by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – July 31, 2012
Introducing his repetition of the Ten Commandments in the Torah section of VaEtchanan, Moses tells us, “Face to face did G-d speak with you on the mountain,” (Devarim 5:4), a verse that might remind us of the first verse of the Torah section of Bamidbar, “And G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai.”
Commenting on the latter verse, R. Shimshon Pincus notes an oft asked question: Why of all places was the Torah presented in the wilderness of Sinai? Why was it not given in the land of Israel? We are told by our Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 158b) that the atmosphere of the land of Israel imbues the inhabitants with wisdom; therefore, giving the Torah in this land would have helped the recipients grasp it better? Moreover, many of the Torah’s commandments are exclusive to this land. So, why present the people of Israel with the Torah in the wilderness?
R. Pincus points out that according to our Sages, the event of presenting the Torah was a form of a marriage ceremony between G-d and His people by way of the Torah. In order for this holy marriage to have been complete – without distractions of any sort – it was necessary, R. Pincus explains, for the Torah to be the only matter between them. Were the recipients of the Torah to have entered the land of Israel first, they would have been distracted by the various assets palpable in this land. Rather, G-d’s bride, as it were, the people of Israel, spent forty years in the wilderness without a worry in the world – fully protected from the elements, fully fed and no need to wash or replace any clothes. The wilderness was in effect a cheder yichud (room of seclusion) for the bride and groom to fully concentrate on each other without any forms of distraction. The wilderness was actually then the most appropriate location for the presentation of the Torah – the gift that marked this marriage made in heaven between G-d and His people.
Once the bride and groom are secluded and some time together alone, they can then venture out. However, they must never forget what binds them – in this case the Torah. With this regard, a comment made by the revered mashgiach (spiritual advisor) of the yeshiva in Kfar Chasidim, Israel, R. Elya Lopian (1872 – 1970) is in place (Peysach Krohn, In the Footsteps of the Maggid, pp. 181 – 182).
R. Lopian was wont to describe a tragic scene of poverty stricken Europe during World War I. He would tell of a young boy in a family in Lithuania who once became very sick and weak from lack of sufficient nourishment. One day the boy was visited by a group of children. Upon seeing them, the boy asked his father as to their identities. His father sadly replied, realizing that his son’s mind was beginning to fail him as a result of his illness, “They are the boys from your class.” A few days later, the boy’s brother approached the sick boy’s bed, and once again the sick boy inquired as to the identity of his “guest”. The father bent down to his sick son and whispered, “It is your brother, my child.” Less than a week later, as a man stood alongside the sick boy’s bed, the young boy looked up and asked, with great difficulty, “Who are you?” The man, tears welling in his eyes, looked down at the boy and said, “It is I, my son, your father.”
R. Lopian paused after depicting this tragic scene and then exclaimed, “One of the harsh consequences of famine and hunger is that it can cause a child to fail to recognize even his own father!” Subsequently, R. Lopian cried out, “Every Jewish person is created with a nefesh [soul] and, like the body, the soul must have its nourishment. The nefesh must be satiated three times a day with the prayers of shacharit, mincha and maariv. The nefesh requires a daily diet of Torah, supplemented by the performance of mitzvot [G-d’s commandments]. If a person does not provide this nourishment to his nefesh, it will become weak and infirm to the point where the person will no longer even recognize his Father in Heaven.”
The people of Israel experienced an extraordinary unfolding of events in the wilderness symbolizing an act of matrimony between the Al-Mighty G-d and the people of Israel, a bond tied by the gift of the Torah, His recipe for nourishment of our soul. We must remember to nourish our soul, in order to stay close to our groom with whom we bonded in a marriage made in heaven. Marriage means commitment. We cannot allow ourselves to forget this commitment – commitment to our very special groom, commitment to His gift. We must not let ourselves forget our groom. We must not let ourselves forget our Father in Heaven.