When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, "Behold, David is in the desert of Ein Gedi." Then Saul took 3,000 chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Ibex (wild goats).
-I Samuel 24:1-2
Winter having finally set in with a vengeance, with continuous damp cold punctuated by howling hail storms, we decided it was time for some desert therapy. So we reserved a long weekend with some friends at the kibbutz hotel at Ein Gedi, on the shore of the Dead Sea. We drove through gray drizzle for the first two and a half hours, as far as Jerusalem; but then, as we descended to the Judean Desert, the sky cleared, and we could drive with the window open. After dinner, we hung up our winter coats and joined a moonlight tour of the kibbutz botanical garden. Ein Gedi sits at the foot of desolate, craggy cliffs that rise from the shore of the Dead Sea, at the outflow of two adjacent canyons through which flow streams fed by springs of fresh water; a classic oasis. The kibbutz, in the 50 years since its founding, has exploited its unique climate and water supply to create a truly breathtaking environment (recognized by UNESCO as a world-class botanical garden), where desert and rain forest species grow side by side in weird and lush profusion, throughout the public spaces as well as around the members' houses and the hotel.
The next day we hiked the Arugot Canyon, along the modest stream that cascades through the strikingly eroded rock formations. It was a Friday, and ours was the only car in the parking lot. Twice we encountered, close-up, herds of ibex, the indigenous wild goats with their beards and oversized curving horns, foraging for bits of vegetation along the cliffs above the canyon. There wasn't much other wildlife in evidence caravans of ants, and a large crab sidling across the path, blending perfectly with the pinkish-tan of the rocks. And I noticed a number of openings that seemed likely to be the burrows of some animal, but there were spider webs across their entrances.
According to the Midrash "The Alphabet of Ben Sira," once the future King David noticed a spider in his garden, and questioned God: what is the point of having such a creature in Your world? it spends its life weaving, but never yields any cloth. Later, when David was hiding from Saul in a cave in the desert of Ein Gedi, Saul's men approached the cave and were about to enter to seek David, but a spider had woven its web across the entrance after David had gone inside; Saul noticed the web and concluded that there was no point in searching the cave, as it was obvious that no one could have entered recently. Saved by the spider he had disparaged, David thus received the answer to his challenge to God, and was moved to exclaim (Psalm 104:24): O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all!
It is amazing how you can drive just a few hours in this country and arrive in a totally different landscape and climate. It is even more amazing how you can drive just a few hours and find yourself in a different millennium, walking around the stage set of a tragic drama that was played out here three thousand years ago. The wild goats are still here. So are the spiders. So are the stories. So are we.