We speak a lot in our synagogue. Between every aliya I provide a précis or a short explanation of the subject matter we are reading and, apart from one dear, departed member who used to grumble that he’d come to attend synagogue, not school, nobody seems to complain. For most of us Hebrew is not our first language, and the intermittent translations and interpretations spice up what could otherwise be seen as a rather long and tedious part of the service. Everyone is welcome to participate in the discussions that ensue, while the thorniest issues are held over to be debated at the kiddush.

Why waste forty years trudging around a barren landscape where no one lived and nothing grew?This time last year I was discussing the Jews wanderings through the desert, when one of our regulars asked me a fascinating question: Sure the Jews made a mistake and were condemned to wait forty years before entering Israel, but why did they have to stay in the desert?

I couldn’t come up with a good answer on the spot so I fobbed him off by asking what exactly he expected them to do, check-in to the Middle East Club-Med?

Notwithstanding my prevarication, it really was a good question; G‑d’s refusal to allow the Jews into the Promised Land seemingly did not preclude them from settling down in the interim in some other country or city. Why waste forty years trudging around a barren landscape where no one lived and nothing grew?

Get on with it!

A related query could seemingly be directed to G‑d for His seemingly inefficient and wasteful treatment of the Tribe of Levi. The smallest of the tribes, compromising less than 4% of the nation, they had been singled out for the awesome responsibility of serving G‑d in the Temple and carrying the Tabernacle through the desert. From the age of thirty the life of every Levite was exclusively dedicated to G‑d.

Why wait so long to get a start in life? A recent article in the New York Times Magazine detailed how many dot-com entrepreneurs are already onto their third or fourth start-up by the relatively advanced age of thirty, and most Nobel Prize-winning physicists and mathematicians have completed their best work by then. The average athlete is washed up or at least well into decline by this age, and wasn’t the motto of the '60’s generation “Never trust anyone over thirty”?

There is no such thing as dead-time

The challenge was to live full, rich and active lives, irrespective of their surroundingsAnalyzing one’s position in the journey through life could easily lead to despondency over the barren vistas that meet the eye. It is too easy to fall into a rut of depression, convinced that one is sidelined on the field of opportunity, trudging through a desert of wasted prospects and missed chances. The challenge that G‑d set down for the Jews during their sojourn in the wilderness was to refuse to succumb to these demons of doubt, and to live full, rich and active lives, irrespective of their surroundings. The forty years they spent there were productive precisely because they were in a desert; what greater triumph of the human spirit can there be than transforming a wasteland into a habitation for a nation?

Even if one has waited till relatively late to even begin the struggle, do not despair; the commitment to serve and the determination to achieve will guarantee you the opportunity to succeed in your mission to bring life where there had previously been nothing but the decay of defeat.