Thursday, May 21, 2009

Voices in the Wilderness

This week we begin a new book of the Torah. The opening pasuk says "And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness (midbar) of Sinai saying..." Its more than interesting that the Torah refers to the place from which G-d revealed Himself to Moshe. A number of the sages point out the irony that on leaving Egypt a year earlier the Israelites said at the sea " why did you take us out to die in the wilderness", as if the wilderness was only a place for death and destruction. Now the very wilderness that they saw as only a place for their demise turns out to be the source point for the great gift of Divine inspiration.

There is a wonderful Medrash that follows up on this point. By analogy it shows the midbar, wilderness connection we have with Hashem was no accident. The medrash tells of a prince who wanted to come visit his subjects. He went from one settlement to another and everywhere he went the people fled from him. Finally he visited a place devastated and in ruin. There everyone came out to greet him. The prince said "if that is the case here I will build my home, here I will make my capital, from here I will rule my land."

While a nice story, we might well ask why did the people of the inhabited cities flee the Prince?And why would those settled in the ruins come to greet him? And what connection does the analogy have to explain the presence of the Divine in the wilderness as we find in the parsha of this week.

The answer I believe is quite simple. When the prince went to visit the cities of settlement no one wanted to have their lives interrupted. They liked their existence and did not want anything changed. They feared his arrival would bring about upheaval in their lives. They preferred not to see him so as to avoid having to alter the lifestyle they knew.

But in the devastated city the life of the inhabitants was in shambles. They hungered for change and hoped for a new tomorrow. They welcomed the intervention of the Prince whose presence offered hope that they might yet find a new beginning.

Indeed the story aptly fits the reading of this week. Hashem comes to us in the wilderness of our lives. When all is going well, when we feel settled and secure we often really don't want to see Him. We don't want any new directions or challenges to disturb the peace we have made with our existence. We prefer to avoid the intimacy with the Divine for fear the truth that will be revealed to us will require us to do a make-over we have no desire for.

But when we feel ourselves in the midbar, when we feel our lives are in disarray, when we feel we have lost our bearing and know not where to go or who to be, then then we yearn for Hashem, then we seek Him and welcome His presence, then we are open to an encounter with the Divine as a source of hope that we may yet rebuild.

That is why, like the Prince in our story, Hashem makes the wilderness, the place of devastation his home. From the midbar of our lives we are far more likely to hear His call then from the times in our lives when we feel settled. In fact settledness causes us, whether we acknowledge it or not, to flee the true intimacy with Hashem. We don't want to have to change. But the times of upheaval, when we feel most empty and in ruins, in those times we yearn for Hashem and will make any change to foster hope and salvation. Those times Hashem feels wanted. And in those times he makes a home with us who yearn to receive Him.

The midbar of our lives, while so painful and difficult hold a potential for spiritual transformation as no other time. Are you in a midbar now? Will you be in a midbar soon. When next you are there listen for the voice of Hashem. For indeed it is from there that He will speak to you. And more importantly from there you will have have the heart to hear Him.

Chag Samayach on Yom Yerushalayim! Shabbat Shalom!

1 comment:

  1. As usual, very beautiful Ira. Midbar, has also the same letters as Medaber, talk, speak , etc. Not only wilderness. As with any place in this world, the desert is one manifestation of Hashem's creation or an allusion to something bigger than we can fathom.
    The Midrash of the Prince is very good, but the difference resides in the fact that Hashem is also called Hamakom ( Rashi uses it at all times ). Therefore, He does reside not only in the Midbar but within each one of us. We can Medaber to him at all times not only when he comes to us. After all, weren't we created Be Tzalmenu ki Dmutenu?. In another vein, Shavuot, is the only Chag where a date is not given specifically. Pesach, Kippur and the rest all have a date ( the 15 day of the month,, the 10th day and so on ). Shavuot does not. We only have to count 7 weeks ( purification really ) from Pesach and we arrive to Matan Torah. The reason is obvious to me, every day, regardless of where and when, we have to be ready for Kabalat Torah and Ol Malchut . Chag Sameach, I truly enjoy reading you. Marcelo