Rabbi Berel Wein has an interesting article in which he asks the following question: “Why did God give Israel the Torah (Law) in the Sinai desert?” This is a good question. Why the desert? Rabbi Wein explores the symbolism of the desert in his article.
The following is an excerpt from the article published in the Jewish World Review:
The Torah was granted to us in a desert, in a place of no particular sovereignty, language, culture or government. The Torah, in its general sense, has no limitations of space or time. It represents the Eternal and therefore takes on all of the characteristics of its Creator, Who is unlimited in space and time.
What makes a desert a desert is the lack of rain and water. As Israel has proven with its own Negev desert, water irrigation can push back the desert’s grip. However all deserts have particular oases and water holes. These are of immense value simply because there is no other source of water in the desert. An oasis or water hole in a country much rained upon attracts little of any attention or worth.
The Torah foresaw that throughout Jewish history Jews would find themselves at times living in a spiritual desert. Immorality, licentiousness and decadence would reign in the general society. The righteous would be mocked and the wicked would be popularized and exalted. The spiritual desert, its emptiness and jadedness cannot slake our inner thirst for immortality and connection to our Creator.
And the Torah, given and nurtured in the desert would then be recognized as the ultimate oasis of life giving water. The Torah is always symbolized as being water in the words of the prophets and in the Talmud. The prophet implores us that “you who are thirsty [for Godliness and spirituality in your lives] go forth to fetch the water [of the Torah.] Perhaps only one who is wandering and suffering in the desert can truly appreciate the oasis and water hole. Our times demand our presence at the oasis that only the Torah provides for us.
Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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