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Why the Torah Wasn’t Given in Israel: 14 Reasons

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Bamidbar (Nasso in Israel), and Shavuot

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The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbos before Shavuot. The name of the Parsha means “in the (Sinai) desert.” Various lessons can be learned from this name which are relevant for Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah.[1]

The Midrash offers several reasons why the Torah was given in a desert:

·        The Torah Has No Owner
The Midrash says[2] that the Torah was given in the desert to teach us that, like the desert, it is equally accessible to all, as the verse says,[3] “Let all those who are thirsty go to the water.”
·        No End
Another Midrash says[4] that just as the desert has no (visible) end, so, too, the Torah has no end, as the verse says,[5] “Its measure is longer than the sea, and it is wider than the ocean.”
·        Needs Provided
The Ktav Sofer says[6] that just as the Jewish people were miraculously sustained in the desert, so too, G-d sustains people who are involved in Torah study, often in miraculous ways, as He (for example) sustained Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son in the cave for thirteen years.

As Given Outside of Israel

The Midrash[7] discusses why the Torah was not given in Israel. It offers two explanations:
1)     If it had been given in Israel, the nations of the world would have had an excuse and said they didn’t accept it because it was given in a country belonging to another nation (the Jewish people).
o  Although the land was not immediately divided upon their conquering Canaan, had the Torah been given then, the tribes might have fought over who should get the territory upon which the Torah was given. [8]
2)     To Avoid Dissension
If the Torah had been given in Israel, this might have led to dissension, as the tribe in whose territory the Torah was given might have used this to claim superiority.
o  Why Not Jerusalem?
There is an opinion in the Talmud[9] that the city of Jerusalem was not divided among the tribes. According to this opinion, had the Torah been given in Jerusalem, it would not have been possible for any one tribe to claim superiority. However, the nations of the world would still have had an excuse for not accepting the Torah.[10]
Rabbi Chayim Palagi[11] adds another 11 reasons[12] why the Torah was given in the desert rather than in the Holy Land. (The numbering is continuing from the two reasons quoted above).
3)     Protected or Not
The desert is a dangerous place because of the snakes and scorpions[13] which inhabit it as well as the risk of armed robbery. Yet when the Torah was given in the Sinai desert, the mountain bloomed, and it turned into a safe and nurturing environment. This teaches us that if one observes the Torah, he will be protected from the vicissitudes of life, whereas one who does not, may find himself beset by troubles.
4)     To Subjugate the Evil Forces
Kabbalistically, the desert is a place where evil forces are prevalent.[14] The Torah was given in the desert to subjugate these evil forces.
5)     The Torah Is for Everywhere
If the Torah had been given in the Land of Israel, the Torah scholars in Israel might look down at scholars from outside of Israel and consider them to be from a place that is “secondary” since the Torah had not been given there. By giving the Torah in the desert, G-d showed that it is equally relevant for and available to people in all parts of the world.[15]
6)     For the Sake of the Resurrection of that Generation
The merit of the Torah being given in the desert will enable those buried in the desert (the generation that left Egypt) to be resurrected in the Messianic Era.
7)     No Worries
Had the Jewish people gone into the Land of Israel and then received the Torah there, they would have already gotten busy with working the land which might have distracted them from focusing on receiving the Torah. Even those Jews who were blessed by finding Canaanite homes filled with treasures[16] might have been distracted by their wealth and unable to focus on accepting the Torah full-heartedly.
8)     Like the Patriarchs
The patriarchs were shepherds who spent much of their time in the desert (i.e. arid areas) where the solitude and clean air enabled them to contemplate on sublime and G-dly matters. It is therefore appropriate that their descendants follow in their footsteps and go to an arid land for this most sublime experience. Rabbi Palagi therefor recommends that children try to remain in the very same homes and stores in which their parents lived (and worked) as this will connect them to the merit of their parents.
9)     The Canaanite Claim
If the Torah had been given in the Land of Canaan, the Canaanites might have claimed that their connection to the Torah is even stronger than the Torah’s connection to the Jewish people (since it was given in their native land). So G-d gave it in a place that had no owners.
10) Gentiles’ Claims
The Land of Israel is not under the dominion of any of the supernal angels but under the dominion of G-d Himself whereas other lands are supervised by angels[17] (although every decision is made by G-d alone). Had the Torah been given in Israel, the nations would have had an excuse for not accepting it since the Land of Israel is on a much more elevated state than they are. To preclude this claim, G-d gave the Torah in the diaspora.
11) Above the Mazal
According to our sages, the power of the constellations (mazal) is weak in the desert. Giving the Torah in the desert indicates that the Jewish people have no need for constellations as we are directly under the influence of G-d. This teaches us that one (especially a Torah scholar) should not rely on good luck or the like, but only on Divine assistance.
12) Even a Homeless Person Must Learn
By giving the Torah in the desert, G-d was teaching us a lesson that even a person who is so poor that he has nowhere to live should not stop learning, as the Rambam says[18] that even an ill person should have fixed times for Torah study.
13) A Low Place
According to our sages the Land of Israel is higher than all other lands, signifying that it is the holiest place in the world. For this reason the Talmud says,[19] “The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise” and “There is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel.”[20] It might therefore seem appropriate for the Torah to be given there. Despite this, G-d gave the Torah on a small mountain within a desolate desert to show that the most important trait one must have to accept the Torah properly is that of humility.
14) A Nation Like No Other
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains[21] that the Jewish people were formed in a manner that differs from all of the other nations. The other nations first inhabit a land, then appoint a king and finally establish laws. The purpose of these laws being to govern and maintain their society. Whereas the Jewish people accepted their laws – the Torah – as soon as they left Egypt and while still in the desert. As the purpose of these laws is not merely in order to establish a functioning society but to connect with the Divine – in a manner that transcends intellect.
May we all Merit to Accept the Torah with Inward Joy!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMeVorach and a Chag Same’ach!
[1] I found many of the sources for this article here
[2] Bamidbar Rabbah, 1:7
[3] Isaiah 55:1
[4] Pesikta of Rabbi Kahana, 12
[5] Job 11:9
[6] Al HaTorah, beginning of Parshat Bamidbar. See also Likutei Sichot vol. 2, page 308
[7] Mechilta DeRabi Yishma’el, Parsha 5
[8] Tirat Kessef by Rabbi Chaim Benebeniste of 17th and 18th-century Greece, Parshat Bamidbar, pg. 1
[9] Megillah 26a and in many places
[10] Tiferet HaGirshuni by Rabbi Gershon Ashkenazi of 17th-century Germany on Parshat BaMidbar
[11] In Amudei Chayim, Amud HaTorah, 20:9 and on
[12] There is one reason of his that is omitted here as it is somewhat esoteric.
[13] See Deut. 8:15
[14] See Likutei Torah, Parshat Re’eh, 32 side b
[15] See also Reshimot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, beginning of choveret 111
[16] See Deut. 6:11
[17] See Sefer HaMa’amarim Kutreisim of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 1, page 411 and in many places.
[18] Laws of Talmud Torah, 1:8
[19] Bava Batra 158b
[20] Sifri, beginning of Parshat Eikev
[21] Reshimot beginning of Choveret 19
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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