“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert, ‘Anyone who does not make himself ownerless like the desert cannot acquire wisdom or Torah, and therefore it says ‘in the Sinai desert.’” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:7)
A hefker, ownerless, object is of such little value to its owner that he formally abandons it and makes it available to all. Let us consider what it means to make oneself hefker. One must be prepared to forsake, if necessary, all worldly pleasures for the sake of the Torah. As the Mishna says in Pirkei Avot (6:4):
This is the way of the Torah: Eat bread with salt; drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground and live a life of deprivation— but toil in the Torah! If you do this you are praiseworthy and all is well with you. You are “praiseworthy” in this world and “all is well with you” in the world to come.
Material deprivation may not be a necessary condition for learning Torah, but only one who is prepared to forgo every pleasure and comfort for his Torah learning will ever achieve a deep understanding.
There is another aspect to the requirement of abandoning oneself to Torah that is even more difficult than the forfeiture of material comforts—the attainment of humility. One must both be humble enough to learn from every man and to teach everyone, regardless of status. Even more importantly, he must be prepared to divest himself of all his preconceived ideas and beliefs. Only if one is prepared to let the Torah possess him and guide him totally, will its secrets be revealed.
“All are blind until HaKadosh Baruch Hu opens their eyes” (Bereishit Rabbah 53). When we view the world through our own eyes we are subject to our material desires and the distorting effects of passion and bias. Only when we let the Torah mild our thought processes can we view the world in its true perspective. There is no truer humility than subjugating one’s most precious possession, his mind, to the Torah.
“The words of the wise are like prods” (Kohelet 12: 11). Just as the prod directs the ox to plow in a straight line, so too does Torah guide and condition to think in the paths of life (Chagigah 3b). When we seek the guidance of gedolei Torah, we are seeking a mind so steeped in Torah— to the exclusions of all personal biases—that everything they say or do is solely a reflection of their understanding of the Torah i.e. daas Torah. Only a mind conditioned to think from God’s point of view, as revealed in the Torah, can view the world without distortion.
After their exodus from Egypt, Bnei Yisrael needed to follow God into a harsh, howling desert, and place themselves totally in His care, before they could receive the Torah. And after the gift of the Torah, they still needed to be chastised time and again as we read throughout Sefer Bamidbar, until they molded their attitudes and opinions to a Torah perspective.
Once settled in Eretz Yisrael we were able to instill the lessons of the desert into our everyday living and truly benefit from the great merits and attributes of Eretz Yisrael in living a true Torah life.
Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speaker).