Tag Archives: abandonment

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.