A Look Back to Poetic Times

Sometime in my past, I was in the desert, in Israel. Whether I was traveling with Ramah Seminar or Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim I don’t remember; but here in a box of old materials I’ve discovered two pages I wrote that night. No date, but some nice thoughts. I know they were written sometime between 2003 and 2004. Here there are:

The Desert. The Negev Desert. Like something out of a dream. In depictions of places like this, only dreary colors are portrayed. I’ve never really been in a desert before, but wow. I’m sitting on the side of a mountain, a light tan in the sunlight and a grey brown in the shade. I only use images of these colors as such because there is no other word to describe them. The mountain on which I’m sitting slopes downwards, in a slow downcline of shelves of rocks. At the top they are more flat, more sturdy. Towards the bottom they are more ground, fine. More pebbles. Directly across from me, in a quick but drastic transition is a stand dune. The sand here has the fineness of powder, the consistency of water. There must be a mountain under all that sand, because I can see rocks underneath. At the top and bottom, there are plants growing. Yeah, plants, who would have thought? Depictions – pictures, paintings, photos – they all show the desert with nothing but cactus. None here.

I pick up rocks to see see what’s underneath – the minute I touch it, the rock crumbles to sand underneath my fingers. That rock may have been sitting there for thousands of years, and I crumbled the sand beneath it. Looking out as far as I can see, al I can see is mountains and sand and rocks and plants. The sky is so clear. There are a few clouds on the horizon to my sides, but none in the overhead. No two things are the same hue. There is not a grain of sand identical to another. The wind constantly blowing. I can hear it in my ears the whole time. It sounds like thunder, and is hard enough even to shake me, but at the same time it’s soothing. No wonder people live here. Now I can think only of one thing, one quote:

I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help is from the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth.

However, as much as the desert is a remarkable place, I have to admit that it would be hard for me to stay here. As the sun goes down, it ets colder and colder, not only physically but emotionally. This place may be scary in a little while, with animals and coldness and lack of water and food. The sun is completely behind the mountain now, with only the lightest trail of yellow left behind. It’s beautiful.

The Redemption Heard ‘Round the World

Every morning, we recite in our morning blessings,
ברוך אתה ה’, א-להינו מלך העולם, מתיר אסורים.
“Praised are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who releases captives.”

As we recite the first page of the Amidah, each time, we call God
סומך נופלים, רופא חולים, ומתיר אסורים
“He who raises the fallen, heals the sick, and frees the captives.”

Every time we recite the weekday Amidah, three times in any given weekday, we recite the following:
ראה נא בענינו, וריבה ריבנו, וגאלנו מהרה למען שמך, כי גואל חזק אתה. ברוך אתה ה’, גואל ישראל
“Behold our adversity and we shall be healed. Redeem us soon because of Your mercy, for You are the mighty Redeemer. Praised are You, Adonai, Redeemer of the people Israel.” (Sim Shalom translation)

This morning, for Mussaf of Chol ha-Moed Sukkot, we beseeched God to have compassion on us and on all of His children, calling him
מלך רחמן המשיב בנים לגבולם
“the compassionate King who returns His children to their own borders.”

And then we paraded around the chapel with our lulavim and etrogim, typical of the Hoshanot ritual for Sukkot, and we recited the following passage:
אדון המושיע. בלתך אין להושיע. גיבור ורב להושיע. דלותי ולי יהושיע. האל המושיע. ומציל ומושיע. זועקיך תושיע. חוכיך הושיע. טלאיך תשביע. יבול להשפיע. כל שיח תדשא ותושיע. לגיא בל תרשיע. מגדים תמתיך ותושיע. נשיאים להסיע. שעירים להניע. עננים מלהמניע. פותח יד ומשביע. צמאיך תשביע. קוראיך תושיע. רחומיך תושיע. שוחריך הושיע. תמימיך תושיע, הושע נא.

“Lord who saves, other than You there is no savior. You are powerful and abundantly able to save. I am impoverished, yet You save me. God is the Savior, He delivers and saves. Those who cry to You – save; those who yearn for You – save. Satiate Your lambs, cause an abundance of crops, of trees, of vegetation – save. Do not condemn the ground, but sweeten the luscious fruits – save. Let the wind bring the soaring clouds, let the storm rains be emplaced, let the clouds not be withheld, He Who opens a hand and satisfies Your thirsty ones – satisfy; Your callers – save; Your beloved – save; Your seekers – save; Your wholesome ones – save.” (Artscroll translation)

What a lot of talk about redemption!
What a day to talk about redemption!
What a day to pray for redemption and to praise God for granting redemption to those who are bound and oppressed.

Today, October 18, 2011, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier now twenty-five years old, was returned home to Israel after five years in captivity by the hands of Hamas terrorists. Israel traded 1,027 Palestinian captives for Gilad’s safe release to his family.

This morning, as I checked Facebook for status updates, it seemed to me that every Jewish person plugged into Israeli happenings had posted about Gilad’s safe return home. The page for Binyamin Netanyahu is littered with pictures of the reunification of Gilad with his family and with the Prime Minister himself.

So much about this sixth day of Sukkot celebrates God as Redeemer. Some of the words I mentioned I say every day, multiple times a day. Some I say several times a year. Some I say once a year. Even so, none of these words have struck me the way they do today, God as Redeemer. God as Savior. Until one witnesses an event like this (and can check the news by 4G network even during the repetition of the Amidah, hearing in real-time what is going on in the world) one never knows the ways simple phrases of daily liturgy can tug at the heartstrings.

I join in the rest of the world in the following blessing, which we are not blessed to say so often:
ברוך פודה שבויים.
Blessed is He who releases captives.
Welcome home, Gilad.