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Bamidbar Wilderness-Fire -Water

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai” (Numbers -Bamidbar 1:1).
Why “in the Wilderness of Sinai?” From here our Sages learn that the Giving of the Torah was accompanied by three things: fire, water and wilderness.  We know this from three sentences  “And Har Sinai was filled with smoke… “(Exodus 19:18); “…the earth trembled, the heavens dripped, Yea, the cloud dripped water [the mountains quaked –before the Lord, Him of Sinai, before the Lord, God of Israel” (Shoftim-Judges 5:4)  and “And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai” (Bamidbar -Numbers 1:1).

The Shem MiShmuel (The Admor Rabbi Shmuel (1856-1926), The Second of the House of Sochaczew (known by the name of his book “Shem Mishmuel”) understands “fire, water and wilderness” to be symbolic of the three attributes and attitudes necessary to acquire and live a life of Torah. “Fire” represents spiritual passion: a great desire to grow in understanding and to become closer to the Almighty. “Water” represents the cool and calm consideration  necessary conditions to achieve true knowledge and understanding, while the “wilderness” signifies the material sacrifices necessary to avoid distraction and focus on religious pursuits.

Rav Meir Shapira (1887-1933) the founder of Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin and of the Daf Yomi [daily page study of the Talmud] maintains that “fire, water and wilderness” are representatives of  the trials and tribulations (read: Mesirat Nefesh) we as individuals and as a people must go through to lead a Torah life. Mesirat Nefeshd’Yachid (of the individual): “fire” represents the faith of Abraham who, as an individual, stood against king and country for the truth of Torah and whose faith survived the fiery furnace of Ur Chasdim. We, as individuals, have to be prepared to undergo tests of the most demanding nature to practice our Torah true life And often as a group of many we are required to have Mesirat Nefesh d’Rabbim (of the many): “water” represents the seemingly impassable Red Sea that Nachshon courageously jumped into, leading the rest of the Children of Israel to see that with the Almighty’s help, all barriers to Mount Sinai are illusory. Our people  throughout history have had to survive stormy waters that have threatened to engulf and destroy us and we must continue to be prepared to do so.

“Wilderness” represents the challenge of constancy and persistence of the Children of Israel following God during the forty years of wandering in the desert. We, too, require faith, courage and persistence to remain steadfast to Torah as we wander for thousands of years in the wilderness of exile.


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