Israel Diary: Oasis, part 2

How do you connect to a place? To a moment? To a historical period?

Is it even possible to create a connection to a moment you weren’t yourself part of?

Talmud asks us to invest in the idea that every Jewish soul was present at Mt. Sinai. Various Rabbis took it a step further and asked that we try imagine (remember?) ourselves standing at the foot of the mountain. Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk took that idea even further when he said “Not only can I remember the moment at Sinai, I remember who was standing next to me”.

Such a sense of connection is, at the very least, difficult. Perhaps even impossible for most of us.

Even so, there are situations where exactly that emotional connection naturally takes place. Hiking through the desert at the edge of the Mitzpe Ramon crater is one such time. Walking across the uneven ground, a pack animal at my side, sand and dust swirling around me: who did I feel like? One of the Moses? Abraham? Lawrence of Arabia?

It was with surprise that I found myself connecting with Isaac as we walked through the sparse landscape. I guess I expected Abraham, or maybe Jacob (although my family is nowhere near THAT big). Heck, even Sinbad (the sailor, not the comic) would have made more sense in my mind.

You see, Isaac is, honestly, one of my least favorite biblical characters. He’s not dynamic. He hardly does anything except retrace his father’s footsteps.

But there I was:  walking across the hard terrain, two rambunctious boys running from the long-suffering llama at our side to the 3 dogs who I believe were following us simply because the boys were the most exciting animals they had seen in a while. Meanwhile my wife was calmly taking it all in, reveling in the miracle of simply being in this place.

I wondered what this said about me – was I more like Isaac than I cared to admit? Less than dynamic? Simply running along old paths?

I realized that what I was doing – maybe what Isaac was doing too – was living my life. Going from here to there, digging wells when water was needed, enjoying hospitality where it can be found.

And in that moment, like Rabbi Elimelech, I could not only imagine standing in a sacred place, I knew who was standing next to me as well – a tall man with a gentle voice who was quietly telling me about the time that his boys ran off after the dogs and…