High Noon. The Desert. Hot air rises on the horizon like a cobra under a snake-charmers spell.
In this heat, everything floats. Nothing is distinct. Everything shimmers, melts, and re-forms into different shapes in front of your eyes.
An Unformed World
No one is certain why and how mirages occur and why they happen only in some places and not in others. Scientists postulate and theorize, but the mirage remains shrouded in mystery. What is the connection between the mirage and the desert? Is it mere metrology, or is there some deeper connection?
The Closest Encounter
On the sixth of Sivan, nearly 3500 years ago, the Torah was given on a small mountain in the middle of a large desert called Sinai.
Why was the Torah was given in the desert?
If the Creator decided to give over the blueprint of His creation in a desert, it must be that the desert is the quintessential place for the Torahs giving. To say that G-d could just have easily given the Torah in a shop or a restaurant would be to accuse the Creator of a certain sloppiness, G-d forbid. In other words, the desert must represent the exact necessary elements of place for the Torah to enter this world.
What is it about the desert that makes it the ideal place for the Torah to be given?
Formless And Empty
"In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was void (tohu) and formless (bohu) and darkness was on the face of the deep." (Bereshet 1:1)
The way we see the world now, is not the way it looked at the dawn of creation. To arrive at the world as we know it, creation went through two prior primordial stages: tohu and bohu.
Everything physical is a marriage of form and matter. Matter is the raw material. Form molds matter to give it its specific shape. The form, the shape of something, reveals its purpose. The purpose of something is its spiritual component. The purpose of a spoon is to stir. Its shape expresses its purpose.
When G-d created this world, He first brought into existence physical matter whose form could not yet be defined, whose spiritual dimension was not yet revealed. That substance contained in it the myriad potential of everything that might be formed from it. The ancient Greeks called this primordial material "hiuli". The Torah calls it tohu. This was the first tiny dot of creation ex nihilo. Pure matter not garbed by form.
Tohu is connected to the word meaning regret. For if you would try to give this formless substance a name, immediately you would regret your decision, and give it another name. This second name you would also regret as insufficient, and another, and so forth, for this elemental matter could not be garbed with a name. As it had no form, as its purpose was as yet undefined, it could have no name. Tohu was the potential as yet un-actualized.
There's Something Here
Then, within this primordial matter, like the blocks of a building, form began to emerge. This second stage of creation was called bohu, from the two words: bo meaning "in it" and hu meaning "there is." In other words, within the limitless potential of pure matter, it was possible to say, "There is in it." "Something is here." A recognizable shape had taken hold on shapeless matter. The actual was starting to emerge from the potential.
The mirage is the most distant echo of the world of tohu, a world where nothing is distinct and all things are possible. It is a throwback to that first stage of creation. Form seems to dissolve and re-form like a melting chocolate bar. Temporarily, form seems to have lost its dominion over matter. The world of the actual liquefies into myriad possibilities once again.
The Ultimate Shape
Precisely for this same reason, the Torah was given in the desert. The Torah is the ultimate shape of the world, its ultimate form and purpose its spiritual component. Therefore it must enter the world in the place where there is the least form. That place is the desert.
Sources: Ramban on the Torah - Bereshet 1:1; Thanks to Rabbi Chananya Greenwald
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