This Shabbat we begin reading the book of Numbers — in Hebrew, Bamidbar. That’s the name given both to the book of Numbers, and to this week’s Torah portion, which begins:
וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧”ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד
And God spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting… (Numbers 1:1)
The wilderness of Sinai.
Bamidbar means in the wilderness. Midbar, wilderness, is related to m’daber, when someone speaks. The wilderness is where we hear the voice of God. And the quintessential example of that is Sinai, where we received the revelation of Torah long ago in a time beyond time; when we continue to receive Torah even now, in our day. You might have noticed that I just scrambled place and time. Hold that thought.
So we’re in the wilderness of Sinai. Torah also locates this in the Ohel Mo’ed. When the word mo’ed appears with ohel, tent, it’s usually translated as Meeting. This is the Tent of Meeting, the place where community comes together. But on its own, mo’ed means season, appointed place or time. As in the מוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔”ה / mo’adei YHVH / God’s “fixed times,” that we just…