The Medrash tells us based on the words in this week’s parsha (וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי) that the Torah was given in three special environments:

  • Bamidbar: in the desert
  • Ba’eish: with fire
  • Ba’Mayim: with water

The Medrash then proceeds to show that the torah was given in each environment, but it does not explain the particular importance of each of them. I would like to examine why the midbar—the desert—is an important environment for the giving of the Torah.

The desert is a place that is desolate. Would you consider going there on vacation? What would you do there? How would you relax?

I recently spoke with a man that, because of certain circumstances, was removed from his family and everyday environment. In the course of our conversation, it became apparent to me that his clearness of mind was better than I would have imagined, and even superior to when he was at home. I asked him “What happened recently that bolstered your ability to think so clearly?” and he answered “Nothing!” When I pressed him to explain, he said “the ‘nothing’ is what helped. When I am at home, I am bombarded with responsibilities and pressures, moving from one thing to another, without having the ability to think everything clearly through, and life becomes mumble-jumble. This in turn causes me to be tense, and aggravates the situation, feeding on itself. Where I am presently, I am blessed with nothing to do except for the things which I choose, and I am able to do so in an orderly fashion. This has brought me to clarity of mind, vigor and vision, allowing me to achieve far more than I usually did.”

The desert is dull if what you are looking for in life is distraction; but if you are looking for a place to think and accomplish, it is a genuine source of contemplation. Where else can one contemplate one idea for a long time without interruptions. Perhaps Hashem gave the Torah in the desert to tell us how to approach our learning: If you would like to understand the subtleties in the text before you, it is necessary to be in an undisturbed environment. The Beis Medrash affords an environment that is removed from the distractions of our daily life.

As we stand before kabbalas hatorah, and we yearn to have an accomplished year, we should try to transform our learning so that it is, as if it is being done in the midbar. Probably the easiest distraction to get rid of is the cellphone—even a kosher one! If you are not accessible to others, then your brain is accessible to you.