High Noon. The Desert. Hot air rising on the horizon like a cobra under a snake charmer's spell.

In this heat, everything floats. Everything shimmers, melts, and re-forms in front of your eyes.

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?

On the sixth of Sivan, over 3,300 years ago, the Torah was given on a small mountain in the middle of a large desert called Sinai.

If the Creator decided to give over the blueprint of Creation in a desert, it must be that the desert is the quintessential place for the Torah's giving. To say that God could just have easily given the Torah in a shop or a restaurant would be to accuse the Creator of a certain sloppiness, God forbid. The desert, therefore, must represent the exact necessary elements of place for the Torah to enter the world.

What is it about the desert that makes it the ideal place for the Torah to be given?

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was void [tohu] and formless [bohu] and darkness on the face of the deep" (Bereishit 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.

On the first day of Creation, God 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 "chiuli." The Torah calls it "tohu." This was the first tiny dot of creation ex nihilo. Pure matter ungarbed 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 unactualized.

Then, within this primordial matter, form began to emerge. This second stage of Creation was called "bohu," from the two words bo, "in it," and hu, "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 was starting to materialize from shapeless matter. The actual had started to emerge from the potential.

It was for this reason that the Torah was given in the desert. The Torah is the "shape" of the world - its ultimate form and purpose. In order for this form to take effect to the maximum extent, it must enter the world in the place where there is the least form - in the desert.

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, where form seems to dissolve and re-form like a melting chocolate bar. In the mirage, form seems to have lost its dominion over matter, and the actual liquefies into a myriad of possibilities once again.

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.