She had never thought the wilderness could be like this: soft, scented, crowded with female flesh, high pitched voices and petty jealousies. But only when she named it as the wilderness, did it start to make any sense ..
The wilderness had always been important to her people. It was where Adonai took his people to deal with softness and doubt and make them strong. It was the place where He took them so that they could know Him. In the Beginning, Father Adam had been sent forth into the wilderness when he had disregarded the word of the Holy One. There he could begin to learn what holiness means. Father Abraham had walked through the wilderness to come to the promise, Jacob had met Adonai himself in the wilderness, or so her uncle’s stories said, and as for Moses .. She always found herself shaking her head when she thought of Moses. Such a strong man, but it was the wrong kind of strength. Forty years he had to spend in the wilderness to get his faith remade, and then he was sent back into the wilderness to lead the people through the forty years they needed there until the slavery was burned from them by the desert sun, and they were blown clean from the darkness of Egypt. “We are a stubborn bunch, my people,” she thought. King David had spent his time in the wilderness too, learning how to be a king, and there was Elijah, and great Joshua ..
She sighed. It was easy to see why they went to the wilderness. Adonai had called them to be great leaders, and in the wilderness they met Him and let go of what they had been before. But she was a woman. And she was not walking the road of greatness, but of bitterness and shame. She had thought she would marry one of the young tradesmen whose fathers were friends of her uncle, and be an honoured Jewish wife, the help of her husband and the strength of his bones. That was the life she understood, the life that her upbringing had been preparing her for. Not this uncleanness, this shame, this separation from her own people. When she had said yes to her uncle (as she must, anyway, since he was her guardian) she had thought only of honour and excitement. She was young, and for a while she had begun to guess, from the quick look in men’s eyes, that maybe she was beautiful. It had felt so good to be recognised.
But here she was, just another pretty girl among so many. They did things to her body that amazed her, and taught her things that made her blush. Her days were filled with pointless idleness and petty gossip. If she had to spend the rest of her life in this harem, surely she would go mad. This place, with its soft cushions and perfumed places, was the desert of the heart, and she could not understand why she was there. Her uncle had said that it was the will of the Holy One that she should be taken here, he had also said she must keep it secret that she was one of the exiled people. He was a wise man, but did he understand this strange world of women? Day by day he came to enquire how she was, and to encourage her that this was all part of Adonai’s plan.
She did not understand, and yet, she assented. Why the Holy one would put her in such an unholy place was mystery, but if this was her wilderness, then here she would grow strong. She would find a way to know the one who the prophets said was so near, and who cared for His people. She could not imagine what use she would ever be behind the harem walls, but if this was her wilderness, then here she would learn faith. She would not be a little girl any more. But how could Adonai ever use her in such a place as this?