The book of Numbers opens(1:1):’And Hashem spoke to Moshe במדבר סיני׳: in the Wilderness of Sinai’.
Our Sages ask:’Why did the Torah relate that this was said in the Sinai desert מדבר סיני?-We know that it was said there, as Bnei Israel had not departed from there?
Answer our Sages:To teach that ’Whoever does not make himself ‘like a desert’, הפקר: ownerless, cannot acquire the wisdom of the Torah; that is why the Torah says:’במדבר סיני’’.
How does a person make himself ownerless, a desert, הפקר?
Answers the Ba’al Shem Tov::’By eliminating the אנכי: the ‘I’.
This, he expounds homiletically, is the meaning of the words of the ‘most humble man on earth’, Moshe Rabenu (Vaetchan 5:5):אנכי עומד בין ה׳ וביניכם:’I was standing between Hashem and you: Our ‘I’, our ego, is what stands between us, and Hashem’.
This passuk, we should note, referred to Matan Torah.
Adds the Be’er Mayim Chaim:’The only אנכי, I, in a Jew’s life, is Hashem, who alluded to this by opening the Ten Commandments with the word: ‘אנכי’.
Let us add: We received the Torah BECAUSE we proclaimed as one: כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע: ‘All that Hashem commands, we will do and we will obey’.
Could there be a greater self-negation, an acknowledgement of recognizing that we are הפקר כמדבר, a desert, than this?
The Maharal offers the following insight:’Since the Torah is wholly רוחני: ‘spiritual’, for man to ‘acquire’ it, he has to make himself הפקר: to shed himself of his physical nature, of his ‘I’.
‘Only then can he truly acquire Torah, as we learn from the Torah being given to Moshe Rabenu, ‘the most humble man on earth’.
Rav Shimon Sofer explains offers a different insight, into how a person makes himself ‘like the desert’:’Just as no-one obtains benefit from the desert, as it has no water or produce, so too, the Torah scholar should seek no benefit from his Torah knowledge.
‘’And, his reward from above, is that because all his learning is לשם שמים, and not for personal benefit or honor, people will come to learn Torah from him- because he has made himself הפקר, as it were, being ‘free’ for all’.
Rav Shimon Schwab adds that to be הפקר כמדבר, is that the תלמיד חכם does not keep his learning to himself, nor does he become haughty because of it; indeed, if he has merited to find new insights into the Torah, he is not ‘offended’ if they are repeated, without naming him, amongst the people.
‘And, if the תלמיד חכם makes himself in this way ‘הפקר’, that he does not consider himself the בעל הבית: the ‘owner’ of his learning, Hashem will, in turn, reveal further new insights, into His Torah’.
Rav Schwab finds an allusion to this, in our Parsha:’We read that, for the census, Moshe and Aaron are to be accompanied by (1:4-5):’איש איש one man from each tribe..and these are the names of האנשים: these men’.
‘Surprising:תמוה! Why are they called simply אנשים, men? They are immediately named, and we see that they were the נשיאים: the leaders of each tribe, ‘princes’ who, only three weeks earlier, offered the sacrifices at the inauguration of the Mishkan!
‘Should the Torah not have said:’And with them the נשיאים לבית אבותם: the princes, to their fathers’ households’?
‘Only later (passuk 16), are they referred to as :’These are the leaders of their father’s tribes’; yet, in the very next passuk, we read :’And Moshe and Aaron took these אנשים: men, who had been designated by name’’.
Expounds the Rav:’This was to teach them, that though in the eyes of the people, they were נשיאים ומכובדים: heads and honored, it was incumbent upon them to ‘make’ themselves as הפקר כמדבר: as ‘unimportant’ as the desert, and to be, in their own eyes, simply אנשים: ordinary people.
‘And, if they did so, and cast off all thoughts of honor and self-importance, they then merited to be truly: ראשי אלפי ישראל:‘the heads of the people’, as the Torah calls them’.
A parting thought:Our Sages teach that our Parsha, Parshat Bamidbar, is always read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. This, they explain, is so that we do not ‘enter the year’ with the תוכחה: the rebuke of the preceding Parsha, Parshat Bechukotai.
How, they ask rhetorically, is Shavuot a ראש שנה? Answer: it is the day on which פירות האילן: the fruits of the trees, are judged.
Might we not see a deeper link between this, and Shavuot: on Shavuot we receive anew the choicest of trees: the Tree of Life: עץ חיים, our Holy Torah?
The extent to which we will ‘enjoy’ its fruits, depends on our preparation, to receive it on the Chag.
And this, as we have learned, depends on us being הפקר כמדבר: humble, and conscious of the great gift which Hashem offers us anew each Shavuot.
May we be found worthy this Shavuot, to truly enjoy the fruits of the Tree of Life, on Shavuot, for the coming year!
לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.