Parshat Bamidbar starts a new chapter in Bnei Yisrael's History.
"Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Desert of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting on the first of the second month, in the second year after Exodus from the Land of Egypt, saying." Parshat Behar in Sefer Vayikra in contrast opens with, "Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying." and the Book of Vayikra closes with, "These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai."(27:34) As I mentioned in my comments on Parshat Behar the Jewish People stayed at Har Sinai for 345 days (the Gematria of the name "Moshe") (from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until the 20th of Iyar).
Had the Meraglim (Spies) not happened, then the original Plan was for the Jewish People to enter Eretz Yisrael after leaving Mount Sinai with Moshe at the helm. Because of the Meraglim the Jews were forced to remain in the desert for 40 years. Although at first glance it appears that remaining in the desert was a negative (as so many things in life appear to be) it turned out to be a very strong positive. The desert molded the Jewish People into a Great Nation. It hardened them to be able to withstand the rigors of life in a hostile world. They had the honor and privilege of having our Greatest Leader ever at their side and at their beckon call-Moshe Rabeinu.
They had no barriers, no distractions, nothing extraneous between themselves and G-d Almighty. There was a chance for tremendous Achdut because everyone was essentially equal. There was no major divide between rich and poor. Everyone was on the same level living in the desert without luxuries, without fanfare, without jealousy and greed. Truth reigned supreme. All one could see was desert and more desert. Even though there were many hardships (hence it was not safe to perform Brit Milah for 40 years in the desert), the Jews thrived. I maintain that the Jewish People (approximately 3 million strong including 603,550 men over the age of 20) are the only People on earth who could have gone through this experience and not only not be destroyed but actually prosper and grow.
Obviously, The Ribono Shel Olam's hand made it possible but the Jewish People had such tremendous Achdut (Unity) each helping the other, that they survived. Many survivors from the Holocaust have told me of similar Achdut in the Concentration Camps enabling some to survive. The State of Israel too was formed because of tremendous Achdut across the globe. The Jewish People need and thrive on Achdut.
The desert habitat enabled that to occur. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchin writes about the desert experience, "It was the result of G-d's wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the Midbar till they acquired courage. For it is a well known fact that traveling in the Midbar, and privation of bodily enjoyments such as bathing, produce courage, whilst the reverse is the source of faint-heartedness.
In addition another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery." Moshe Rabeinu himself reflects upon the Midbar experience in Devarim(8:2-3) "And thou shalt remember all the way which Hashem thy G-d, hath led thee these 40 years in the Midbar, that he might afflict thy heart, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or not.
And he afflicted thee and suffered thee to hunger and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know: that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of G-d doth man live." The 40 years in the Midbar were the Jewish People's parallel with Moshe's 40 days on Har Sinai. What the 40 days did for Moshe, the 40 years did for the Jewish People.The making of a Nation is a complex process. The number 40 is special to G-d Almighty. It took 40 days to destroy the world at the time of Noach. It took 40 days to transfer the Torah to Moshe Rabeinu.
It took 40 years to create the Jewish People. The Sefat Emet says that in order to imbibe Torah we must each make ourselves into a Midbar. We must humble ourselves and lessen our egos. One must open himself up like the vastness of the desert. The true test of Bitachon comes out those moments where one is alone. Only G-d is felt at those moments and this was the case for Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar.
The Sefat Emet further says that the root of the word "Midbar" is (Dalet-Bait-Raish) "to speak". One can truly speak to G-d in the desert without any distractions. The Jewish People would do well to try to feel like their in the Midbar at all times to gain closeness to G-d Almighty and to each other. Shabbat Shalom