Your Bar Mitzvah is taking place on the Shabbat before Shavuot when we read the Torah parshah of Bamidbar. According to our calendar this parshah is always read before the Yom Tov of Shavuot — the day that commemorates “when Hashem gave” the Torah to the Jewish people. Obviously, this is not merely coincidental, but rather, the parshah serves as a preparation for Kabbalat HaTorah — our receiving of the Torah.

Interestingly, the Midrash Rabbah in the beginning of this parshah (1:17) speaks of the giving of the Torah and says the following:

“The Torah was given to the accompaniment of three things: fire, water and wilderness.

“Fire is derived from the pasuk ‘Mount Sinai was smoking in its entirety because Hashem descended upon it in fire’ (Shemot 19:18).

“Water is derived from the pasuk, ‘Even the heavens trickled; even the clouds dripped water’ (Judges 5:4).

”Wilderness is derived from the introductory pasuk of our parshah, ‘Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai’ (Bamidbar 1:1).”

What message did Hashem impart by giving the Torah accompanied by fire, water and in the setting of a wilderness?

Herein lies an important lesson concerning success in studying and acquiring Torah.

Fire represents warmth. Giving the Torah accompanied by fire teaches us that the Torah should be studied and practiced with warmth and vigor. When a person learns Torah he should be immersed in his studies with the same excitement people feel when engaged in hobbies and other cherished pursuits.

Another lesson to be derived from the giving of the Torah with fire is the following: The nature of fire is to rise upwards. Similarly, a person must strive to go from strength to strength and constantly rise higher in his adherence to Torah.

The message imparted by the giving of Torah accompanied with water is the following:

In Pirkei Avot (1:4) Rabbi Yosei ben Yo’ezer of Tzreidah says, “One should drink the words of the Sages thirstily.”

What is the analogy between studying Torah and drinking water thirstily?

To someone who is thirsty, every drop of water is precious. Likewise, Hashem’s message in giving Torah accompanied by water was that every drop of Torah study should be precious and cherished.

An additional message is that one should make every effort to acquire Torah. When a person is thirsty, he will turn over every stone to find some water and even walk miles to reach a well. Likewise, one should make every effort to study Torah and not hesitate even to travel a long distance in order to learn.

Finally, Torah was given in a wilderness to impart a threefold lesson:

Firstly, Torah is ownerless. The wilderness is essentially ownerless, no one can claim it. By this choice of location, Hashem was hinting to us that the Torah belongs equally to everyone.

Secondly, rely on Hashem. The Jewish people left Egypt and went into a wilderness, an uncultivated land, for the purpose of receiving the Torah. They did not know how they would manage. Nevertheless, in the wilderness they obtained the manna — food from heaven — in the merit of Moshe. In the merit of Aharon they had the pillar of the clouds (that miraculously protected them, and cleaned and altered their clothing to size), and a well supplied them with water in the merit of Miriam (Ta’anit 9a).

This serves as a moral lesson for us: One must study Torah and rely entirely on Hashem. He will then provide all that is needed materially and spiritually. (See Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 2, p. 308.)

Last, but not least, it demonstrated that the Torah has the potential power to convert and spiritually elevate those who are attached to it. Grass grew around Mount Sinai when Hashem gave the Torah. Hashem performed this miracle to indicate that even a person whose spiritual landscape is a “wilderness” can be elevated and refined through Torah until he is comparable to a flourishing oasis.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, today is your day of Kabalat HaTorah — it is the day when you accept upon yourself the Torah and proudly proclaim, similar to the Jewish people’s proclamation “na’aseh v’nishma” — “I will do and learn.” May you be blessed to succeed in your Torah studies and be tenaciously attached to Torah.

I pray that you will always bear in mind the message of the Torah’s being given with fire and water in a wilderness. This in turn will make you a most beautiful and cherished member of Klal Yisrael and a source of Yiddish and Chassidish nachas to your family.


The fourth of the five books of the Torah is popularly known as Sefer Bamidbar. In the Gemara (Sotah 36b), however, it is called Sefer Hapekudim — the Book of Counting. In English too it is called Numbers, because in this sefer a census of the Jewish people is taken two times. The sefer begins with recording a census and again in Parshat Pinchas a census is taken.

The people between the ages of twenty and sixty were to be counted “lemishpechotom” — “according to their families” — i.e. according to their tribes, that is, to establish the number in each tribe, and also “lebeit avotam” — “according to their fathers’ house,” that is, a person’s tribal affiliation is patrilineal. Thus, one whose father and mother were from different tribes will be counted with his father’s tribe.

To properly accomplish this, Hashem instructed Moshe to count each tribe with the participation of its own tribal leader, the one who would be knowledgeable of his tribe’s members (Sforno).

For the actual counting, the entire community was gathered together and the Torah says, “Vayityaldu al mishpechotam lebeit avotam” — They established their genealogy according to their families, according to their fathers’ household” (1:18).

Rashi explains that they brought sifrei yechuteihem — their documents of pedigree — to trace each person’s lineage to the particular tribe he claimed to come from.

There was a time when yichus — pedigree — was a popular subject in the Jewish community, and some even in contemporary times take pride in their yichus. One might wonder: how much value should be attached to yichus — pedigree?

When Rabbi DovBer of Mezritch (1704-1772) was a young boy of 5 or 6 years, he once came home from cheider — school — and saw his house burning down and his mother crying bitterly. To comfort her he said, “Mommy, please don’t cry; Hashem will give us a bigger, nicer home.”

His mother replied, “Berele, I am not crying because of our home, but because of our document of ancestry, which describes our beautiful family tree. Now, because of the fire, we no longer have it.”

Upon hearing this, young Berele said, “Even this is not a reason to cry: if our old yichus letter was destroyed, with G‑d’s help, a new yichus will start with me.”

While yichus should be a source of pride, we must not simply live off the “royalties” of yichus, but add new greatness to our families.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are a scion of a prominent and beautiful family. You are justified in being very proud of your ancestry. But remember, the main thing is that you add a fresh page of achievements and accomplishments to your family’s admirable sefer yuchsin — book of pedigree. You can see to it that your family pride themselves not only with their past ancestry, but with the fact that you strengthen and brighten your family torch. In short, do not be a mere follower, but a leader and catalyst.