photograph of the sinai desert
(Sinai Desert, Wikimedia Commons)

Alone in the Desert

Is the desert a place of desolation, or a place of possibility?

The God of Israel became real to the Israelites in the desert. A seemingly barren world gave birth to a people and a mission. To some however, the desert is not charged with meaning, but empty and frightening. Naturalist Edward Abbey from his book Desert Solitaire:

“Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of the primal desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the antehuman, that other world which frightens not through danger or hostility but in something far worse — its implacable indifference.”

For Abbey, the desert embodies indifference to humanity. For the Jews, it embodied the sculpting hand of God. Is your world silent, or charged with a sense of purpose? Is the cosmos implacably indifferent, or do the heavens “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:2)?

Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

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