Why is the 4th book of the Torah called Bamidbar – Desert? One can also ask, why is it also called the Book of Numbers?
As one knows a bit of our history, we received the Torah, our pride and joy, and the primary reason why we survived all these years in the desert. The Torah is the pulse of our great nation. So the desert had the privilege to host such an important event and therefore it was named Bamidbar – in the desert.
Perhaps one can ask, why? Out of all the places to receive the Torah – why the desert? Furthermore, there is an obvious question of a famous Midrash (Rabbinical teachings); that when G-d was offering the Torah to the other nations, He asked them to accept it through their biggest weakness. For example, when asked by the Arabs “what’s in it?” G-d replied “Do not steal.” He replied to Edom “do not kill.” This is the main weakness of those respective nations. It didn’t seem like He approached the Jews at their weakness. Could it be G-d didn’t play a fair game? Perhaps He shuffled the deck in favor of the Jews; after all, He was a big fan of our forefather Abraham. By the way, does anybody know our weakness? Do we have one?
This was the fourth time the Israelites were counted. Initially, the Torah records the descendants of our forefather, Yaakov, who traveled to Egypt. Then, later the Torah states that 600,000 men left Egypt, quite a jump from the seventy that left with Yaakov. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jews were counted a third time. Now, seven months after the last census, the people were counted again.
Why is it called the Book of Numbers?
Apparently, G-d wanted to show a lesson to the world how pure and untainted the Jewish genealogy was. Adultery was non-existent; so was marriage outside the faith. It was not for naught that the Jews of that generation were considered the best ever. Their purity was impeccable and G-d was proud of them that they had the ability to preserve the family.
Another reason for the many counts – Moshe himself waited outside each tent to greet them as they came out to be counted. Each individual explained his genealogy briefly. This was a big time moral boost, telling the leader of the Jewish people your family background. It injected a sense of well-needed pride. So the amount of ‘numbers’, number of Jews that were counted, was tallied with pride and one should be proud that he is part of the Jewish nation.
Why did they receive the Torah in the dessert?
The desert is considered no-mans-land and is pretty much desolate. Perhaps this is precisely what G-d intended. When a couple gets married, it is wise for the relatives and friends to leave them alone; they need their privacy. The couple needs time to adjust to their new environment, their new way of life. Here too, the Israelites and G-d have been fused together like newlyweds by the acceptance of the Torah. An adjustment period is needed. The most appropriate place to maintain a sense of well-needed privacy – where there will be no invasion of intimacy – is the desert.
Did G-d test our weakness before rewarding us with the Torah?
Rabbi Baruch Dopelt, who quotes the Chedushai Harim, maintains that G-d did offer the Jews the Torah testing their weakness. G-d had instructed the Jews to maintain boundaries among themselves. In many ways, this was a big test since everyone was eager to show their love for G-d. Every individual\tribe wanted to show their strong capability in serving G-d. Their competitiveness is inherited in all of us today. Although it manifests itself in different aspects of life, did you ever wait on line in Israel? You couldn’t have; a line doesn’t exist.
The Jews, our ancestors in the desert, were instructed to line up with flags. Each tribe with their own flag (some opinions hold a flag was designated to three tribes each). Everything had an order and the tribes, each one, had to serve G-d in the proper time, accordingly. They didn’t have the “I did it my way attitude.” Apparently, they passed the test in controlling themselves and were rewarded with the prize – the Torah.
Credit to: Rabbi Avi Matmon