Bamidbar, which is the name of our Parsha – and the name of this entire book – means “in the desert.” However, the name Bamidbar itself does not seem to bring to light any unique qualities of our Parsha at all. At this point, the Jewish people has been situated in the desert for a considerable period of time: Throughout the whole Book of Vayikra and part of the Book of Shemos. So what is added now by stressing that the Jewish people were “in the desert”?
The answer to this question lies in the fact that, “we always read Parshas Bamidbar before Shavu’os” (Shulchan Aruch, Orah Chaim 428:4). Before we experience the giving of the Torah once again – for spiritually, the Torah is given anew every Shavu’os – it is necessary to recall and take to heart the fact that the Torah was not given in a civilized environment, but in a desert.
The lesson here is twofold:
1.) A desert is a place of utter desolation where, “no man can live” (Jer.2:6). Thus, the Torah was given there to indicate that it should be embraced with any preconceptions or ulterior motives. When a person lives in a civilized place and he encounters a new idea or suggestion, he will first evaluate it to determine whether it is acceptable according to societal norms. With Torah, however, this would be a mistake; the correct approach to accepting the Torah is, “we will do, and (later) we will understand” (Shemos 24:7). Therefore, the Torah was given in a desert, where nobody lives, to indicate that one needs to be truly “open-minded” – i.e. not influenced by one’s environment – to appreciate its values.
2.) The Torah was given in a desert to teach that sharing the Torah with those who currently find themselves in a spiritual desert is fundamental to Torah Judaism. It is not the case that the Torah can “also” reach those who are found in a spiritual wasteland; to the contrary, this is a central theme of the giving of the Torah: To transform every spiritual desert into a “civilized environment.”
(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parsha Bamidbar 5732 & 5734)