How to Prepare Ourselves to Receive the Torah
As we know, the book of Numbers is called Chumash HaPekudim, for it deals with the census of the Children of Israel. In fact from the beginning of our parsha, the book describes the numbering of the Children of Israel, the way they were counted by tribe and family, each tribe with its standard and the entire camp according to its families. Counted were men aged twenty years and older, all who could go into the army of Israel.
There is, however, something very interesting that we see in the very first verse of our parsha. There it is written, “The L-RD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after their departure from the land of Egypt” (Numbers 1:1). This verse gives us all the details pertaining to where Hashem told Moses to perform the census. Furthermore, we are also given precise details as to when he was told to perform this census. This is difficult to understand, for of the 613 mitzvot that were given on Mount Sinai, almost none of them mention the fact that they were given to Moses there, nor the date on which they were given. Yet here, the text specifically mentions these things in detail. Why such an abundance of information?
As we know, the days in which we find ourselves are called the three days of hagbalah (“restriction”), commemorating the time when the Children of Israel were forbidden to approach Mount Sinai. Hashem commanded Moses to tell them to sanctify and purify themselves, and to change their clothing and guard themselves from all sin, for in three days Hashem would descend upon Mount Sinai to give them the holy Torah.
What meaning do these three days of “restriction” hold for us? What is the significance of these days, which took place long ago, for us living today? Granted, the Sages have said, “In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt” (Pesachim 116b). This means that they instituted the concept of “in those days, at this time” (as at Chanukah, Purim, etc.), meaning that in every generation a person must sense what transpired at that time, what happened to the Jewish people, for such things recur in every generation. If a person does not think about what happened in the past, in the present he will be unable to receive the light that comes to us from those sacred days.
If we do not fully realize that today there is also a concept of three days of hagbalah – days when we must sanctify ourselves and be prepared to receive the Torah – it will be impossible to receive it! Today, too, we must all make spiritual preparations to merit the Torah, which is why today there also exists a concept of three days of hagbalah.
This concept is not only to be understood in a spiritual sense. We are aware of our Sages’ teaching that all the souls of the Jewish people stood on Mount Sinai, and like a single person they all heard: “I am the L-RD your G-d.” Consequently, the first verse in the book of Numbers brings us into a fitting frame of mind to receive the Torah. It makes us understand that things were said “in the second year.” Why this specific detail? Everyone knows that the Torah had, at that point, already been given to the Children of Israel (having been given within the first year of their departure from Egypt). However to our great regret, as early as that first year the Children of Israel sinned and made a golden calf, spurning the holy Torah that had been given to them from Mount Sinai and looking for a substitute.
This is why the first verse of our parsha comes to tell us: If you are truly the Children of Israel and want to again receive the Torah – not like in the “first” year, when the Children of Israel made a golden calf and exchanged the Torah for nothing – then you must prepare yourselves to receive it in several ways. Exactly which ways?
Before all else, you must receive it “in the desert of Sinai.” That is, you must conduct yourselves with humility and be self-effacing, like the desert. As the Sages have said, “When one makes himself like the desert, which is free to all, the Torah is presented to him as a gift” (Nedarim 55a). This means that a person must annul himself – meaning his ego, his feelings of pride – and yield before others, conducting himself with humility before every Jew. Thus he will arrive at the gift of the Torah, as he should.
Next we must receive it “in the Tent of Meeting.” We simply must enter the tent of Torah study and sit down to learn, working in the Torah without having any frivolous conversations or interruptions, for the very fact that we study the Torah constitutes the best way to prepare ourselves to receive it. However for this to happen, it must also be the first of the “second” month. We must have the mindset of the “second” – not the first – devoid of pride, for “words of Torah endure only with he who is humble” (Taanith 7a), never with the proud.
Above all else, we must reflect upon the fact that the second month, which as we know is the month of Iyar, is also called “Ziv.” Now the word ziv indicates vision, the act of seeing. This refers to seeing the reality of Hashem, how today He is also before us and giving us the holy Torah. If we act in this way, with humility and by putting an effort into studying Torah, we will also arrive at an unselfish vision of the giving of the Torah, and we will receive it all the days of our lives.