Universalism and its Dangers

Parashat Bemidbar

The Jewish liturgical calendar is set up to ensure that each year, parashat Bemidbar (“In the wilderness”) is read before the festival of Shavuot, usually on the Shabbat right before the holiday. The connection between the parashah and the holiday is not immediately obvious, but interpreters often focus on why God chose to reveal the Torah in the wilderness. According to some midrashim, the Torah was given in the desert to emphasize its universal availability. This and its opposition forces us to confront some of the most basic questions of Jewish theology—and for that matter, some of the most complex questions about pluralism, universalism, and tolerance. (5755)