Desert Survival & Judaism

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I was recently on a desert survival workshop through Tour Adumim in the Judean Desert. It was a good workshop and highly recommended. But I learned more than just desert survival skills.
The first thing that we did was to assess our situation. We looked at our surroundings and then at each other. Some of us knew one another somewhat from the neighborhood and others were totally new. But within three minutes we assessed strengths that each person brought with them that day that could help us if we were truly stuck in the desert.
Just think for a second. Within about three minutes without really knowing the person next to us we said something positive about how that person could help the group survive. I think in general we are too fast to find negative aspects about people we meet.  Perhaps we expect good qualities and therefore take them for granted, so we find them harder to see. Or maybe we are conditioned to look for things we don’t like. But things we don’t like aren’t going to help us. It would not have helped our situation to point out characteristics that people did not possess. And for sure it would have stressed us out. Likewise, in life, it does not help us to look for, or dwell on things, that we do not like. And we will be happier people if we control ourselves to look for the good qualities in people and in situations.
We also learned how to come together as a group to scare off a large animal. Many of us will never be face-to-face with a large animal in the wild, but we do come face-to-face with situations that seem to threaten us. And just as we learned to be seen as one large entity to frighten off a large animal, getting together with people and talking about situations and coming up with a plan can help in our everyday lives.
The leader also taught us how to tell direction without using a compass. We put a stick in the ground and watched its shadow move. Many of us, at some point in our lives, find ourselves without direction.  We would be happy if we could find a simple technique to guide us in which direction to turn. Some situations are obviously easier than others. But, what we all can do is slow down and assess our situation and find at least the beginning of which direction to take.
We also learned how to stay on a straight path so that we could find our way out once we figured out which direction to go. Knowing where to go is not enough. We also need a plan how to actually arrive at our destination.  Sometimes we know where we want to go, but have no idea how to actually get there. Other times we think we can just take off and we’ll find our way. This is not necessarily true in the desert, in the forest, or in life. If we just “take off” we may not end up where we want to go. We need to have a plan or we can easily lose our way.
Of course, in a desert, water is very important. So, we were taught a technique to gather water where none seems to exist. That is a mighty useful skill in a hot desert. In life, making something out of nothing is also important. Society today is very much focused on what we have, what we think we need, and gadgets that we think we want. In the desert, it is a good time to slow down and think about what we really need. As well, we got to see a marvelous little miracle. Water was produced where none seemingly existed. There was no magic involved, just some basic science. But isn’t that part of the marvel of the world!
I love looking out at the desert. The ground is barren but full of natural contours and beauty. But the truth is that there is much beauty wherever we go. If we slow down and look at a flower, a tree, the sky, the water, or even a building we can marvel at the earth that we were given and the magnificent things which we have built.
True, we have also damaged much of the earth. However just as at the beginning of the desert workshop we looked for what everyone could contribute to our survival, let’s look at what we all can do to repair the damage already done and what we can do to prevent any further damage to this amazing earth which we live on.
Let’s take a breather from our lives to focus on the beauty of our earth, the wonders of nature and the positive attributes of ourselves and others.
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for the Second Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
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