On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the Jewish people arrived at the Sinai desert to receive the Torah five days later. In Kabbala we learn that each holiday is not primarily a commemoration of past events, but a reliving of those events now. You and I have to begin thinking about how to maximize our Shavuot experience. Just as the Torah discusses how the entire nation used those five days to prepare themselves for receiving the Torah, we also have to put extra energy into our own preparations. We can begin by looking at the weekly parasha, called "Bamidbar", which literally means "in the desert".

According to Jewish custom, this reading is nearly always read publicly on the Shabbat before Shavuot and, therefore by divine plan constitutes a preparation for the holiday. However, the connection between the two is not necessarily obvious. "Bamidbar" means "in the desert", a barren uninhabitable place. The mountain, in this case, is Sinai which is a homonym of the Hebrew word for "hate", "sina". The Midrash says that Mt. Sinai was called such because on it "hatred descended upon the world", meaning that from the time that the Torah was given, G‑d began preferring the Jew nation over other nations. How are "hate" and "desert" necessary components for preparing to receive the Torah? Wherever Divine Providence has brought us…it is our mission to make G‑d apparent in that place…

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that when a Jew learns Torah, he must be totally focused. It is important to first clear one's mind of any unrelated matters so as not to be distracted. This does not mean to just remove thoughts of mundane matters, but even to get rid of thoughts of unrelated Torah topics! (Although all of the Torah is intrinsically connected, one should only begin to relate one area of study with another after an initial session of learning is completed.)

A desert embodies this method of learning - it is barren of anything, of any distraction. A person who does not make him or herself like a "desert" is not a vessel for the Torah. Yet a Jew must also have the element of "sina", hatred, when learning Torah; whilst learning Torah, it is not enough to bar distraction - one must actually hate anything outside of the Torah world.

With these two preparations for Torah study, a Jew is in the proper state to receive the Torah anytime, not just on the holiday of Shavuot. One is able to learn and to later influence the world as a result of his or her study. Ultimately emanating from this strong focus, one learns not to hate the world, but seeks to nullify the negative forces existing there, transforming them to good and thereby hastening the imminent redemption.

Looking at it from a different perspective, in theses days of isolated, nuclear families, many Jews live far away from Jewish community centers - in spiritual "deserts". Fellow Jews are few and far between. In such a case, mitzvah-observance such as obtaining kosher food, giving children a Jewish education, etc. is very challenging. One might be tempted to become more lax in spiritual matters, first in minor and then more serious ways. Someone might think, "Here things are different. I just can't keep the same standard that I could somewhere else."

Here also parashat Bamidbar comes to teach us otherwise. Wherever the Jews encamped in the wilderness, they constructed the Tabernacle. The barren desert was quickly transformed into a place for G‑dliness to be revealed. Following this example, we realize that wherever Divine Providence has brought us, be it a physical or spiritual desert, it is our mission to make G‑d apparent in that place. G‑d will give us the strength required. And because G‑d is there to help us succeed, automatically, we will see any obstacles (physical, psychological, etc.) destroyed.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

For more articles on the upcoming celebration of the Giving of the Torah, please link to: Festival of Shavuot.

Copyright 2003 by KabbalaOnline.org. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.