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    The name B’midbar – B’midbar

    In English it is the Book of Numbers because it describes a census of the people. In Hebrew it is B’midbar – literally, “In the Wilderness”.

    The question arises of why midbar is a wilderness. Does it come from dabber, to speak? There is a possible link; Rashi calls it Sefer Vay’dabber, “The Book of ‘And He spoke'”, since Vay’dabber is the first Hebrew word of the book.

    An alternative derivation, which may be closer to the mark, links midbar with d-v-r, a pasture, since the wilderness is a place where animals graze. In this sense the word should not be translated “desert” but “wild place”.

    Where the early verses of B’reshit make a distinction between chaos and order, the word midbar suggests a distinction between wilderness and civilisation. One might even say that there is a distinction between midbar as wilderness where there are wild noises, and midbar as speech, which connotes social living and orderly communication.

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