My dear friends, one of the hardest things in life is to see ourselves as we really are. How often does it happen, that a person looks at the image of himself in a photograph, and says, ‘that doesn’t look like me’. And similarly when a person first hears his own recorded voice. Don’t we all ask, ‘is that what I sound like?’ The same is true of society as a whole. We’re all part of a greater organism. But each of us focuses on what matters most to himself or herself. It is so hard to see ourselves from the outside, or how we fit into the greater picture.
And though there are a lot of cheaters and tricksters in this world… who are just after our money… there are some institutions and teachers who can help us along the path, and share with us the wisdom of generations as well as some very practical steps to make life easier. Yes, there are some bad teachers out there. And some very boring classes in school. But there are good teachers too. I believe, more good teachers than bad ones. And plenty of fellow students who are happy to share the knowledge they’ve gained. You can see that, if you just visit a forum on the internet. So many people are willing to volunteer their time to help others.
Last week I shared with you the terrible story of the kidnapping of the three teenage boys, not far from Jerusalem. What happened caused great pain to the families and the community. The boys have still not been heard from. Their disappearance is an open wound. But in hard times as well as in good times, it is essential for us to keep the whole picture in perspective. Long ago, our prophets filled that role as teachers and moral leaders.
In ancient times, when Israel was a great country, and truly an example among the nations… we got carried away by riches, and intoxicated by pride… our prophets warned us that we were losing sight of the essence. When we were insensitive to the poor and the handicapped, they warned us that even the strong among us would one day be weak, and the proud would eventually be humbled. When those among us were tempted by corruption, we were warned that if we were piggish we would lose all we had. We would suffer terribly for the abandonment of our ideals and principles.
And when the armies of other nations came to beat us, to break down our walls and to defeat us, to subjugate and enslave us, even to scatter us among the peoples of the world so that we would never again be the proud nation that we once were, our prophets consoled us with visions of repair and rebirth. They promised us that the day would come when the Jews would come home from the four corners of the earth, and our national home would be rebuilt. And that we would be a light to other nations of the world… sharing our knowledge and understanding.
Our prophet Isaiah promised us that one day the flag would be raised in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and the ram’s horn would be sounded… and we would know beyond all doubt that we had returned to our ancestral home. In Hebrew, the word for flag is the same word as miracle. For a miracle is like a flag in that it reminds us of what is beyond our personal interests; what is greater than the individual’s concerns.
And so, this week, I set out with Chana to visit the little community of ‘the raised flag’ on the hills outside of Jerusalem. It was an opportunity to gain a wider perspective. For centuries, we have been the wandering Jews, persecuted and black listed… invited to contribute to a society, and then thrown out on our ears. We have been housed in ghettos, and forbidden to farm the ground. Lauded for our wisdom and our crafts, and then persecuted in pogroms and reforms… libeled and murdered and exiled from one country to the next.
But in the last century, the Jews have come home. In 1867 Mark Twain described the situation here in Israel; how the land was infertile and abandoned and abused. You can read his view of the holy land in his book, ‘The Innocents Abroad’. One hundred years later, in 1967, Israel was threatened and attacked by 4 belligerent enemy states supported by eight other Arab countries. The personnel and the weapons were overwhelmingly greater on the side of the Arabs. But Israel vanquished its enemies. Since the beginning of the 20th century, more and more Jews have returned to our ancient home, building institutions of learning, and improving methods of farming, industry, healthcare, and technology. Today Israel is the second largest innovator of digital technology after the USA despite the fact that we are infinitesimal compared with that great nation.
I take comfort in knowing that lives have been saved around the world by the medical inventions produced in Israel, and that we have taught people to produce better food, and to turn salt water into sweet water in far away places, including Africa, Australia, and even China. We are still hated by some. But we have come back to our own place in the world, and that is my consolation. There are still those who would like to push us into the sea, as they threatened to in ’67, but I believe they will eventually learn to live with us in peace.
I believe that when Isaiah spoke of the wolf and the lamb, and the tiger and the goat, and the cow and the bear, he was speaking of the personalities of people and nations, who will overcome their individual characteristics, and learn to co-exist in peace. We are getting closer to that prophesy all the time.
It’s summer time. School has let out. The sky is blue, and the days are getting warmer. The pictures here are from our excursion to Nes Harim, named after the upraised flag in Isaiah’s prophesy. I’ve included a photo of an interesting sculpture I found there between the houses, and concluded with a picture of a female humming bird who came to drink from a bird feeder on Chana’s balcony after we returned. That’s my tip of the hat to my dear friend Janet, who paints the most beautiful hummingbirds.