The fourth book of the Torah, known in English as the book of Numbers, in Hebrew is known as Bemidbar which means, "In the Wilderness [of Sinai]." On a psychological level, "wandering in the desert" can represent a state in which we have become unmoored from our lives...
Midbar in Biblical Hebrew means Wilderness, particularly the arid wilderness of the Desert.
Central to our people’s formative experience was the life of the desert nomad described in the Torah, from our earliest patriarchs traversing the Negev to the forty years our people wandered in the Sinai. Prophets frequented the desert as a place to escape persecution as well as a space to commune with God. Two thousand years ago, the Dead Sea Sect, thought to be the Essenes, retreated to the Judean wilderness desert from the turmoil of Jerusalem and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Midbar presents two faces in the Torah. In one sense it is the opposite of the Garden; it is untamed and uncultivated, awesome and dangerous. The desert is a symbol of all those times that we lose our way and wander aimlessly, as individuals or as a society.
The other aspect of Midbar is a positive one. It represents openness, possibility, receptivity. Wandering in the desert was the paradigm of letting go and letting God. The Torah was given in the Midbar; is it a coincidence that the same Hebrew letters מדבר that spell Midbar, desert wilderness, also spell Medaber, speech? The emptiness of the desert and its vast spaces and the awe it evokes allow for communication with the divine.
Deserts are important ecosystems and supply many benefits to the earth. Three hundred million people worldwide live in deserts. We must respond to global climate change lest spreading deserts and devastating droughts characterize our future on planet Earth.
Wander this Gateway of Midbar to explore the symbol of Wilderness and Desert in Jewish tradition and in your life.
Choose your favorite Pathway, or follow them in order:
The Book of Wilderness
Make Yourself a Desert Wilderness
Freed from slavery in Egypt, our people entered the Midbar, the desert wilderness. Far from civilization, in the shadow of a mountain, we received divine revelation amidst the sparse landscape of earth, air, fire, and water.A beautiful Midrash teaches that the open...
The desert oasis is an important biblical image. The beauty and life-giving power of water in the desert suggest a source of spiritual as well as physical refreshment. Ein Gedi, Spring of the Goat Kid, an oasis near the Dead Sea, is known as the place that future king...
Building a Sukkah, symbol of desert wanderings
The week-long fall harvest festival of Sukkot is celebrated by building a temporary outdoor hut, the sukkah, and spending as much time as possible living in it. This annual ritual re-enacts the lives of our ancestors as desert wanderers (and later as farmers...
Eco-Meaning of the Sukkot Plants
by Rabbi David Seidenberg The four species of the lulav [waved in blessing and praise on the holiday of Sukkot] represent the four types of ecosystems in the land of Israel: desert (date palm), hills (myrtle), river corridors (willow), and sh'feilah or lowlands (etrog...
BeMidbar: Finding God in the Wilderness
"My time in the desert has helped me understand why God so often seems to speak to people when they are in the wilderness." Rabbi Barry Leff And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai …Numbers 1:1 ...I’ve been spending a lot of time in the desert lately....