Bamidbar–The Place of the Word

YHWH spoke (vayyedabber) to Moses in the wilderness (midbar) of Sinai.  (Num. 3:14)

Puns abound as we begin the next scroll of the Torah, the book that is called “Numbers” in English, but “Bamidbar” (“in the wilderness”) in Hebrew.  Midbar seems to have the same root as dabar, which means “word” as a noun and “speak” as a verb.  While there is no etymological connection, the wordplay is suggestive, since, for Israel, the wilderness was the place of the word.  Its very sparseness seems conducive to an absence of distraction, to hearing what is really essential.

“When God gave the Torah, no bird sang or flew, no ox bellowed, the angels did not fly, the Seraphim ceased from saying ‘Holy Holy,’ the sea was calm, no creature spoke; the world was silent and still, and the divine voice said, ‘I am the LORD your God.’”  (Midrash, Exodus Rabbah)

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