Kol Colchester Bamidbar

The fourth book of the Torah is known in English as “Numbers,” yet the true translation of Bamidbar is “in the desert.” The primal setting for the Torah is in a desert. The Sages tell us that one who wishes to truly understand Torah’s wisdom must also make his own personal setting that of a desert.

One of the most important things in learning wisdom is being able to learn with an open mind. The more you filter the wisdom through preconceived notions, prejudices and personal thinking, the less you will understand it for what it is. And so the less meaning it will have for you.

Wisdom is all around us — in animals, in nature, in the world, and especially in every human being. Wisdom is bombarding us at every moment. But we need open minds and open hearts in order to appreciate it, value it, and take it in. If not, we merely feed our own misconceptions rather than develop new understandings.

The key is to make ourselves into deserts — open to the world, allowing the outside to flow in uninhibitedly.

The Sages say something similar with regard to humility. Torah’s wisdom is like water, and water will naturally flow to the lowest place. Arrogance is a shield that wisdom cannot penetrate. If you see a seemingly wise and arrogant man, either you are misjudging his arrogance, or his knowledge is completely superficial — as the Sages say, like a donkey carrying books. Humility, on the other hand, is like a magnet for wisdom. The humble person cannot help but be wise, because the water of wisdom is always flowing down. And the humble person is waiting at the bottom to be filled up.

When our minds and hearts are deserts — freed from personal agenda — then, and only then, will wisdom fill us up.


Rabbi Ken Alter