Abstract This article reflects on the wilderness years of the Exodus, engaging desert thinking not simply as a process of worldly renunciation and inner spiritual transformation, but as a need to also practice freedom as an embodied practice in which the social and political are also transformed. The world-renouncing connotation of ‘desert spirituality’ has a certain Christian bias that registers a particular line in the sand that can make it harder to reflect across the boundaries of diverse religious traditions. Jewish traditions can help us to imagine differently, in more embodied ways, whilst also reminding us of the need to engage with traumatic histories and cultural memories of slavery, holocaust histories, and colonial oppression. Often these legacies are carried in gendered ways, in bodies as well as minds, and the emotional and spiritual work that needs to be done to remake lives involve creative embodied practices of freedom that are both personal and political, offering hope for living differently in a more just world. i. desert spirituality as renunciation I want to remember the moment that introduced the theme that was to guide me through the writing. I was reading the call for the 18th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture entitled ‘Lines in the Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions’ held 9–11 September 2016 at the University of Glasgow. I was immediately struck by the way it introduced its theme, saying: The interdisciplinary study of religion, literature and culture demands living on the boundaries, constructing provisional positions, and questioning fixed and dogmatic attitudes. This is necessary a political exercise, as well as an intellectual and spiritual one. It makes challenging demands upon scholarship, creativity and imagination. It calls us to transformative action. I felt this was an important call that could speak to unresolved concerns about the unstable boundaries between Judaism in its relationship with a dominant Christianity. I thought it was going to give space to questioning fixed and dogmatic attitudes that too often had regarded Jewish spiritualities as somehow defective or impure because they could not transcend bodies and so remained connected to a disdained earthly realm. Supposedly it was only as spiritual selves who had transcended our ‘animal natures’ that we could become fully human. This also challenges visions of desert spirituality as renunciation and dominant ways that Abrahamic traditions have understood their relationship with each other, often through dominant Christian lines in the sand. The conference, in its own terms, ‘prompt[ed] a renewed exploration of desert spirituality as a way forward in addressing issues of religion and racial conflict, ecological crisis, and economic instability’. Yet it is telling that the framing of one of its topic areas called for ‘explorations of the asceticism and aesthetics of desert spirituality’. I think we need to engage critically with the different possibilities in the world-renouncing connotations of desert spiritualities, and ways that asceticism has had a long tradition within the different Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.1 If we are to question fixed and rigid boundaries and re-evaluate constructions of the other within dominant Christian imaginaries, we need to be critically self-aware, as Antonio Gramsci frames it, in order to acknowledge how a certain Christian—or at least Christian ascetic—framing can draw a particularly fixed line in the sand.2 Despite its best intentions, this can make it harder to reflect across the boundaries of diverse religious traditions and to realise how we can be involved in different ways in ‘a political exercise, as well as an intellectual and spiritual one’. As I argue, Jewish traditions can help us to imagine differently. This can open up provisional positions and different conversations that help Christianities remember their own ancestral groundings in embodying desert thinking and so shaping different lines in the sand. In spending a prolonged time of forty years in the desert, as the Jews were obliged to do when they left the long years of Egyptian slavery in the story of the Exodus from Egypt, they were preparing themselves for what was to come in the receiving of the law on Mount Sinai. They were led in an indirect route because of the time they needed to undo the consequences of years of slavery. This was not simply of renouncing as a mental or intellectual process of forgetting the years of exploitation and oppression, but involved engaging with the traumatic histories and cultural memories that they had embodied and learnt to carry silently.3 It was not enough to renounce the legacies of slavery and colonial oppression as somehow belonging to a past—as part of a history that was no longer relevant and which they could somehow transcend through rising above their everyday material lives and painful memories. Within the common-sense of European modernities that have been shaped around notions of historical progress we often learn within liberal moral cultures to put the past behind us and this can also shape our reading of historical sources. But the desert spirituality that the Hebrews helped to shape through their desert thinking was embodied and, in part at least, as we read in the narratives in Exodus, also gendered. These traumatic histories of slavery were carried in gendered ways in bodies as well as minds. There were gendered ways that people learnt to engage the violent and abusive histories of the past that they carried. The long march of the Exodus is a post-colonial Jewish narrative in which people are leaving conditions of slavery and everyday oppression that they had long grown accustomed too, as no alternative futures seemed possible for them. This meant, as Michael Walzer recognises in Exodus and Revolution, that the physical leaving—walking away—from the sites of oppression, along with the inner work that people were also obliged to do, represented a model for decolonising minds, bodies and spirits. In this way, it radically questions the moral and political psychology that the past could simply be put behind us, as an act of will, as we are still so often taught within a liberal moral culture.4 Instead, a Hebraic desert spirituality gives full recognition to the emotional and spiritual work that needed to be done to remake lives and the time that it will take to achieve this. In contrast to a dominant Greek tradition that helped shape a Christianity that was to radically split from its Jewish legacies, as it was re-visioned through its alliance with Roman imperial power, Judaism survived as despised and denigrated other. Often it was only through the protection of the Church, that required Jewish survival as witnesses of a second coming, that Judaism survived at all. But at some level it also survived as a reminder within Christian texts of the Jewishness of Jesus and so of a counter-narrative. As Jerusalem existed as a counter-tradition to Athens, so it also questioned a dominant Christianity that framed human beings as disembodied spiritual selves. Leo Baeck, in his The Essence of Judaism, originally published in 1905, speaks back to the ways that Jewish traditions have been framed within a dominant Christian tradition.5 Baeck draws attention to ways that Jerusalem provides a counter tradition to a Greek focus upon the eye, within an ocular culture that is largely framed in spatial terms, and the idealised images of perfection in the work of art. As I explore in Jewish Philosophy and Western Culture, the idea of perfection still carries a strong resonance within a neoliberal culture in which people are continually judging themselves harshly for not being able to live up to the ideals they have set for themselves. Testing themselves against Platonic ideals, people are often haunted by feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self-worth. Within a visual culture where images circulate widely on social media, young people often condemn themselves for not being able to live up to the celebrity images they learn to identify with.6 As Baeck also explores, in largely masculine terms, in his essay ‘Greek and Jewish Preaching’ in The Pharisees, Greek and Roman religion, as ‘officially state religions of the ancient type’, ‘appealed to the individual only in his capacity as a citizen’, in which one was ‘obliged to participate in the religious rites; and so long as he participated the state was usually tolerant of everything else’.7 As Baeck notes: In the period of the decline of the ancient world, the more man separated himself inwardly from the state and learned to look on himself as a citizen of the world … the more the mystery cult with its miracles, on the one hand, and philosophy with its general view of the universe and man, on the other, were bound to win over the people.8 Baeck explains that the different schools which possessed a truth that its adherents believed in thus needed explained and propagate that truth. This followed on from Socrates, ‘who taught that virtue and piety could be learned … accessible to everyone and therefore could and should be preached’. For Baeck: The same democratic feature—one might almost say, the same Socratic manner—characterizes Judaism. Here, too, we have the postulate that religion can be learned. It is the Torah, the ‘teaching’. The term implies that it is open and designed for everyone … There can hardly be a more universal term.9 But in the same essay Baeck goes on to acknowledge that, for some Jewish thinkers such as Philo, a common ground with Platonism was found ‘in the biblical doctrine of man’s likeness to God’. The Greek translation of the Bible rendered this more exclusively, with only the elect in the image of God, those ‘raised up to the level of gods’ amidst ‘the cult of the ruler and heroes prevailing in the Greco-Roman world’ and ‘later used in the Christian descriptions of the savior … given to the god-man Christ’.10 Baeck frames a Hebraic relationship to truth that is never achieved as a timeless Platonic form, but is always an ongoing struggle to voice truthfulness in a constantly changing world: Then one can also understand its style, a style utterly unrhetorical because it expresses the constantly renewed struggle for self-assertion. Hence also its searching and restless quality, which often gives the impression of instability; these old preachers continually sought to find the truth, to discover new paths in the old revelation, paths leading to the present … proved their right to spiritual existence in face of the challenges of each day.11 Freud drew upon a similar vision of universalism, at least partly, in a recognition of an extended notion of mental life, though he tended to think that the analyst could have access to the unconscious lives of patients that they could not be expected to have themselves. But he does remain, at least in this respect, within a scientific tradition of Enlightenment rationalism, despite framing it within a familial context of the sources of mental pain, anxieties and sufferings, which also involve creative and embodied practices of freedom that are both personal and political. Even if a training analysis might come to an end, Freud speaks from a Hebraic tradition that acknowledges that working on yourself is a life-long process as we are constantly changing, as are the social and political worlds we live in.12 I want to reflect upon the wilderness years of the Exodus and the different Hebraic visions of an embodied desert spirituality; that they make it possible for us to imagine and perhaps see how they might also open up different lines of investigation with Eastern spiritual traditions that hold very different connections between bodies and spiritualities. It is the dominant Christian idea that separated itself from ‘Carnal Israel’ that framed Jewish spiritualities as somehow defective because they were unable to escape connections with bodies that, within a Christian imaginary, were so often identified with sexuality and the sins of the flesh. It was often the practices of ascetic bodily practices in the desert—the renunciation of earthly life that this called for, in the physical separation it created with everyday life in the city—that allowed the transcendence of the body and the sinful urges that needed to be controlled, if not eradicated, as signs of a sinful nature.13 So often we find ourselves inheriting, within secular culture, ideas of a desert spirituality that is identified with self-denial and selflessness. It is the freedom of the desert that allows for an escape from the material realities of earthly life so that, possibly through the workings of grace, people can transcend their material bodies and the painful memories they often carry. Rather than learning how to listen to bodies and engage with the traumatic histories and memories they carry, Christianity often teaches practices of silencing bodies so that a vertical spiritual line can be created through which sinful bodies are transcended. In so many ways we carry silent legacies—often acutely gendered—through which it is the renunciation as punishment of the body that makes possible the purification of souls. We inherit long traditions of self-flagellation within religious traditions that insist that it is in the punishing of bodies that souls can be purified. Within a liberal moral culture, we are still very hard on ourselves, with powerful super-egos—top dogs—constantly telling us that we are not good enough, that our natures are somehow flawed, and that there is something wrong with us. It is not uncommon for young men—across quite diverse cultures—to choose to commit suicide because they feel this is easier than the embarrassment of showing their vulnerability even to their close friends. The Jews who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses were obliged to leave in great speed. If they took time to reflect upon the hazardous times in the desert ahead of them, and the fury of the Egyptians who were to send their army after them, they might never have made the decision to leave. Sometimes you have to take the risk without weighing up the options as a rational self, as we so often frame Kantian moral traditions. I will also engage desert thinking not simply as a process of worldly renunciation and inner spiritual transformation, but as a need to also practice freedom as an embodied practice of social and political transformation, thus offering hope for living differently in a more just world. Rather than creating vertical lines of spiritual development—cultivating through meditation a relationship between the human and the divine, as desert spirituality as renunciation imagines—there is an equal need for horizontal lines of human development that shape more equal and just earthly relationships. This involves listening and learning from other religious and spiritual traditions, and thus questioning those which take themselves to be the bearer of a singular truth. For example, the idea that it was only through Christ that a people could be saved from an eternity in hell. This meant that conversion, even when carried out by colonial violence, was for the good, rather than acknowledging a moment, as Chinua Achebe writes, when things fall apart. ii. escaping slavery and oppression Egyptian slavery meant that the Jewish people had their place as slaves, with fixed duties that could not be questioned within an authoritarian regime. You are defined in your identity as one thing in essential terms—as a Jew you were destined to be slave and obliged under fear of violence to carry out the instructions of your taskmaster. Even after the long years of the Exodus, and the histories/herstories that were to follow, in their daily prayers Jews could never forget their experience of slavery that is marked on their bodies and spirits and remembered each year at the Passover table. This is an experience that they were never to forget, and it is vital that each generation is called upon to experience themselves as if they were slaves in Egypt who had experienced the hardships and oppressions of slave labour. These are memories that are embodied and carried into the present, and they form each generation anew. This is why memory is part of desert thinking that can never be put aside, but becomes part of a Hebraic practice of freedom, something that Freud’s psychoanalysis and post-analytic psychotherapies have drawn from in their legacies for the present. The meditations organised in the Reform Movement’s prayer books offer an important insight into the way that desert thinking has been integrated into and expressed within the progressive Jewish tradition; the remainder of this article will be structured as a response to the material collected therein. As the founder of Chassidism, Baal Shem Tov, recognises: ‘[r]emembering is the first step to redemption.’ And as Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav insists over a century later: ‘[o]ne should take great care to keep the memory from falling into forgetfulness, which is an aspect of the death of the heart.’ He also recognises that peace does not come via making everyone alike through conversion, but that: The essence of peace is to join together two opposites … do not say that it may not be possible to make peace between them. On the contrary! That is the essence of the wholeness of peace; to attempt at having peace between two opposites … even when they occasionally meet and speak together, one’s words do not enter the heart of the other due to controversy, dispute, contempt and envy, because dispute and controversy cannot stand the truth.14 More recently David Kraemer of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York has noted: ‘Remember’ is a pivotal biblical verb. But … God is described as remembering far more often than are humans. Memory is, primarily a divine quality, representing God’s ability to overcome the limitations of a particular time, to see the part as one segment of a far greater whole. When human remember, therefore, we are imitating God, overcoming our own limits and, in God-like fashion, identifying with the breadth of history.15 So remembering as an aspect of desert thinking does not remove us from earthly life into a transcendent spiritual realm, but calls upon us to repair our relationships with others that we have wronged. This means engaging horizontally through being alive to unresolved issues in our relationships that need to be repaired if we are to engage with vertical relationships to hear the voice of God. But this involves each year returning also at Passover—Pesach—to remember what exactly it felt like to endure slavery in our bodies, and what efforts it took to make a necessary break and take a journey towards freedom. We can recall how rushed it was initially, and the steps that were taken as lines in the desert, before people could gather in freedom to accept the giving of the law on Mount Sinai—where the law was to be given in the presence of a whole community, who each individually had to prepare themselves for this moment. Freedom was not to be set in radical opposition to law and nor was love, as dominant Christian traditions—as well as traditions in continental philosophy who have turned to Paul’s universalism insist. But this comes later in our story. iii. practices of freedom As Erich Fromm grasps the nature of desert thinking he acknowledges the paradox, ‘[t]he enslaved person has no concept of freedom—yet they cannot become free unless they have a concept of freedom’. For Fromm the answer to this paradox lies in the biblical story, in which ‘the capacity to suffer’ provides the ‘beginnings of liberation’, for suffering is that which motivates action against the oppressor. Fromm claims: If people have lost a capacity to suffer, they have also lost the capacity for change. In the first step of revolution, however, people develop new powers which they could have had had while they lived as slaves, and eventually those new powers make it possible for them to achieve freedom.16 But Fromm is also clear that God does not intervene in the historical process and that it is ‘human beings left to themselves that make their own history; God helps, but never by changing the nature of men and women, by doing what only human beings can do for themselves’. As Fromm puts it, in his own nontheistic but also masculine terms, ‘man is left to himself, and nobody can do for him what he is unable to do for and by himself’.17 Fromm helps shape a notion of desert thinking when insisting: Freedom is not a constant attribute which we either ‘have’ or ‘have not’. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘freedom’, except as a word and an abstract concept. There is only one reality: the act of freeing ourselves in the process of making choices.18 Helping to define Hebraic practices of freedom, even though Fromm broke from his orthodox Jewish background, it continues to shape his secular thinking. It remains an inspiration we need to grasp if we are to understand how he reads Marx and Freud as introducing their own practices of freedom, however uneasily they still sit with each other. As Fromm insists, grasping freedom as an everyday practice: In this process, the degree of our capacity to make choices varies with each act, with out practice of life. Each step in life which increases my self-confidence, my integrity, my courage, my conviction also increases my capacity to choose the undesirable rather than the desirable action. On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice weakens me, opens the path for more acts of surrender and eventually freedom is lost.19 In this way, Fromm is articulating an embodied practice of freedom that has inspired a post-Freudian humanistic psychotherapeutic tradition that attends to everyday practices as helping to transform emotions and feelings. This is a less interiorised notion of ‘working on yourself’ than we find in Freud, but it acknowledges the importance of doing emotional work as well as provoking institutional changes in relationships, if people are to engage in a grounded spirituality that moves across both horizontal and vertical lines. This is the miracle of an embodied everyday spirituality: ‘Hillel taught that the gift to human beings of their daily bread is as great a miracle as the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.’20 As Maimonides also insists, ‘[a] person will not search the truth nor seek to do what is good when he goes off into exile or is hungry or is fleeing from his enemies’.21 For years when I introduced students to social theory, I would draw on Fromm’s text Fear of Freedom because it called for psychosocial ways of thinking—a form of embodied Hebraic practices of freedom that refused to reduce individual and personal experience through arguing for theories of social and historical construction but insisted that individuals always have to work on themselves as part of wider practices of social and political transformation. It refused simplistic dualities between structure and agency, individual and society, and through what Buber might have framed as a form of Hebrew Humanism it helped to question prevailing post-structuralisms that insisted upon a duality between nature and culture and denigrated notions of experience. Thus it opened up possibilities for people doing the emotional and spiritual work they might need to do for their growth and development as human beings. Sceptical of notions of growth or visions of wholeness, and insisting on the fracturing and fluidity of subjectivities, it was wary of notions of self and too ready to dismiss emotions and feelings as ‘touchy-feely’. Often there were new lines in the sand drawn between the personal and the political, that feminism and sexual politics had sought to connect, as it was too readily assumed that experience is simply an effect of discursive practices. It defined itself through its anti-humanism that made it difficult to acknowledge tensions that Wittgenstein’s reading of Freud insisted upon, between language and experience. It could not hear different levels of experience as it sustained its own discursive secularism. Fromm asks: If God had wanted to, he could have changed Pharaoh’s heart, instead of permitting it to harden; he could have changed the Hebrew’s hearts, so that they would not have worshipped the golden calf … Why did God not do so? Was he lacking in power? There is only one reason for the account as it stands: that human beings are free to choose their way and yet must accept the consequences of their choices.22 As Emma Goldman insisted, in a different vein, but echoing a similar desert thinking: ‘[w]hat I believe is a process rather than a finality. Finalities are for God and governments, not for human intellect’.23 Leo Baeck expresses a similar sentiment, in less secular terms, when he says: ‘[t]hose who do evil are guilty, and guilty, especially before the judgment of history, are all those who see or know of a crime being committed and keep quiet; it is they who, unintentionally, prepare the way for it.’24 iv. feminisms, thoughts and feelings Feminism, in questioning the distinctions between thought and feeling and insisting that the personal is political, also presents a challenge to the depersonalisation of language as discourse that is a feature of so much post-structuralist thinking. Theorists speak of affect moving between bodies while often implicitly disdaining the journeys we take in our emotional lives. As I argue in Jewish Philosophy and Western Culture, there are resonances between Wittgenstein’s later writings and feminism that warns us in different ways about modernist traditions of universal rationalism. Adrienne Rich was already warning us in second wave feminism, talking about how threatened people feel at the suggestion ‘that motherhood is not only core human relationship but a political institution’. As she recognises: ‘[i]t is immediately assumed that the experience of maternity itself is under fire, that the maternal emotions will be invalidated if we look closely at the politics of motherhood.’25 Embodied desert thinking refuses, with Rich, to argue ‘that lucidity and love cannot coexist, that political awareness and personal intensity are contradictions, that consciousness must dissolve tenderness, intimacy and loyalty’. She argues, ‘[t]his is itself a measure of the way in which Western culture in its most intense patriarchalism has polarised thought and feeling. In a society so dismembered, anonymous, and alienating, tenderness and intimacy are precious and rare’.26 At risk of introducing too many voices, Victor Gollancz, an influential writer and publisher, shares a Christian inspired universalism that, in part at least, is in tension with his own legacies of desert thinking. As he explains: This differentiation between boys and girls, men and women, me and my sisters, infuriated me; I saw it as infringing a most obvious natural right, the right of every soul to realize, in complete freedom, all the potentialities inherent in it. I saw it, in a word, as an outrage against personality. What the devil did it matter, I cried, if some people happened to be men and others women? Weren’t they all persons? This is a familiar refrain with a liberal moral culture that insists differences, including gender and racial differences, are superficial and that, as Kant insists, history and culture are forms of unfreedom and determination that we need to rise above as rational moral selves. But this means that as rational selves we are disembodied, called to transcend our bodies and what they might be communicating to us, as aspects of a disdained animal nature associated with the ‘sins of the flesh’. Recalling his own upbringing Gollancz admits: ‘[m]y father’s antifeminism rapidly became symbolic for me of all inequalities, all oppressions … I grew up to detest all such categorizations, and any exclusiveness, superiority, inferiority, excess of respect, deficiency of respect.’27 Talking more personally, and in some ways refusing to rise above differences in the way Gollancz suggests, is Judy H. Katz, whose parents were refugees from Nazi Germany. She recalls a six-day residential group, in 1970, where she was part of the fifteen per cent white minority: ‘I found myself feeling defensive about my whiteness and guilty and hurt because I was labelled the oppressor.’ But as she realised in an embodied way: My guilt did not bring about any change in their living with oppression, nor was it healthy for me. Essentially my guilt was a self-indulgent way to use up energy. The real issue was not whether I was concerned about combating racism but what I had done to combat it. What action had I taken? My not doing was a way of supporting and perpetuating racism. Inaction was action.28 Part of a Hebraic practice of freedom is to recognise more of your own history and cultural memories, and to engage critically with these legacies in the present. At the same time, it is not enough to have correct attitudes, say for example in relation to feminism or anti-racism, but—as a younger generation is discovering post the global financial crisis of 2008—it is often important to join a consciousness-raising group in which this personal and political work can be done. This is not to put aside or rise above issues of identity, as Marx suggested in relation to his Jewishness in ‘On the Jewish Question’, as if to become a human being somehow involves discounting rather than working through the emotional and political legacies that you carry. This includes Jews in the present, engaging with the injustices of the post-1967 occupation of Palestinian lands. v. identities, histories and memories Within contemporary society there has been a widespread suspicion of identity politics as necessarily involving the fixing of people into pre-given categories, so seeming to compromise freedom for people, within post-modern societies, to create their own identities. But often these suspicions echo, rather than challenge, patriarchal traditions within European modernities in continuing to insist on disembodied conceptions of the human as a rational self. Thinking in terms of a new universalism, theorists like Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou turn towards Paul in ways that sometimes unwittingly reproduce traditional anti-Jewish tropes in which the figure of the Jew can stand for a resistant particularity. There is a danger that they contest Hebraic desert thinking that could encourage people to come to terms with their own traumatic histories and memories, both personal and collective. For example, in the movement Black Lives Matter, it has been important both individually and collectively to question histories of Black slavery and the long shadows this has left over African-American lives and communities.29 But in the United States it can be difficult to remember, and the lessons of a Black-consciousness movement must be continually re-learnt each generation. There are particular cultural and historical legacies, as Loren Baritz notes, also for Jews: ‘Because of America’s rejection of the past, of the fierce commitment to the notion that this land will start anew, the American Jew is pulled apart. To be a Jew is to remember. An American must forget.’30 This is a legacy that Michael Walzer acknowledges: ‘the study of history is made into a religious obligation in Israel’ noting that: This intense preoccupation with the past, so frequently enjoined in the Bible, is not to be understood as backward looking, as a morbid fascination with what once was; it does not suggest a view of the past as a haunting spectre that impedes progress and bedevils the conception of the future … The exhortation to have a written ‘reminder’, to ‘remember’ and ‘not forget’ what that people did, deserves further elaboration … The stem z-k-r does not connote mere intellectual activity, a simple recall or retrieval of information … It is that and much more … better rendered ‘to be mindful’, and this involves awareness and paying heed. ‘To be mindful’ implies involvement. The attitude is subjective and relational. There is concern, engagement and responsibility.31 So it is that, as people remember each year that they themselves were slaves in Egypt and lived through the Exodus, this is to be remembered as an active process in time. As Walzer recognises, ‘[t]hat is why the Israelites had to spend such a long time in the wilderness. They did not march by the most direct route from Egypt to Canaan; instead God led them by an indirect route’.32 Maimonides explains this indirection in his Guide for the Perplexed, noting: ‘[f]or a sudden transition from one opposite to another is impossible … it is not in the nature of man that, after having been brought up in slavish service, he should all of a sudden wash off from his hands the dirt (of slavery).’33 It takes time in the desert for the people to be ready to prepare themselves for the receiving of the law. There is the need to work on themselves both personally and politically in terms of the wider community for people to ready themselves to receive the law on Mount Sinai. They have to have done the emotional work to deal with both their familial legacies, as Freud has it, but also with the wider traumatic histories of oppression and Egyptian servitude. This is not work that authorities can do for them, but work they have to learn to do for themselves. Because of the time required for this work, they could not take the most direct route. In contrast to the enslaved Israelites, Julius Lester, a civil rights activist, argues that: Being free, Moses was not prey to the slave psychology. But growing up as Pharaoh’s grandson thrust him into an equal danger—the ambivalence of dual identity. He was Hebrew and Egyptian. By birth he belonged to the oppressed, but he is nurtured as a member of the oppressor group … . He is a stranger in Egypt and a stranger to himself because he cannot live his true identity. Through identity we know our place in the world. If that identity is seriously divided or defined by society as negative, we are insecure in the world and insecure in ourselves.34 Moses looks on the sufferings of his enslaved people and weeps, saying: ‘Woe is me for you! Would that I could die for you’ (Midrash Rabbah). He feels their sufferings as his own and, confronting an Egyptian badly mistreating a Hebrew, he kills him. For Lester this means, ‘[p]sychologically he “kills” a hated part of himself … project[ing] his self-hatred outward onto one who most closely resembles that hated Egyptian part’. But he also surmises that this does not work as a solution, imagining that Moses ‘is engulfed by remorse, shame and guilt. He is more of a stranger now that he could have every imagined possible’.35 So it is that Moses also came to think about his experiences and what he had lived through in different terms, as different boundaries were crossed in the desert and he had to confront the ‘gradual transitions’, as Wittgenstein might frame it.36 There are ways that Moses changes along with the people who have left Egypt as they are thrown upon themselves, both individually and collectively, as they make their way through the desert, unsure of the direction they are taking but following the cloud that is somehow guiding them on the way. vi. embodying desert spiritualities As the Jewish thinker and Talmud scholar Adin Steinsaltz has written his own path of desert thinking: The paths of the penitent and of the person who has merely lost his direction differ only in terms of the aim, not in the going itself. The Jewish approach to life considers the person who has stopped going—he or she who has a feeling of completion, of peace, of a great light from above that has brought them to rest—to be someone who has lost their way. Only s/he whom the light continues to beckon, for whom the light is as distant as ever, only they can be considered to have received some sort of response. The path a person has taken is revealed to them only in retrospect, in a contemplation of the past that grants confidence in what lies ahead. This awareness is in fact the reward, and it is conditional on the continuation of the return.37 When we think of Hebraic practices of freedom we can also learn from Franz Kafka’s vision of desert thinking, and the embodied spirituality that it allows, when he says: The false illusion of a freedom achieved by external means is an error, a desert in which nothing flourishes except the two herbs of fear and despair. That is inevitable, because anything which has a real and lasting value is always a gift from within. Human beings don’t grow from below upwards but from within outwards. That is the fundamental condition of all freedom in life. It is not an artificially constructed social environment but an attitude to oneself and to the world which is a perpetual struggle to maintain. It is the condition of human freedom.38 Kafka helps us rethink notions of social constructionism that would suggest that subjectivities are an effect of discourses, so that freedom can only be secured by transforming the structures of power in society without people also working on themselves. This is what feminism, gay liberation and movements of Black consciousness had to learn in their own forms of desert thinking: to know who you are, you also have to know where you come from and be willing to do the emotional and spiritual work that it takes to gain a greater sense of inner freedom through also transforming social and institutional relationships. As we learnt from the socialist experiments in the USSR and China in the twentieth century it was not enough for the state to take ownership of the means of production and to insist that it was governing in the interests of the proletariat as the universal class whose liberation would somehow guarantee the freedom of all. As Lesley Hazleton surmises in Where Mountains Roar: ‘[w]e tend to see ourselves as reflected in the eyes of other’ and ‘where that reassurance does not exist, as in the desert, we become afraid—and not of the desert itself, but of what we see as its emptiness, as though that emptiness would slowly penetrate out souls and drain the life force from us.’39 Questioning the idea that the desert is an enemy that has to be defeated—and so also questioning the dominant Israeli vision of ‘making the desert bloom’—she thinks it is also important to learn from the Bedouin’s ways of living with the desert. But she also thinks ‘it is not physical death we fear in the desert so much as the dearth of the soul. We fear that we will be swamped by these vast expanses and thus lose our sense of self, the ego that is the basis of our relation to the world’.40 But desert thinking does call for us to question this ego relation to the world and as Hazleton acknowledges: the desert brings the battle to the forefront of our consciousness, where we cannot ignore it. And therefore we tend to resent and fear the desert. We can no longer hide behind busyness and other people. In the desert, we are truly alone, face to face with ourselves—and many of us shrink from the emptiness we fear to find within, the mirror of the emptiness we project onto the desert itself.41 We have to make our own desert journeys and do the emotional work on our own traumatic family journeys if we are not to remain trapped in our own ego relationships with the world. We owe no less to our children, as earlier generations, including Kafka, Benjamin and Sholem, growing up in assimilated Jewish families at the end of the nineteenth century in central Europe, sought something more real in their relationships with Judaism than was being offered by their fathers. As Aaron Esterson, an influential family and existential psychotherapist argues for our own times: ‘Our children say they want more than stories, and more than mere ritual and formulae and conventional morality … . They have looked at us and the way we live our lives … and they see our pretences and shabby compromises, and they will not heed us.’42 As he recognises it, they see ‘a failure by many of us even to set out on the spiritual and existential enterprise, that long dark night of the soul that these children suspect marks the path of salvation—their path at least …’.43 So he suggests that we join our children on the journey across the desert, following whatever lines in the sand call us into a deeper relationship with self. As Esterson argues: If we do this we many become reconciled with our children, for we may embark with them upon the existential enterprise, that wandering in the wilderness in faith and trust, that may lead us to the heart of the mystery to which the stories and rituals and traditions that we have guarded are guides and sign posts.44 These processes can happen in different ways. There are different kinds of deserts with their own forms of desert thinking to discover, as Etty Hillesum knows from her time in Westerbork transit camp, which held Dutch Jews on the way to Auschwitz. She recalls: Last time I saw my father, we went for a walk in the dusty, sandy wasteland. He is so sweet and wonderfully resigned. Very pleasantly, calmly and quite casually, he said ‘You know, I would like to get to Poland as quickly as possible. Then it will all be over and done with and I won’t have to continue with this undignified existence. After all, why should I be spared from what has happened to thousands of others?’ Later we joked about our surroundings. Westerbork really is nothing but desert, despite a few lupins and campions and decorative birds which look like seagulls. ‘Jews in a desert, we know that sort of landscape from before.’45 Earlier on 1 July 1942, the date on which Holland’s Jews had to start wearing the yellow star, Etty Hillesum had already realised what the future would bring: Very well then, this new certainty, that what they are after is our total destruction, I accept it. I know it now, and I shall not burden others with my fears. I shall not be bitter if others fail to grasp what is happening to us Jews. I work and continue to live with the same conviction, and I find life meaningful—yes, meaningful—although I hardly dare say so in company these days.46 There are different lines in the sand and people have to discover their own way, as Etty Hillesum was exploring through the journey she was making through life towards a terrible death in Auschwitz where her parents and brothers were also to be murdered. As Martin Buber recognises: All human beings have access to God, but each person has a different access. Humankind’s greatest chance likes precisely in the unlikeness of human beings. … God does not say: ‘This way leads to Me and that does not,’ but he says: ‘Whatever you may do may be a way to Me, provided you do it in such a manner that it leads you to Me.’ But what it is that can and shall be done by just this person and no other, can be revealed to him or her only in himself or herself … .47 But Buber goes on to question desert spirituality as renunciation and dominant Christian traditions of self-denial when he affirms that: ‘[b]y no means, however, can it be our task in the world in which we have been set, to turn away from the things and beings that we meet on our way and that attract our hearts; our task is precisely to get in touch, by hallowing our relationship with them, with what manifests itself in them as beauty, pleasure, enjoyment.’ Buber reminds us, if we need reminding that: ‘Hasidism teaches that rejoicing in the world, if we hallow it with our whole being, leads to rejoicing in God.’48 REFERENCES Footnotes 1 For some helpful reflections upon the figure of Abraham and ways that his life is narrated within different religious and spiritual traditions see, for instance, Jacques B. Doukhan (ed.), The Three Sons of Abraham: Interfaith Encounters Between Judaism, Christianity and Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013). 2 Antonio Gramsci explores issues of critical self-awareness and how what we take as common-sense is often fragmented and carries different, histories, experiences, philosophies, traditions, feelings at different archaeological levels in his Prison Notebooks (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1970). 3 For some helpful reflections on the time that the Hebrews took in the desert and the inner work they needed to accomplish see Aviva Gotlieb Zornberg, Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus (New York: Bravo Ltd, 2011) and The Murmuring: Reflections on Biblical Unconsciousness (New York: Schocken Books, 2011). 4 Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1986) has inspired a literature showing how the story of Exodus remained an inspiration in movements against slavery and colonial oppressions, becoming an important counter-narrative for freedom and liberation. See also Michael Walzer, In God’s Shadow: A Political Theorist Reads the Hebrew Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). 5 Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism (New York: Schocken Books, 1987). See also Leo Baeck, Pharisees and Other Essays (New York: Schocken Books, 1966). For some historical and cultural context to Baeck’s writing and life see Albert Friedlander, Leo Baeck: Teacher of Theresienstadt (New York: Overlook Books, reprint edition, 1991) and Leonard Baker, Days of Sorrow and Pain: Leo Baeck and the Berlin Jews (London: Macmillan, 1978). 6 In Victor J. Seidler, Jewish Philosophy and Western Culture (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007) I explore ways that Jerusalem can provide a counter-narrative to European modernities that have largely been framed through a secularised Christianity figured through Athens. I show how Wittgenstein’s later work, in which he claimed to be Hebraic, rather than Greek, carries a similar insight in its critiques of scientific rationalities within Enlightenment modernities. 7 Baeck, Pharisees, pp. 110–11. 8Ibid., p. 111. 9Ibid., p. 113. 10Ibid., p. 119. 11Ibid., p. 120. 12 See, for instance, Marthe Robert, The Psychoanalytic Revolution: Sigmund Freud’s Life and Achievement (London: Avon Books, 1968) and her From Oedipus to Moses: Freud’s Jewish Identity (New York: Doubleday, 1976). 13 For some reflections on the framing of Carnal Israel within Christian imaginaries see Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994). See also his Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993). 14 Jonathan Magonet and Lionel Blue (eds), Forms of Prayer: Days of Awe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 528–9. 15 David Kraemer, in Dov Peretz Elkins (ed.), Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information, and Contemplation (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006), p. 199. 16 Erich Fromm, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 16–17. 17Ibid. 18Ibid., p. 118. 19Ibid. 20Pesika Rabbati 152a, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 139. 21 Maimonides, Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah (Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, 1994) p. 594. 22 Fromm, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 606. 23 Emma Goldman, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 606. 24 Leo Baeck, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 610. 25 Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966–1978 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), p. 216. 26Ibid. 27 Victor Gollancz, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 617. 28 Judy H. Katz, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 624. 29 For some interesting reflections that help question a turn towards Pauline universalism with contemporary philosophy see, for instance, Jayne Svenungsson, Divining History: Prophetism, Messianism and the Development of the Spirit (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2016). 30 Loren Baritz, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 635. 31 Michael Walzer, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, pp. 635–6. 32Ibid., p. 636. 33 Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:32. 34 Julius Lester, in Noam Zion and David Dishon (eds), Haggadah: A Different Night (Jerusalem: Shalom Hartman Institute, 1997), p. 53. 35Ibid. 36 G.E. Moore, Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge 1930–33 (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 1954–5). 37 Adin Steinsaltz, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 671. 38 Franz Kafka, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 670. 39 Lesley Hazelton, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 701. 40Ibid. 41Ibid. 42 Aaron Esterson, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, pp. 709–10. 43Ibid. 44Ibid. 45 Etty Hillesum, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 668. 46Ibid., p. 188. 47 Martin Buber, in Forms of Prayer: Pilgrim Festivals, p. 680. 48Ibid., p. 681. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: May 30, 2018
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