Kenneth Cohen

The Yeshiva of the Desert

We learn in the Parsha how Yitro gave his son in-law advice about delegating some of his duties. The burden on Moshe was too great in deciding the various cases brought before him.

Thanks to Yitro, Moshe devised a system of judges to deal with possible disputes that needed to be decided.

Rav Avigdor Miller made an interesting claim about this whole episode. He wondered what kind of cases could possibly come before a court in the desert. Everyone lived in tents and all of their needs were provided for them. The Manna gave them all of the food needed, that came with no effort. And the Clouds of Glory offered protection, and even cleaned and pressed their clothes.

Rabbi Miller felt that the desert was one big Yeshiva. There was very little traveling after the first year. The questions asked before Moshe and his assistants, was to explain the various nuances of the Torah. This was the time when the Oral Law became significant.

The Jews learned then how the Torah cannot possibly be understood without the Oral Law. There are four words that most Jews know their meaning, but they do not appear in the Torah. Our knowledge of them comes from the Oral Law known as “Torah Shbeal Peh.”

The four words are: Tefillin, Get, Etrog, and Shechita, meaning ritual slaughter. Even the Mitzva of lighting Shabbat candles, is based on the Oral Law, and not the Written.

So when we think of the Jews wandering in the desert for forty years, they spent most of that time learning Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at
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