Location, Location, Location

When an historic moment occurs, we have to imagine that much thought is given to what the best location to host it could be. Should it take place at a governmental office?  Perhaps it should take place with a picturesque backdrop over the ocean or at a mountain sunset?  There is so much detail, time and attention paid - location is everything.

With this in mind? One could ask, why was the Torah disseminated in a desert? It’s not picturesque or official? What could the message be?                      

This week, we read Parshat Yitro, in which we are presented with the arrival of the Israelites to the Sinai Desert wherein they will receive the Ten Commandments as well as laws of the Torah.

Exodus 19:2 

בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י לְצֵ֥את בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה בָּ֖אוּ מִדְבַּ֥ר סִינָֽי׃ 

On the third month after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they arrived at the Sinai Desert.

Out of all the beautiful places in the world, why has G-d could have chosen a barren desert? How about Switzerland or Hawaii; and why not in Israel where so much of the Torah is practiced?

Our sages advance several answers to this question:

  • The desert is a free and unowned space. There are no real estate taxes or entrance fees upon arrival, and anyone and everyone can come and participate
  • The desert is also a place that has no frills, designs, or décor, but rather is a place that inspires humility. 
  • The Torah was not given in the geographical contours of Israel to demonstrate that it is applicable to all nations of the world. The truths of the Torah apply to everyone.
  • If the Torah was given in Israel, it would have taken place in the location of one tribe, thereby excluding the other eleven. The Torah was given to include, and not to exclude.

The common denominator amid the three answers is one of inclusion and a sense of welcome. Since the Torah is pure holiness and a gift from heaven above, one could think that it is reserved for an aristocracy or only for the most learned and traditional of the nation of Israel. Therefore, the location of Desert Sinai is chosen, on an unimposing mountain, so anyone and everyone can participate fully and embrace the wisdom therein.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence