The three major chagim, holidays, of the Jewish year — Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot — all commemorate deeds that took place in the wilderness. They have agricultural significance as well, tying them to the land, but their origin reminds us that we were shaped by the desert.
The Rabbis say one must make oneself as open as the desert to receive Torah. A cramped and walled-in spirit cannot learn the way one should. Best for Torah study is an expansive and questioning mind. In the wilderness one sees not the products of human beings but the vast star-studded sky at night and stretching sands during the day. The power of creation is apparent and palpable.
Finally, in the wilderness people have to rely on one another. The Israelites became a nation that learned to care for each other through the trials of the desert. Once they had liberated their minds, had experienced the grandeur of God’s creation and come to understand that they were on this journey together, they were ready to enter the land, and celebrate the holidays God had given.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).