It’s More Than Just Sand: The Wilderness Focuses on the Power of the Desert in the Bible

Dec. 3, 2020


Stories of desolation, abandonment and contemplation of what lies beyond the known – all inspired by the outsized role deserts play in the Bible – make their world premiere this Sunday, Dec. 6 on Canada’s YES TV network.

The Wilderness, a 10-part biblical docudrama series created and produced by Toronto-based Canadian filmmaker, videographer, and producer Igal Hecht, explores connections to God, the Prophets and the desert through dramatization and interviews with religious and historical experts.

“The Biblical prophets knew that the mystical expanse, the barren earth and the endless terrain were fertile ground for revelation and direct exposure to God,” Hecht told the CJR. “It is in the most desolate places where God has made the most significant appearances, where He speaks into the lives of His people.”

Director Igal Hecht and DOP Sergey Maydin Israel
Director Igal Hecht and DOP Sergey Maydin in Israel

The Wilderness was filmed in the biblical heartland of Israel and the southern region of Mitzpe Ramon, where Abraham, Jacob, Jesus and many other biblical figures had dialogues with God.

The stories explore the lives of Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mary, Jacob, Hagar, King David, King Saul, Cain and Abel, Job, Lot, and others. Hecht called it “a labour of love.”

“It’s a snapshot of seeds that happen in the wilderness and how the desert plays such a major part in every biblical story,” he explained.

Hecht got his inspiration from his 2016 docu-series Daughters of Eve.

“I did a show which focused on women in the Bible where we took stories and recreated them with a much larger budget and much larger cast,” he said. “I was travelling through the desert on another project and stopped to get some visuals and started thinking of the stories in the Bible that take place in the desert. A couple months later I came up with a demo. YES TV gave it a green light and it went from there.”

The Wilderness opens with the temptation of Jesus. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days and nights in the Judean desert.

In episode two, Hecht portrays the biblical patriarch Lot, who accompanies Abraham and Sarah in their journey through the desert.

“I act when I don’t have to speak,” Hecht said. “In this case, it was because of my beard. In [the story of] Cain and Abel, we got to recreate the first murder. We gave it a Guy Ritchie kind of feel – a stylistic way the murder happens shot [from] different angles. We had some fun with it.”

Working with a limited budget, the production began in late 2019, and lasted about five weeks. The small crew included Lior Cohen as assistant director/aerial photography, cinematographer Sergey Maydin, and Gai Hoffmann on makeup. There were more than 30 Israeli actors.

“The challenge we faced was losing light,” said Hecht. “The sun goes down quickly in the desert.”

Post-production was done in Canada at Hecht’s Chutzpa Productions.

Although filmed in Israel, the series is in English. “We were very careful with the text. All of the dialogue is taken directly from the [Hebrew] Bible or the New Testament,” Hecht said. “Some of these stories have no dialogue or have one line.”

Each episode features a number of experts telling the story, lending perspective and analysis.

“We don’t preach,” said Hecht. “We are retelling biblical stories for people interested in history, maybe trying to understand what the Bible is about and what [it] can incorporate in your life in 2020.”

Born in Ashkelon, Israel, Hecht moved to Toronto with his family in 1988. In 1999, he founded Chutzpa Productions, showcasing controversial and thought-provoking films that have focused on human rights, politics, land disputes, conflict, satire, and pop culture.

He’s been involved in the production of more than 50 documentary films and some 20 television series. His work has been screened nationally and internationally on Netflix, BBC, the Documentary Channel, CBC, YES TV and HBO Europe.

The Wilderness airs Dec. 6th on YES TV at 6:30 p.m. and repeated at 11 p.m.

A trailer may be viewed at:

Parshat Va’yetzeh – Jacob’s Ladder and the Angel Lilah

Nov. 27, 2020


As a b’nai mitzvah teacher in the early 90s, I would teach my students the midrash of Lilah, the Angel of Conception and the Midwife of Souls, who watches over all babies as they grow in the womb. For nine months, Lilah keeps a lamp lit so the babies can see from one end of the world to the other. She makes the babies feel loved and whispers all the secrets of Torah and Paradise and the universe into their little ears.

When a baby is born, the angel gently touches her finger to the baby’s lips and says, “shhhh.” The baby forgets all that they have learned and are left with the mark of the angel’s fingertip above their lip – the same mark we all still have above our upper lip today.

My students loved this sweet midrash, not only because there’s something comforting about an angel watching over us, but because it explains why, when we learn something, the moment often feels not new but like we are remembering. How often have we heard a piece of information and found it so obvious that we wondered why we hadn’t figured it out for ourselves? According to our tradition, it’s because we aren’t learning, we are remembering.

Our Torah reading this week, Parshat Va’yetzeh, brought to mind the angel Lilah. The parsha begins as Jacob is fleeing to find refuge from his enraged brother Esau, from whom he’s stolen their father’s birthright and blessing.

When evening falls and Jacob stops to rest, he falls asleep and dreams about a ladder on which angels of G-d are traveling up and down. In this dream, G-d appears by Jacob’s side and gives Jacob the same blessing of posterity and protection that was earlier given to his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham. When Jacob wakes up from sleep he says:

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“Surely Adonai is present in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen: 28:16).

Commentary on this passage usually centers around the fact that Jacob thought this resting place was like any other – he doesn’t recognize the holiness. But soon enough, we experience Jacob’s sense of wonder and appreciation that G-d was there, in that holy place, all along. Jacob says he “didn’t know” of G-d’s presence, but there is some discussion that Jacob did know – he just needed a reminder. G-d’s presence is always there, always everywhere; the dream simply helped Jacob remember.

Dreams can be a helpful way for us to recognize our emotional and mental state, for our inner life to convey to our consciousness what we are feeling. For Jacob, the dream of the ladder communicated G-d’s message directly and unmistakably: “Remember who you are. I am with you.”

Parsha Va’yetzeh is a good lesson, a reminder for all of us to not get too attached to what we think we know. The memories that the angel Lilah whispered to us in the womb are buried deeply within us and sometimes, it takes a while, and some faith, to unearth them. If we keep our hearts and minds open, there’s no telling what we can learn and what we may remember.

Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides lives in Calgary. She has three adult children, one of whom lives at home with her and her husband and their very large dog. Ilana is a rabbinic student with JSLI in New York. She will be ordained next month.