In our prayers, we ask God to save us from the ‘Medina of Gehinnom’.
I think I’m starting to figure out what that’s really referring to.
On Sunday, I stuck an overnight bag in the car, unplugged my laptop and drove up to Kadita, a small village made mostly of recycled wood, close to Tsfat.
Kadita is hidden in the middle of the Birya Forest’s pines and hills – and even with a map and directions to guide me, it still took me the best part of an hour to find it. Part of the problem was that what my host was calling a ‘road’ was actually sign-posted as a bike track. After the fourth attempt, I finally found the ‘road’, and pretended my Hyundai i20 was really a jeep.
Sometimes, a car’s gotta do what a car’s gotta do.
And my car had to drive up a steep dirt track that was much better suited to goats than tyres.
I didn’t really notice how bad the road was, as I was just concentrating intently on following instructions for how to find the place, a small rental shack in the middle of a farm, with no internet and barely any electricity.
Everything was solar powered, which meant the fridge switched off at night, and I was left with the light of two struggling lightbulbs. For the two days I was there, I spent most of the time trying to get my manuscript describing the 16 4 Element personalities into good enough shape so that I could send it off to an editor, for the next stage.
I went to bed early – 9pm – because the light was so bad and it was pitch black outside. I started to get that this is how people used to live, before the advent of electricity and street lighting, and I could see it had some big pros – and also some big cons. Life was certainly simpler and more ‘home’ focused in the past, because really, there wasn’t any other choice.
The roads were treacherous enough to traverse in the daylight, let alone when you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.
I woke up early in the morning, around 6am, and went to explore the neighborhood as part of my daily hour long hitbodedut, or ‘talking to God’ session. Which is when I stumbled across the tomb of Rabbi Tarfon, a tanna, who was buried halfway up a hill at an achingly beautiful site where his tomb was partially covered by one of the biggest, wide-trunked trees I’d ever seen in my life – ‘The Tree of Mercy.’
That ‘Tree of Mercy’ had to be at least a 1000 years old, if it was a day.
I had the place to myself, and as I sat there watching the sun come up over the surrounding hill, backlighting the groves of olive trees dotted all around, I sighed a deep sigh. If not for electricity pylons and their bobbing bright orange buoys, this same sight could have been seen for the last 5000 years…
I started poking around Rabbi Tarfon’s tomb, wishing that I knew a little more about him and who he was, when I came to a sign that had been hung against that massive tree. I’m reproducing exactly what the sign said, below:
The Tree of Mercy
The tree you see before you used to be a sapling. At that time, Jews had hope that one day, Hashem, in His great strength, would place His holy nation within the borders of the Land of Israel. The tree grew tall, and stands strong for the world to see.
At the end of one long and wide branch, the tree grows once more, but in small form. The short growth on the branch reminds us that we ourselves as only a remnant of a mighty nation, the generation that returned.
We should not be satisfied and settle for less than Hashem asks of us.
Hashem will hear us, on the day we call. Call to Hashem, that He grants His mercy to our generation; that through this mercy Israel will be restored to its former state and to its former spiritual status.
May it be that through our love, fear and unshakeable belief in Him, through our Torah study, mitzvahs and good deeds for one another, He will continuously keep us close to Him, so we never wander away again.
Under this message, which quite took my breath away, was the following:
Rabbi Tarfon says: The day is short and the work is multiplying, and the workers are lazy, and the salary is great, and the Baal HaBayit (owner) is insistent.
He used to say: It’s not for you to finish the job, but you are also not a ‘free agent’ to absolve yourself from doing it.
If you learned a lot of Torah, you will be given a lot of reward. The ‘owner’ of the operation is trustworthy, to pay you for your work. And know! The reward of the tzaddikim is given in the world to come.
Pirkei Avot 2: 15-16
What can I add to that, that wouldn’t just detract?
I felt like Hashem was talking straight to me, via Rabbi Tarfon. I stood up to go, and noticed a peeling sticker that had been stuck to the backside of the ner tamid, the memorial light set up over Rabbi Tarfon’s marker stone. It said:
I believe with total faith in the coming of the Moshiach. And even though he tarries, despite this, I will continue to wait for him every single day, that he should come.
My husband asked me to stop here. I’m respecting his wishes.
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