The desert features prominently in ancient Jewish history. It’s the birthplace of the nation: the desert is where the Jews dwelt for 40 years after the Exodus, before their rebirth in the Land of Israel.
In the Bible, we see instances of desert solitude, from Moses to Elijah the prophet. And throughout the ages, the deserts of Israel have been a favorite spot for monks and those seeking a life of quiet contemplation.
What is it about the desert that makes it so well suited to soul searching?
Years ago, I began hiking in the desert for the very first time. I started with the obvious attractions: desert oases and colored sand mountains. But as I spent more and more time hiking there, my love of the desert grew. I began to see beauty in the variegated rock, the cool canyons, and even the plain old desert plains.
In the desert, the sky seems much closer. Every sign of life is more acute – from a single flower blooming on dry desert shrubbery to solitary birdsong, echoing through canyon walls. In the desert, even the weather is more apparent. In the absence of shade trees or caves, it’s just you and the elements.
The sun shines brightly overhead in the daytime (unless you’re lucky enough to catch a cloudy day). Refuge from the heat only comes at night, when the cold makes you wish for a nice bonfire. It feels like you are utterly and completely in touch with the physical world, just as it has been presented to you.
In the desert, there are no distractions. There is silence – palpable, wonderful silence. Your thoughts are free to roam all on their own. And usually, there’s not much cell phone reception to distract you.
All of this desert wonder has brought me to a place where I eagerly anticipate desert season all year long. As soon as the temperatures drop in November, I’m back out there, running towards a world of quiet beauty that many people never get to experience.
So, you see, the desert in Israel isn’t lifelessness and never-ending rolling sand dunes. It is a place to escape to, to sojourn in…to reconnect with a source of life that’s right inside of you.