The LORD spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. — Numbers 1:1
The Torah portion for this week is Bamidbar, which means “in the desert,” from Numbers 1:1–4:20, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 2:1–22.
This week we begin Numbers, the fourth of the Five Books of Moses. In Hebrew, this book is called Bamidbar, which means “in the desert.” The name is taken from the first verse which reads: “The LORD spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert . . .” The Jewish sages make an interesting comment on this verse: “With three things the Torah was given – with fire, with water, and in the desert.” According to the sages, these represent the three acts of faith through which the children of Israel became worthy of receiving the Torah.
The first act of faith involved fire and was accomplished by the Patriarch Abraham. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was thrown into a furnace because he would not embrace idolatry or renounce his belief in the one true God. He stepped out in faith and into the furnace. Miraculously, not a hair was singed.
However, we could argue that this was one isolated act performed by one extraordinary individual. Therefore, we point to the second act of faith involving water, which refers to the parting of the Red Sea that involved the entire nation of Israel. The sages teach that the Israelites walked into the roiling sea, full of faith, confident that God would take care of them. Only after they took that first step did the sea miraculously part as a result of their faith in God.
Still, one could argue that while this act of faith involved the nation of Israel, it was a one-time event, not necessarily indicative of real and consistent faith. That’s why the third act of faith involved the desert. The children of Israel had to follow God through the desert for 40 years, not knowing what they would eat or drink, or when their journey would end. It was this act of faith that made Israel deserving of the Torah.
These three acts of faith not only describe what made the children of Israel worthy then, they also teach us how to become worthy today.
Sometimes in life we are asked to step out in faith like Abraham did. We go through situations that seem life-threatening, and we aren’t sure if we will come out OK. Other times, we are asked to take a leap of faith like Israel did at the sea. We may be called to take a new job or move to a new place. Finally, there are times when we have tests of faith like the Israelites did in the desert. We go through long periods of time not knowing how things are going to work out.
In all these situations, we must hold on to our faith. In this way, we, too, will become worthy servants of God.