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Shavuot's Wilderness Torah

On this day our thoughts are with Tel Aviv.  We pause to mourn those murdered and pray for those injured.  I turn to the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who writes: “When religion turns men into murderers, God weeps.”  And we continue to cry.

This week we begin reading the Book of Numbers, in Hebrew bamidbar—in the wilderness.  It is here, in this wilderness, on an ordinary and nondescript mountain, called Mount Sinai, that the Torah was given.

The ancient rabbis wonder:

Why was the Torah not given in the land of Israel?  In order that the nations of the world shall not say: “Because it was given in Israel’s land, we do not accept it.”  And lest others say: “In my territory, the Torah was given.”  Therefore, the Torah was given in the desert wilderness, publicly and openly, in a place belonging to no one. (Mekhilta)

In the rabbinic imagination Torah has universal import....