The wilderness in the Torah is both a geographic place and a figurative region.
Moses, in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, speaking “to all Israel,” recapitulates the journeys they have taken. He reminds them that God, condemning the generation that came out of Egypt, told them to turn back from the Promised Land after the incident with the spies and wander in the wilderness until they died. For me, Deuteronomy 1:40 is a truly evocative commandment:
But as for you, turn, and take your journey into the wilderness.
Moses then reminds all Israel, in Deuteronomy 2:7, that in their previous wanderings in the wilderness, “the Lord thy God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”
In rabbinic tradition we were all standing at Sinai, and so we should all understand these passages in Deuteronomy to mean that we as individuals have been commanded in our lives to take a journey into the wilderness and that in this journey, we will lack nothing essential. We also should remember that in this figurative wilderness, we will be “afflicted” and “tested” in order “to know what was in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 8:2) And in this wilderness, Isaiah 35:5-7 tells us
For the last few months I have been engaged in translating, with Grazyna Drabik, the poems of the wonderful Polish poet Anna Kamienska (1920-1986). Kamienska has recorded what she saw when her eyes were opened on her journey into the wilderness, and she has done so with emotion and intelligence. I’ll quote from her poems to illustrate some things that are there to be experienced in the wilderness in which we have to take our journey.
There are deaths in the wilderness. In this early poem, Kamienska is talking about the death of her mother:
There are dreams:
And later on, after Kamienska had abandoned punctuation, she did write about a bird:
And of course you can pray in the wilderness:
And of course we can be alone with ourselves in the wilderness:
And there are rights:
In fact, Kamienska tells us, in the wilderness we are always “At the Border of Paradise,” where:
And, in the second of two poems inspired by Israeli poet Leah Goldberg, Kamienska gives us a wilderness ideal: