, since the entire narrative takes place in the wilderness, covering the last 39 of the 40 years of the Israelites’ tumultuous wanderings.

Our Sages engineered the cycle of Torah readings so that this first portion of the book, also titled B’midbar, would always fall on the Shabbat just prior to the Festival of Shavuot, and indeed Shavuot begins this Saturday night. Shavuot is the Festival that marks our receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Why did the Sages intentionally connect this portion B’midbar with the receiving of Torah?

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