This week we begin the fourth book of the Five Books of Moses entitled “Bamidbar,” or “In the wilderness.” G-d has created so many wondrous sites in this world. There are the massive, awe-inspiring mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the incredibly beautiful chains of islands in the Caribbean, as well as the wildly fruitful jungles of the Amazon; just to name a few. Why then did G-d choose to bestow His most valuable possession, the Torah, in a deserted wasteland of the Sinai wilderness? Would it not have been more fitting to bestow such a treasured gift with a more sensational backdrop of a setting?
The Talmud in Tractate Nedarim 50b relates an episode that sheds light on this query. The daughter of the emperor once asked the sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, “You epitomize the magnificence of Torah wisdom. Why would G-d place such beautiful wisdom in such an aesthetically ugly vessel?” As rabbis do, the Rabbi Chananya responded with a question of his own, “Undoubtedly, your father, the emperor, has the most exquisite of wines. I noticed that they are stored in earthenware vessels. Commonfolk store their wines in such vessels. Would it not be more fitting of his royalty for his wine to be stored in vessels of gold or silver?”
The daughter thought about the words of the rabbi and decided that he made a good point. Therefore, she transferred all of the wine from the earthenware vessels into vessels of gold and silver. When her father next took a sip of wine, he immediately spat it out. It was spoiled. He demanded to know who was responsible. His daughter explained that it was not her fault for she had merely listened to the words of the rabbi. When she confronted the rabbi, he explained, “You asked a question and I responded with an example. Just as good wine is best maintained in a simple earthenware vessel, so too does wisdom reside on he who is humble and unassuming.”
This is precisely the lesson G-d wished to convey to the world by giving the Torah on the lowest mountain in the middle of a desert wasteland. G-d revealed that the most desirable of all traits was that of humility. Only with the prerequisite of modesty and humility can one serve as a fitting receptacle for the loftiest of wisdoms. May we merit to embody such humility and as such receive the great treasure of G-d’s wisdom that He so wishes to bestow upon us.
– Rabbi Liad Braude