There seems to be an unfortunate tradition in my house that every Jewish holiday for the last few years has been attended with its own share of challenges and difficulties.
I tried to escape fate this year by checking into a hotel for Rosh Hashana, which worked for two days – but boy, did it catch up with me by Succot.
This last Succot was arguably the worst, or second worst I ever had, in terms of my matzav ruach and overall mood. I spent pretty much the whole of Succot crying my eyes out in the pit of despair about the mess I felt my life was in.
I was pretty nervous about Purim, too, as that’s also traditionally marked the start of a really difficult few weeks heading into Pesach. This year, Purim was bland, but OK – which is much, much better than it usually is, at least for me. So I was cautiously hopeful that I’d get to Seder in reasonably good shape.
Despite a few last minute issues and challenges, we got to a few hours before Pesach, and it was all going far more smoothly and enjoyably than usual. I’d warned my whole family we were going to enjoy seder night this year, even though we had no guests and were by ourselves again, as it’s been the last three years.
Apart from one absolutely massive argument between my husband and a kid an hour before Pesach about setting the table for seder (which ended on a positive note) – it was pretty smooth sailing.
Until about half an hour into the seder, when I started to feel pretty yucky.
Maybe, I hadn’t eaten enough all day? (Very possible…) Maybe, the argument had been more upsetting and draining than I’d realised at the time? (That could be…) Maybe, I was such an alcoholic lightweight that even one inch of fizzy wine mixed with grapejuice was more than I could handle on an empty stomach?
I held on until we got to the meal, ate my full share of matza, lettuce and chicken soup – and then started feeling even worse. I got shooting pains down the outside of my legs, and a migraine-type feeling of severe heaviness descended upon me, completely knocking me out.
I could barely even bench, let alone continue on to the end of the Haggada and drink another two cups of grape juice. I asked for a quilt and fell asleep on the couch before we even got to opening the door to rain down retribution on the anti-semites of the world.
I woke up a couple of hours later feeling even worse, and went straight to bed.
The next day, I was completely out of action and felt like I was back in the exhausted ‘burn-out mode’ I’ve had on and off for the last five years.
But this time round, I had no idea why! Usually, I have such big things going on that I’m amazed I’m still walking around some weeks, but nothing so ‘big’ happened before Pesach this year. But nevertheless, I still felt half-dead.
Gosh. I had that sinking feeling that Pesach was going to be a complete spiritual wash-out again.
The next day, I barely had energy to get out of bed. But my husband coaxed me to come out with him to visit Hevron, even if only for a few short minutes – and I somehow managed to get dressed and follow him out to the car.
The Hall of Yitzhak and Rivka in Hevron is only open on chol hamoed, and the small entrance to the underground tombs is located there. Some years, I’ve had the most amazing uplift from sitting close to that small hole in the ground that’s reputed to be the entrance to Gan Eden, so I didn’t want to miss out, if at all possible.
I sat there for half an hour.
The first ten minutes I felt so exhausted again I could barely speak. God, am I going to have months of ill-health and exhaustion again? Am I going to be struggling to find the energy to get out of bed again, and start worrying that ‘something’ is going really wrong health-wise, like happened a couple of years’ ago?
As I pondered that question, I realised I was actually feeling better. After half an hour, I was feeling so refreshed I decided to go for a little walk around the Jewish area of Hevron. I tagged on the back of a tour that was going through the ancient Jewish cemetery located on Tel Hevron, or the mound of earth where the biblical Hevron of the Patriarchs was located.
Hardly any of this Tel has been excavated by archaeologists, I suspect because they would find so much overwhelming evidence of the Torah’s veracity, and the Jewish roots that go so deep in Hevron, that could cause a lot of ‘trouble’ for the world’s politicians and atheists.
On the way, we stopped at the ancient grave of Ruth the Moabitess, and Yishai (Jesse) the father of King David.
The view was gorgeous, the grave was very picturesque, and for a moment, I got a taste of Hevron from 3,000 years ago.
It was magical.
In what is becoming a recurring theme at the moment, I sighed a big sigh and wished that Jews could live more freely in Hevron, and in Jerusalem, and in many other parts of Israel. It’s our country! God gave it to us! Why are places like Ruth and Yishai’s grave effectively ‘off-limits’ to Jews for 360 days of the year?
I know when Moshiach comes, these questions will finally be addressed and resolved, but in the meantime they are piling up higher and higher in the corners of my life.
But the good news: I came back from Hevron feeling so much better, physically and spiritually and not for the first time, I was reminded of the enormous spiritual power these holy places contain, albeit it’s often so hidden.
But the day is coming soon when that ‘hidden’ holiness, that hidden, beautiful Jewish spirituality, that hidden face of God, is going to be revealed in all its glory – and transform the whole world.