Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Bamidbar and Shavuos
Parshas Bamidbar is always read just before Shavuos. The medrash provides several connections between the very first pasuk in Bamidbar and kabbalas hatorah:
Hashem spoke to Moshe in the desert to teach us that one who does not transform himself into a "desert"- something hefker, can not acquire wisdom and Torah. The connection between humility and Torah acquisition is found in a number of Talmudic passages. The Gemara (Eruvin 54a) states that one who makes himself like a desert, which all can step on, is given Torah as a gift. Rashi explains that such a quality indicates a lack of arrogance. Another similar passage is found in the Talmudic prayer (Brachot 17a) with which we conclude the amida. "May my soul be like dust"- which everyone can step on- "Open my heart to Your Torah." A final example is a passage (Pesachim 66b) that states that humility is a prerequisite for true Torah knowledge, and haughtiness can cause wisdom to be lost.
Hashem confined His revelation to Moshe, speaking to him from within the tent (Ohel Moed), because modesty is beautiful. The proof text, "and walk humbly with your God" (Micha 6:8), shows that Hashem, too, walks humbly and modestly. The honor of Torah itself, referred to as the bas melech, the child of Moshe the king, is inward -"Pnima". (Tehilim 45:14).
The beauty of modesty (tznius) is cited by Rashi (Shmot 34:3) in the context of Kabalas HaTorah itself. The first luchos (tablets), which were given publicly, with great noise and fanfare, were overcome by the evil eye, and destroyed. The permanence of the second luchos (tablets) which were given privately to Moshe, demonstrates that nothing is more beautiful than modesty.
As we read Bamidbar and prepare for Shavuos and our own personal Kabalas Hatorah, we should look at our own great Torah scholars and leaders as role models. It is no coincidence that our greatest sage, Moshe Rabbeinu, was also the humblest man who ever lived.
Even if we realize our smallness compared to Torah giants of then and now, we often fail to be hefker lakol, to treat those less accomplished than ourselves with proper respect. This failure to emulate Moshe Rabbeinu and gedolei Yisroel who cared for and respected the common man prevents us from acquiring Torah to the best of our ability and capacity.
We must learn from Hashem Himself and walk modestly with Him. As He modestly hides His greatness, so too, we must avoid flaunting our accomplishments. Indeed, modesty in our actions is a reflection of humility in our hearts.
These timeless lessons take on a greater sense of urgency in our world of publicity seekers and conspicuous consumption. These ills which have affected the Jewish world at large have also permeated the Torah world. If we think and act with the lessons of medrash Bamidbar, we will be blessed with a greater measure of kabbalas hatorah.