The Desserted desert

Friday, 22 May, 2020 - 4:46 pm

Apparently I wasn't the only one that took their time to figure out when to spell it desert and when it is dessert. I moved to the US as a teenager and tricky/confusing words aren't easy to learn when you had a late start. It wasn't until after I got married and my wife gave me the tip that she got from her English teacher that you 'put in the extra s for sugar', that I was finally able to remember which is which.

This week's Torah portion, the first in the book of Numbers, is called Bamidbar, literally "in the desert"; since the fourth book of the Torah deals with the events that took place from years 2-40 of the Jews' journey in the desert. 

This Torah portion is always read before Shavuot, and there were several messages derived over the generations connecting the two -- desert and Torah -- and offering meaning to the fact that G-d chose to give the Torah to us specifically "in the desert".

At face value a desert is nothing like dessert -- while one brings to mind memories of sweetness and pleasure the other paints images of thirst and scorching heat. Yet, I think there is something about the desert that can be enjoyable and put in 'an extra s' into the desert experience.

The desert belongs to no one, has no structures, no limits and one can live as they please. Spiritually, perhaps, receiving the Torah in the desert meant to be a lesson for the Jew to leave the confines of our home, or even those of our surroundings, our towns, cities and places of work and get used to the concept of doing something 'out of the box'. 

Perhaps, by giving the Torah in the desert G-d was asking us not to be limited by the expectations and limits set by our home, our town, our customs or our peers. Go into the desert, He said, try something new. Don't be boxed in.

Earlier this week someone shared with me an interesting anecdote. A Friend of theirs wasn't well and when they inquired what they can do to help, the friend asked them to do a Mitzvah "they don't normally do"; or one "they haven't done for a long time". 

I thought that this was brilliant. Even in our Judaism, we tend to get used to the Mitzvot 'we do' and those we do 'once in a long while' to those that 'we don't usually do'. How amazing is it to be able to go out of our box, into our perceived desert, and embrace a Mitzvah we have never done? How sweet is it to have the strength of undertaking a Mitzvah that is out of our comfort zone?

In the High Holiday prayers we quote a verse where G-d praises the Jews for going "after Me in the wilderness, in an uncultivated land". I think there is no greater praise for a Jew in 2020 than the fact that they are willing to 'put that extra s' in their desert purely for the sake of G-d.

So this year, for me, Bamidbar means: Go into the desert, go try something new, something you don't usually do or something you haven't done in a while.... turn it into your dessert.

So who said a desert can't be sweet?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

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