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Bamidbar - In the Desert


Ever wondered why the children of Israel would first have to wander 40 years in the desert before getting to the Holy Land? If God wanted us to be in Israel, he certainly could have just taken us right there.

Create a miracle that would have the stepping out of the Red Sea into the land. What is in the desert that is so valuable? And why is it in the desert that we are given the Torah on the top of Mount Sinai.

This past weekend was the holiday of Shavuot. I kept wondering what the purpose of was making the study take all night. If all we really needed was to learn, wouldn’t it have been better to hold the holiday all day long? I would have been more awake; the study would have been more alive with energy and creativity. If God just wanted us to learn, he certainly could have waited till morning.

Like the old joke, why did the chicken cross the road? Why did the children of Israel cross the desert? To get to the other side. No one lives in the desert. The people who are there are called ‘nomads’ simply because they don’t live there, they wander. But in leaving Egypt to wander in the desert, the children of Israel come to a mountain and are given the Torah.

The other day, I was walking my dog in the park. A guy with a clipboard stopped me and asked 3 questions. 1. “Have I read the Bible?” The answer is clearly, ‘yes’. 2. “What do you think it means?” I think is a map for ethical living. 3. “What do you think of the concept of ‘grace’? I think now is a good time to tell you I’m Jewish. But I love the concept of ‘Grace’, that somehow, I can reach a place of peace and understanding, gratitude and forgiveness.

So the Children of Israel wander through the desert, they find Mount Sinai and are given the Torah, a map of ethical living, to get to the other side; the Land of Israel. The Rabbi’s teach that each one of us was there at the foot of the mountain. Each one of us were given the Torah. And today that Torah is a map for ethical living.

I am approaching 10 years of continuous sobriety. I know for sure when I left Egypt to wander in my own desert. It turns out the desert has as much meaning for me as the destination. Without the chance to wander and weave, to experiment and grow with each passing milestone. 30 days, 60 days, 90. I couldn’t experience them all at once.

God could have taken me right to the comfort of 10 years. But it is a partnership. Walking to the mountain, receiving the map, continue in the desert till you reach the Promise Land.

Nothing can prepare you for the first steps in the desert. It takes trust, and the helping hand of family or friends. It takes faith, in yourself and in your understanding of God. And it takes willingness. As it says, “I will do and I will hear.” Taking action before I know what I’m doing.

Sometimes it takes all night. For me, the purpose of studying all night is precisely because it is not easy. Taking me out of my comfort zone to explore new feelings and new awakenings. When we study in the daylight it is easier to see the text. At night we have to learn from the stars.

Hope you had a meaningful holiday.

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