Tomorrow concludes the third week of the Omer, which means we are deep in the wilderness. The shores of the red sea are out of sight, but so is the foot of Mt. Sinai. At this point in the Journey, the Israelites are relying on miracles for signs of hope. The Torah teaches, "Remember the long way that the Eternal your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past 40 years...The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these 40 years" (Deut. 8:1,4).
Their clothes did not wear out? I don't know about you, but my kids seem to outgrow a pair of shoes almost monthly. The medieval commentator Rashi explains, "The clouds of glory would rub up against their clothes and clean them, just as clothes are pressed in a laundry. Their children--as they got bigger, their clothing would grow with them, just like the covering of a snail, which grows as the snail grows."
Rabbi Jill Hammer notes in The Jewish Book of Days, "For the rabbis, the wilderness is a miraculous place where surprising things happen. The clouds of Divine Presence rub up against clothes to wash out the dirt, and the clothes of children are like living things, growing like the bark of trees, or the house of a snail...The midrash also hints that when we are truly on a journey, we are liable to grow without realizing it" (p. 261).
As we deepen our journey into the Omer, we embrace this time of wilderness and wandering, which for the mystics, was a time of great growth. We read of the Israelites wandering in the desert in the springtime, which echoes the miracles and surprises of spring itself. Tomorrow morning, we will pick up on a conversation we began last Friday night, studying more deeply the midrashim that ask, why was Torah revealed in the wilderness. And even more so, we will attempt to notice the surprising ways we have grown as we emerge from the dormancy of winter.
Rabbi Ari Lev