Miraculous Oasis

The desert that our ancestors traveled was arid and infertile, inhospitable to all forms of life. Despite their forty-year sojourn in the desert, our ancestors survived and even thrived. G‑d provided manna, fresh water and a protective canopy of clouds, thus creating a miraculous oasis, a rare climate for life.

Two Questions

Transforming the desert climate to create a climate hospitable to life was a deliberate miracle. It is an axiom of Jewish faith that G‑d does not perform a miracle in vain. Was this forty-year transformation of the natural order really necessary, when G‑d could have simply led our ancestors directly into the Promised Land and thus obviated the need for a miracle?1

The biblical narrative is not simply a recounting of history. Torah is a book of instruction, and the episodes described in the Torah have relevance to our lives even in today's modern age. What is the modern day relevance of our ancestors' sojourn in the desert 3,300 years ago?

G‑d Equals Life

The difference between dry desert ground and cool, soft soil is that the latter nourishes life and the former obstructs it. The earth was created by G‑d for the purpose of nourishing and supporting vegetation. The desert's arid climate obstructs this flow of life. This obstruction has symbolic meaning.

Life is synonymous with G‑dliness, for G‑d is the source of all life. The soil that nourishes life is therefore symbolic of the realm of G‑dliness, where divine energy pulsates with life.

G‑d continuously radiates His energy, but it does not always reach us. Unclean spiritual forces, called kelipah ("husks" or "shells"), obstruct this natural flow and conceal G‑d's presence from us. The mystics saw the desert as synonymous with kelipah, standing in diametric opposition to Israel and Jerusalem, the seat of G‑d's imminent presence.

Entering the Desert Before the Holy Land

Before our ancestors were spiritually able to enter the Holy Land and absorb its divine energy, they were required to transform their collective kelipah. We each have a kelipah that dulls our heart and mind. It obstructs our natural desire to perform G‑d's commandments and study his Torah. By concealing G‑d's energy from us, it works to divorce us from G‑d.

It is this kelipah that lures man to temptation. This kelipah is our inner demon that drives us to sin. It tempts us with forbidden pleasures and fuels avaricious appetites. It is a formidable opponent that is not easily overcome.

Our sages have long proclaimed that were it not for G‑d's support we could not prevail in this struggle. As our ancestors prepared to enter the Holy Land they received such divine assistance in the guise of their forty-year march across the desert.

The desert, synonymous with the powers of kelipah, threatened to rise against our ancestors' quest for holiness and nearly overcame them. By transforming the desert and creating an oasis of life, G‑d enabled our ancestors to transcend their personal kelipah and form an inner reservoir of G‑dlines. Forty years of subduing the desert proved enough. As our sages taught, it takes forty years to truly ascend to a higher plane.2

Transforming the Personal Desert

Every morning upon waking from sleep, a Jew must pray to G‑d. The hour of prayer is a holy time, it is our private little Israel, the Holy Land that we must enter and fully engage. But before we enter our little Israel, we must transform our desert. We do this by fulfilling the mitzvah of charity.

Charity is a powerful tool in our struggle against our own desert. Parting with hard-earned funds is difficult. After all, we invested a great deal of energy in amassing our wealth and we are loath to part with it and bestow it upon those who have not earned it.

Forcing ourselves to contribute to charity helps to transform our kelipah. It helps to break the iron grip of selfishness. Once we have conquered our desert, it is possible to truly enter our little Israel and fully engage in prayer.

Why did G‑d create us this way? Why did He not give us a docile nature that has no demons to overcome, that naturally wants to obey His commandments and fulfill His will?

Obstruction Creates Intensity

Because smooth waters lack intensity. To witness the awesome power of water you must first obstruct its flow. Building a dam that obstructs the water's natural flow raises the water pressure. When the dam is finally overrun, one can witness the frenzied momentum of the water's headlong rush.

In a similar vein, without the struggle and spiritual challenge it is nigh impossible to stimulate the depth of our commitment to G‑d. By endowing us with our own little kelipah against whom we must struggle in our quest for piety and sanctity, we are given the opportunity to dig deep within ourselves and stimulate the depth of our connection with G‑d.

Temptation stimulates the soul's natural desire to overcome temptation. The stronger the temptation, the stronger the desire to overcome it. As the pressure builds so does our commitment, till we reach a point of frenzied desperation. That is when we gather the reserves of our energy and catapult ourselves over the obstruction, in a headlong rush into G‑d's passionate embrace.