40 Days in the Wilderness

Dear BaMidbar Community,

For the first time in 15 months, today we welcome students back to BaMidbar for the return to in-person, immersive, wilderness-based therapy programs. Students are embarking on a 40-day journey into the wilderness.

In Hebrew, the word bamidbar is translated as “in the wilderness,” or “in the desert,” but the word itself comes from the Hebrew root דבר, which means, “to speak.” In the Zohar, a Jewish mystical text, we learn that while the Jewish people were in Egypt, they lost their ability to tell their own stories (Zohar Va’era, 2:25b). During that time, they were not only physical slaves, but slaves to another person’s narrative. When they left Egypt, they spent forty years in the midbar – the wilderness – and it was there that they regained their ability to speak. The Jewish people found their voice, began to establish their national identity, and started to write a new narrative as an independent people.

In the Torah, an unlikely hero emerges as the Jewish people enter the wilderness. The Israelites reach the Red Sea, crossing from Mitzrayim – Egypt – into the midbar – the wilderness. As Moses prays, the Israelites weep and the Egyptians pursue. At this point, our hero emerges. The Talmud, a rabbinic commentary on the Torah, tells us that Nachshon ben Aminadav walks into the sea, not knowing what the future holds, but knowing that he cannot return to the slavery of Egypt. As Nachshon moves forward, taking a leap of faith, the sea parts and a pathway emerges. God speaks to Moses saying, “There’s a time for prayer and a time for action.” Moses had prayed, and nothing happened. But a young and unknown individual took a leap of faith. By stepping into the sea and rejecting the constraints of his past, he embraced the infinite possibilities that lay before him.

Image: A student looks up at a cliff in the distance

At BaMidbar, each of our students is a Nachshon, initiating their own leap into the unknown to embrace a future full of infinite possibilities. The past 15 months have been challenging for all of us, and it is hard to leave a challenging situation. As challenging as the present may be, it provides a source of comfort in its familiarity. By coming to BaMidbar, students are taking a chance, saying, “Even if I don’t know where this path will take me, I know I need to move forward.”

It is not because of Moses that the sea parts and the Jews begin their journey to freedom. It is the unassuming, the Nachshons of this world, who change the future of the Jewish people forever. Just as the Jews found their voice in the wilderness, each of our students at BaMidbar is a Nachshon, finding their voice and becoming the hero of their own narrative.

Join me as we welcome our students today to BaMidbar, and embark on a 40-day journey into the wilderness.

With gratitude,

Jory Hanselman Mayschak & the BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy Team