Adonai spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month of the second year after they had left the land of Egypt. He said,
(Num 1:1 CJB)
HIS VOICE IS HEARD IN QUIET STILLNESS
I heard someone say one time that God does not usually shout at us to make Himself heard. When He does, it usually means that we are in trouble. In general, He gently knocks at the “door,” the “door” that can only open from the inside.
"Behold I stand at the door … (Rev 3:20 CJB)
He stands. He waits. He will not forcefully knock the door down;. He will knock, ever so softly ready to answer to even the most minimal sign of acquiescence. Like the gentle dove that he is, He will not land where He is not wanted, so He will leave if not received, and try again at a later time (Mat 3:16). King Solomon beautifully describes it in this poem,
[He] My sister, my bride, I have entered my garden; I am gathering my myrrh and my spices; I am eating my honeycomb along with my honey; I am drinking my wine as well as my milk. …
[She] I am asleep, but my heart is awake. Listen! I hear my darling knocking!
[He] Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my flawless one! For my head is wet with dew, my hair with the moisture of the night.
[She] I've removed my coat; must I put it back on? I've washed my feet; must I dirty them again?
The man I love put his hand through the hole by the door-latch, and my heart began pounding at the thought of him. I got up to open for the man I love. My hands were dripping with myrrh -- pure myrrh ran off my fingers onto the handle of the bolt. I opened for my darling, but my darling had turned and gone. My heart had failed me when he spoke -- I sought him, but I couldn't find him; I called him, but he didn't answer. The watchmen roaming the city found me; they beat me, they wounded me; they took away my cloak, those guardians of the walls! I charge you, daughters of Yerushalayim, that if you find the man I love, what are you to tell him? That I am sick with love.
(Son 5:1-8 CJB)
We have to make the personal conscious effort of concentration and still quietness if we want to hear It. We must get up, and open the door. The door of our heart only opens from the inside. It has to come from us!
Elijah also experimented with the sweet and tender voice of HaShem while in the desert. As he was fleeing from Queen Jezebel, he went out to a cave on Mount Horeb where many cataclysmic events happened,
There he went into a cave and spent the night. Then the word of Adonai came to him; he said to him, "What are you doing here, Eliyahu?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for Adonai the God of armies, because the people of Isra'el have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. Now I'm the only one left, and they're coming after me to kill me too." He said, "Go outside, and stand on the mountain before Adonai"; and right then and there, Adonai went past. A mighty blast of wind tore the mountains apart and broke the rocks in pieces before Adonai, but Adonai was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but Adonai was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, fire broke out; but Adonai was not in the fire. And after the fire came a quiet, subdued voice. When Eliyahu heard it, he covered his face with his cloak, stepped out and stood at the entrance to the cave. Then a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Eliyahu?" (1Ki 19:9-13 CJB)
HaShem taught King David to,
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
(Psa 46:10 ESV)
IN THE QUIET OF THE DESERT
That is why HaShem took Israel away in the quietness of the wilderness. He took His people away from all the distractions of daily life. There He provided them with food and water. He preserved their clothes from going threadbare. It was like a sort of return to the Garden of Eden where HaShem provided for the first humans without the need to sow; an early Jubilee of abundance and freedom. Like in the Garden of Eden and during the Jubilee year, in the desert, they ate of what grew of it's own, HaShem's food; the bread of Heaven.
The whole reason for it was that Israel would cease from feaverish mundane activity, sit with HaShem at the foot of Mount Horeb and learn. HaShem provided Israel with every need for the simple goal of getting them away from all distractions, getting their attention so that they would simply sit and learn from Him. That’s also why we have Shabbat. Shabbat is a time when we stop the daily grind and confusion of everyday activities in order to sit with HaShem and learn, learn through prayer, learn through service, and learn through fellowship with others.
SOMETHING ELSE ABOUT THE DESERT
In Hebrew, the word "wilderness/desert" is the word "מדבר/Midbar". It is a word that draws its roots from the word "דבר" which is a word that refers to the Word as spoken by HaShem. It is the word that we find in John 1:1,
בראשית היה הדבר והדבר היה את האלהים ואלהים היה הדבר
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 CJB)
This word is also related to the verb לדבר"/ to speak". From this the sages deduce that it is in the undistracted still dependency on HaShem of the desert that HaShem’s voice is heard best.
“DESERT” TIMES IN OUR LIVES
We all have difficult times in our lives that we qualify as "desert-times."These are usually times of trials, tribulations, and difficulty, not unlike difficult times of survival in a desert land. In these places, instead of indulging in despondent feelings of abandonment, we should realise that this is HaShem’s intolerable compliment. We should know that these are times when He actively takes us away from all distraction so He can have more personal time with us. We should also be aware that, like with the Children of Israel in the desert, He is the one supplying all of our needs.
HUMILITY IN THE DESERT
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah) states about Numbers 1:1:
“Whoever does not make himself open and free like a wilderness will not be able to acquire wisdom and Torah.”
On this, the commentary Matnos Kehuna comments that,
Humility enables you to learn from everyone and teach everyone. As noted above, the desert symbolizes humility. Indeed, the Torah can only be learned in a spirit of humility. King David knew it,
Adonai is near those with broken hearts; he saves those whose spirit is crushed. (Psa 34:18 CJB)
But the meek will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. (Psa 37:11 CJB)
Our Master concurred in,
"How blessed are the poor in spirit! for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. "How blessed are those who mourn! for they will be comforted. "How blessed are the meek! for they will inherit the Land! "How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! for they will be filled. (Mat 5:3-6 CJB)
Parasha Bamidbar is always read before Shavuot. This Jewish holidays affords us to relive the time when Israel humbly sat at the foot of Mt Sinai to receive the Torah from HaShem. To relive the Sinai experience, we must first pass through the “desert” and its lessons — at least in a spiritual sense.
Shavuot also takes us back to the day when the disciples humbly obeyed the Master’s command to stay in Jerusalem in spite of the persecution that befell them, and were then blessed with the Shechinah coming to live within them (Acts 2). We must also show obedient humility in order to be blessed with the Spirit of HaShem to live within us.
R' Gavriel Lumbroso
PS: I would like to again address a currently pertinent notion having to do with this midrash.
This time of isolation, fear, uncertainty and economic distress is very similar to the time of the Children of israel in the desert. I pray therefore that in this "desert" of our lives, we would all be able to hear HaShem's voice through The Prophet as clearly as our ancestors did in the desert!