The desert has always had an important place in Jewish Life. In the Torah, after the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, they spent forty years wandering in the Sinai Desert before entering the Promised Land. And it was in that desert that they came to Mt. Sinai and had the awesome experience of encountering God and receiving the Ten Commandments. And so it is that tomorrow night begins the festival of Shavuot which we will observe on Monday morning; the festival which commemorates the receiving of the Ten Commandments and the entire Torah.
And in modern times, the Jewish people returning to the land of Israel at the turn of the century knew that they were encountering a land that was largely a desert. And as we travel through Israel today, we see a near-miraculous transformation of that desert. We see cities and playgrounds, lush and abundant fields yielding fruits and vegetables. We see a desert that has been brought to life through vision, persistence and yes, a large measure of faith that human effort could and would result in blessing.
Yes, our lives also are filled with different challenges; most of which are not evident to other people. Who among us has not felt as though we were in a wilderness of uncertainty and emptiness? But regardless of the circumstances, we know that life demands of us that we go forward and that we ever-renew our visions and hopes. For to live without hope is to dwell in the “desert” of despair.
In the “Book of the Wilderness” which we begin this Shabbat, opens by relating that God spoke in the wilderness. The wilderness that is life…the sometimes perilous setting that surely has the capacity to strip away our pettiness, our pride, our self-centeredness. The setting that can make us into softer, and more giving and more faithful people. The kind of people who can hear the “voice” that ever-beckons us to cause the divine to emerge from our deeds of goodness and righteousness.