The fourth book of the Torah is traditionally called “Bamidbar”, which translates as “wilderness” or “desert”.
Bamidbar records the travails of the Jewish nation over almost forty years, as they meandered through the Sinai desert until they were fully ready to conquer and populate the Land of Israel.
But the word Bamidbar occurs in the very first verse, and has no real connection with the many narratives contained in the rest of the book.
The Midrash picks up on this point, and suggests that the reason Bamidbar launches itself with this evocative word is to convey the rather cryptic message that “whoever does not make themselves like a desert… is not able to acquire wisdom and Torah”.
Rabbi Dunner focuses on this remarkable idea, offering a range of interpretations to help explain how and why resembling a wilderness is so important in the pursuit of Torah knowledge.