75 words for 75 years of Israel – Midbar/Desert

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!

Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

מִדְבָּר

MIDBAR

MID-BAR

DESERT

“Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (Exodus 3:1)

ומשה היה רעה את צאן יתרו חתנו כהן מדין וינהג את הצאן אחר המדבר ויבא אל הר האלהים חרבה.

“On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the desert of Sinai. They journeyed from Rephidim and entered the desert of Sinai and encamped in the desert. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain.” (Exodus 19:1-2)

בחדש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני. ויסעו מרפידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר.

The desert, or midbar in Hebrew, plays a significant role in some of the most foundational stories in the Bible. All of the patriarchs were shepherds, spending much of their lives alone with their sheep in the desert. Moses’ first encounter with God took place in the desert at the burning bush, and the children of Israel received the Torah in the desert at Mount Sinai. After fleeing from King Ahab, Elijah encountered God in a powerful spiritual experience at the very same mountain.

The grammatical root of midbar reflects its role as the setting for so many profound spiritual experiences. The same letters, in the very same order, can be pronounced as midaber, meaning “speaking.” In the emptiness and quiet of the desert, the voice of God can be heard more clearly. When the noise of our everyday lives is removed, we can better hear the message that God is speaking to us.

Why did God give the Torah to the people of Israel in the desolate desert? The sages explain: “Anyone who does not make himself ownerless, like the desert, cannot acquire the Torah.” When we are full of ourselves, it is difficult to make space for the will and wisdom of God. Before we can receive the lofty spiritual wisdom of the Bible, we must humble and empty ourselves before God, like the desert.

Jewish tradition teaches that even before the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed due to the nation’s sins, God’s presence left Jerusalem and settled in the desert. All who come to the desert seeking closeness to God with an open heart will find what they are looking for. 

The Israel Bible Team

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