Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Devorah Day (from August 2006)

Yom revi'i, 5 Av 5768/6 August 2008, Wednesday.

“Carry three liters of water per person per day.” As I glanced at my half-empty one liter bottle, I sort of wished that this sign had appeared several kilometers ago, or preferably, back at the youth hostel. As it was, I had equipped fourteen people with one liter of water each, thinking I was terribly clever to have thought of water at all.

It was beastly hot, and very humid. This was our group’s day off, after a week of working to clean up the destruction brought on by a month of war with Lebanon. We were privileged to be hiking in the Golan, up and up, over rocks and scree, toward Mapal Devorah. I had hiked in the Golan before, to the Black Falls near Avnei Eitan; and I was looking forward to the cool, refreshing dip in the pool.

“Dress appropriately. Wear walking shoes and a hat.” Well, at least I could feel good about this. I was wearing my great walking shoes, which had aced out all other styles, after years of walking all over Israel. My head was protected; and I had convinced all of the young heroes to wear hats. I had never remembered Israel being this hot and humid!

“The trails are suitable for fit hikers only.” No kidding! I used to be in pretty good shape, but it had been a while since I had seen the inside of the gym. After an hour of hiking, and two incidents of concern over other hikers, a brief prayer seemed wise. “Hashem, please don’t let me make a fool of myself by passing out. Please get me to the falls.” The water was gone; and I could imagine that my bright red face would give concern to anybody who might bother to take a look at me.

I strengthened myself by focusing on the great judge and warrior, Devorah, who had shamed Barak into facing the Jewish people’s enemies. It did not matter that we had been told that this Devorah Falls was named for a different Devorah (or even that this Falls may actually have been the Gilbon, as one fellow hiker opined). To me, we were pushing ourselves forward with a warrior queen as our leader. One of the ladies behind me was starting to hyperventilate. “We are the daughters of Devorah!” I cried, “And we can do anything!” She gave a throaty roar, and continued on.

At last! We made the Falls! The guys threw off various articles of clothing, and waded out into the water. We three women had a few decisions to make, without the benefit of a rabbi’s guidance. We figured out how to get into the water in a tzniut manner. And we helped each other to maintain our dignity and modesty while we swam. Not easy, but it added to the sense of accomplishment.

After swimming out to the falling water, and letting it pour down on my head, I floated off by myself, looking up at the perfect blue sky. Let me try to share with you how it felt. The relief of the cool water, after all that work… The intense beauty of the green growth around the falling water, tiny pink flowers laced through the emerald green… The laughter of the boys nearby (for there was no man-ness in those sweet kids playing under the waterfall, not to me, in those moments)… The warmth on my face… The rainbow shot through the falls… I began to cry with gratitude. “Thank you, Hashem, for giving me the privilege of being here, in the Golan that I love so much. Thank you for keeping me strong enough at nearly 50 to make this hike… Thank you for my beautiful family…” I begged Him to protect my soldiers, the anonymous group of young men for whom I had been davening since the beginning of this latest of Israel’s wars. I felt a shelaimut, a completeness, with Hashem and His creation, that I had never felt. I was in the center of a truly perfect bubble of time.

After a nice period, we got out of the water, and put ourselves back together. It was time to make the short but vertical climb to the parking lot, where the van and driver awaited us. A group of young people (and one very brave father of one of the young people) shot ahead. There was a group behind me, who were helping and being helped. I was in the middle, now by myself, able to sing softly, and hang onto the intense feeling of connectedness to the Briah. Even though the remainder of the hike was straight up, my wet clothing made it tolerable, even pleasant.

Finally, I made it to the parking lot. It was closing on evening. Since we were too few to have a minyan, men were standing at various edges of the parking lot, some draped in glowing white tzitzit, all wrapped in their own thoughts, davening to Hashem at their own paces. I stood in the middle of the quiet lot, feet together, eyes closed. You know how you feel two inches taller, when you achieve something physical you didn’t know you could do? I felt strong and healthy. I was marveling at the human body’s ability to stand perfectly still, perfectly balanced, even without sight. I was drinking as deeply as I could this incredible feeling of wholeness. All of my senses were heightened. I was in tune with the warmth of the sun on my skin, and the corresponding coolness of my wet clothing. I could smell the heat and green growth and motor oil in distinct layers of scent. The sound of the lazy, buzzing flies was intensified. I kept waiting for them to land on my face, prepared to brush them away. None landed. Just that slow, summery buzz, to add to my feeling of being one with G-d’s Creation.

Finally, after about ten minutes of standing just so, I opened my eyes. My clothing was covered with devorahs, with bees! There must have been fifty of the little yellow polka dots on the black dress. I was not afraid. I have never been afraid of bees, anyway; but at that moment, I had clear understanding. They were drinking water from my wet clothing. What an odd feeling of purpose: I was providing water for Hashem’s bees. It was beyond okay. It was perfect. The van driver came running toward me, gesticulating wildly, telling me in Hebrew what I knew already. I gently waved him away. “Zeh beseder, zeh beseder. Ani yoda’at.” He shook his head (“Crazy Americans!”), and returned to his van.

After a few moments, I gently shooed my bees away, and returned to the van, as the rest our party crested the hill.


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