God Waits in the Desert

The Talmud also writes there that the mouth of a fetus is compared to a strand of hair. This teaches that one’s spiritual level depends on what he says. In Tehillim we find, “I believed as I speak” — words of emunah build one’s emunah and bitachon and draws him near to God. But speaking profane words distances one from the purpose of creation. How much more so do words of slander and falsehood! The verse commands, ‘‫ — מדבר שקר תרחק‬ Distance yourself from falsehood.’” Rav Zusia of Anapoli, zy”a, interpreted this phrase in a novel way: “If you speak falsehood, you will be distanced from God!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Eyes, the Nose and the Mouth”
Niddah 25

“They went down to the pit alive” (Bamidbar 16:30) – even in the grave they think they are alive. There is a blessing contained in “They went down to the pit alive,” as with “the sons of Korach did not die,” (Ibid. 26:11.) – “a place was established for them (In Gehinom “the pit,” Megilla 14a.) and they repented.” For teshuva, repentance, is effective only while one is still alive. This, then, is the blessing – that even in the pit they will live, and they will be able to effect teshuva.

“Today’s Day”
Tuesday, Sivan 26, 5703
Torah lessons: Chumash: Korach, Shlishi with Rashi
Tehillim: 119, 97 to end.
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

I sometimes get kind of cranky about a life of faith. I sometimes forget about what I’ve already learned about faith and trust. I’ve recently been reminded of something I first read on Derek Leman’s blog, but the reminder didn’t come from Derek:

The call of faith is hard, the task seems impossible, the place we are called to seems desolate, the day of regeneration seems far in the future, but this faith is its own reward during the long delay.

I’m reminded that we’re to have faith in the desert. But while it’s easy to declare that the desert represents the faithless world we live in, in fact, the desert is inside of us each time we doubt.

Each time I doubt.

Ironically, the desert is a good place to be when I’m in doubt. There are few distractions. I imagine a sandstorm. The wind is hot. I have coverings over most of my body including around my eyes so I’m not blinded by the sand. The sun is obscured from my vision as a hazy, blurry ball of yellow and white but the power of its heat is oppressive.

And there is only me and the wind and the sand and the heat and somewhere beyond, the vast reaches of the desert, all but lifeless.

And there is God.

He’s not actually apparent. I talk to Him, though. I complain to Him. I wonder where He is. I imagine that He’s contracted Himself; He’s withdrawn from the part of the universe where I live, He’s left me to swing in the breeze or in this case, the wind and sand.

Not really, of course. The reality of His existence is that He’s always “standing at my shoulder” so to speak, never far away at all, no matter how transparent He seems to be to my failing perceptions. But it’s as if He has withdrawn, like a silent lover who has backed away in order to give me time to process some sort of quarrel between us.

Not that He’s ever argued with me. I do all the arguing. That is, until I realize He has left me and I am utterly alone and abandoned in the desert of my soul.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. –Psalm 22:1-2 (ESV)

The wonderful thing about being alone is that you have time to think. There are no distractions, not even the presence of God (though He is still present). The desert is comforting, even the heat is welcome; the sweat, the smell of dry things. There is still rock beneath my feet so my footing is sound.

The quote from Derek’s blog says in part, “but this faith is its own reward during the long delay.” Faith is a companion in the desolation, a faint voice I can just barely hear over the banshee winds. Though I feel as if the God in whom I have faith is “far off and the road to reach him is long” and arduous, I am also reminded that my desert can be watered and flourish, but only when I’m ready to return. Only when I want to begin the journey again (or is this part of the journey?).

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. –Psalm 23:2-3 (ESV)

But that’s only a mirage which has yet to arrive; an oasis that will only come when the Messiah does, or when my faith in the Messiah returns.

This week’s Torah portion records the failure of the Children of Israel to realize the promise and the dream. They lack faith and do not take possession of the land of Canaan. They are condemned to wander the vast wilderness for forty years, dying one by one along the way. Miriam, Aaron, and even finally Moses all perish. Only Joshua and Caleb from that generation survive and only because of steadfast faith and trust.

The very last verses of the Parashah say this:

The Lord said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God. –Numbers 15:37-41 (JPS Tanakh)

The commandment of tzitzit is directly connected back to failure because man needs tangible reminders of an intangible God. Faith and trust are shadows in the mist as well, but the tzitzit are real enough. They are not faith, but for the Children of Israel, they serve as a visible reminder that God is as near as the four corners of their garments.

Christians don’t wear tzitzit since, among other things, the failure to possess the land and the subsequent possession of Israel by the Jewish people are commandments for the Jews, not for us. However, our need for faith and trust is the same. Our need to be reminded of God is the same. Where is God when we need Him? He’s standing apart, giving us time to realize we need to return to Him; letting us stew in our graves while we decide to repent and live.

A life of faith isn’t all that easy. It’s not even so much that the world around me thinks I’m a superstitious fool for believing in the providence of a God that I cannot see and touch and who allows horror and tragedy to abound on his earth while we believers declare His undying love for humanity. It’s the desert inside where the battle is fought. It’s where I fight with God. It’s where I fight with myself. It’s where I have one lover’s quarrel after another with the One who is the lover of my soul.

So He periodically leaves me alone in the desert with the wind and the sand and the heat. But he provides me with solid rock to walk on so I won’t lose my footing or my way.

The desert is a good place for me to ponder my lot and my fate. Occasionally the wind dies down a bit and I’m temporarily given a small sheep to tend, so I have something else to care for. This is God reminder that He cares for me in the same way.

And God waits at a distance, but always watching me, ready to return to my side in an instant should I but say the word.

And He waits.

6 thoughts on “God Waits in the Desert”

  1. The deserted empty place should be familiar to everyone, but most people do not speak of it. Perhaps they do not notice the sense of dryness that comes in the middle of a test we do not understand we are undergoing.

    I know that I frequently am confused by what the world throws at me to cope with, and often the places I go into in search of light present me with alternatives I do not want in exchange for my comfortable place sitting at the foot of G-d’s Throne.

    Still, in my hunger to look at G-d and things of G-d from every possible angle, I am frequently in the midst of dryness of the desert, and beaten down with the heat and the stinging pain of my questions, and the doubts they raise. I do not know what piques my interest to go in search for answers I did not know I had questions about. I just know that I am frequently doing so, and finding my way through the desert place is complicated, and painful, and yet so necessary to me.

    And every time I am in the desert, I see the choice plainly for a moment…to go on sitting where I am used to being, or to stretch out for more understanding, and risk my comfort. I go ahead, and risk my comfort, and look into and at things that raise doubts in me and confusion, and even fear, for I do not understand what I am looking at…it is my lack of understanding that leads me to look for answers, but the answers are not generally a comfortable fit with my beliefs or current understanding.

    Even though I do leave my safe place, and look, and carefully compare all that I am finding to what G-d has already given me to know, in the end, I always have to declare, “YHVH is G-d, and Yeshua is my Savior”, and know that in them I am safe. I don’t feel safe. I feel confused and am in doubt, and I see that in myself, and I declare, “YHVH is G-d, and Yeshua is my Savior”. Every time, I reach the place of confusion and doubt, I say, “YHVH is G-d, and Yeshua is my Savior”.

    I may not find out much in my continuing quest for more truth, and fuller understanding, and each time, it is a risk to my level of comfort, the safe place I claim in Mashiach at the foot of G-d’s throne. Yet the trust that I have in YHVH and Yeshua lets me explore questions, and not get lost in the desert, with the doubts, and the dryness, and the confusion. That trust gets me through the days of uncertainty as to whether I will even survive to see another day, when the world is in turmoil, and the path before me seems very dangerous or uncertain.

    G-d is always there, no matter how silent He may be, and how, for a time, I cannot sense even the Ruach haKodesh inside me. I rest in that fact, that G-d is always there to keep me grounded in faith and trust, no matter what odd place I am spiritually exploring, so that every time I feel I am getting in over my head, I declare that “YHVH is G-d, and Yeshua is my Savior”. And I am back, safely sitting at the foot of G-d’s throne, feeling the warmth within me of G-d’s presence through the Ruach haKodesh.

    I claim my trust back to me by declaring “YHVH is G-d, and Yeshua is my Savior”, and I lean on them every time I am afraid, or in doubt, or confused. I proclaim my trust, and it is so, every time. It has taken me 19 years since I learned enough to begin to practice my declaration, but it is so, the moment I declare my trust in YHVH.

  2. I think most people don’t mention their “desert experiences” because they don’t want other people to know about them. Especially in the community of faith, it’s easy to worry about being judged, as if only you have ever felt empty and alone. I suspect the experience is far more common than we realize, but no one likes to talk about it. Which is why I talk about it.

  3. Having no warmth or comfort from the Holy One is unpleasant to the extreme, even when you are well grounded in your belief in Yeshua, and YHVH as Creator and El Shaddai, YHVH Savaot, and YHVH Yirai. The separation into the ground of your testing in the desert places…one does not always know why we get there, or for all the reasons we remain, seemingly alone, and bereft.

    The only way to recover that I have found is to firmly state my trust in G-d, regardless of what I sense, or do not feel at the time, and despite the fear of being lost there…eternally separated from G-d. It is the defiant declaration of trust in G-d that re-orients me, even if I still remain in the dry unpleasant place for a time, and the more I declare my trust, the closer I get to the edge of the desert.

    We often are fighting against our own perception of our circumstances, testing and temptation, and as if these very real feelings are but an illusion, the more we cry out to G-d in our dry, wandering, confused state, and state out loud that we trust Him, the more quickly we leave the dry desert places. The declaration of our allegiance to Him, that we trust Him, and His desired destiny for us, while praying for Him to change us into what He would have us be, the quicker we get out of the valley of weeping, or if we are to remain there for a while, turn it into a place of springs.

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