Wilderness (Midbar)

מדבר

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.

 

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

The Book of Wilderness

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...

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...

Desert Oasis

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....

Guided Meditation: Miriam’s Well in the Desert

Enjoy this guided meditation on your inner Wellsprings, based on the legends of Miriam's Well, written and read by Rabbi Julie Danan. The imagery in the meditation is based on teachings from the Midrash and ancient Jewish lore. Featured Image: Natural spring mikveh...

Learning to Love the Desert

Long ago I learned to love the desert. I never saw myself as a desert person, much prefering the verdant trees and rivers of the Texas Hill Country or the piney slopes of the Rocky Mountains to what I saw as the dry ugly plains of West Texas. But living in a desert...

Environmental Apprenticeship in the Arava Desert

  In Israel, you can experience the beauty of the Arava Desert and a unique community at Kibbutz Lotan, whether at their desert guest house and spa or their environmental educational programs, like the Green Apprenticeship, in which my youngest daughter...

Wilderness Heals Us and We Heal It

Midbar as Wilderness not only protects the health of our planet, but also provide venues of emotional healing for human beings, including... Disadvantaged and at-risk inner city kids (and here's another) Veterans suffering from stress or PTSD People recovering from...

Ritual: Your verse in the Bible, and mine

יְשֻׂשׂ֥וּם מִדְבָּ֖ר וְצִיָּ֑ה וְתָגֵ֧ל עֲרָבָ֛ה וְתִפְרַ֖ח כַּחֲבַצָּֽלֶת The wilderness and the parched land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. --Isaiah 35:1   There is an old custom to conclude the Amidah (standing prayer) by...

Inspiration at a Thornbush

Moses' first encounter with the Divine in the wilderness is at bush that burns but is not consumed. According to the Midrash, the choice of a "lowly thornbush" is God's way of showing that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence can be found anywhere (Exodus...

My Mother’s Spiritual Journey

My daughter Arielle once bought me a bookmark at a local store, embellished with a quotation from Henry David Thoreou, "In Wildness is the Preservation of the World."I knew that saying from a poster that we had at our Ranch in Texas, that had accompanied a Sierra Club...

Passover in the Desert with Wilderness Torah

Passover in the Desert with Wilderness Torah  is an annual multi-generational celebration that takes the spring Festival of Freedom back to its wilderness and dessert origins. The rustic communal camping event takes place during the last few days of the Passover...

Sharing Circle: Wilderness and Desert

Wilderness and Desert Experience How do you empty your mind of clutter and find the awe? Have you had a formative or healing experience in the desert, or in any wilderness setting? What does the Midbar mean in your life, whether as an actual location or a state of...