July 25, 2002
report from Israel:
Things are stable here. People are not living in crouched
fear. They are careful where they go and avoid some of the
more public dining areas. But overall, there is a positive
attitude and it's quite pleasant to travel and meet people
wherever you go.
The mood sounds much worse via American media than it actually
is. The news does not at all convey the strength and fortitude
of the average Israeli. This does not minimize the tragic
losses and pain this country has recently suffered, nor does
it diminish the uncertainty and serious challenges ahead of
us. But at the same time, a powerful spine holds up people
here. And it's empowering to be around them.
As we are about to enter Shabbat in Israel, I can say now
more than ever that being here makes me proud to be a Jew.
May it be a peaceful Shabbat and week, both here and abroad.
And may we be wise and do what we must to create true and
Old City, Jerusalem
Erev Shabbat Eikev, 6:07 PM
FROM LEBANON TO ISRAEL
By Simon Jacobson
My last week has been - and continues to be - overwhelmingly
rich and fulfilling. With all the adrenaline flowing and
all the energy around me, I find it extremely difficult
to write. At least for me, it seems almost impossible to
commit to paper (or e-mail) powerful experiences while I
am still in the middle of experiencing them, without the
luxury (and detachment) of distance.
Yet, since my trip to Israel one year ago, only amplified
by the events of September 11 and their aftermath, I have
felt compelled to write a weekly commentary. I will therefore
continue my writing this week, as difficult as it may be,
and offer my apologies for any inadequacies in this week's
July 19-21 - Lebanon State Forest, New Lisbon, NJ
Experienced an extraordinary Shabbat camping weekend with
some 120 other souls. Sheer power emanates from a gathering
that is self-generated and not dependent on human structures.
There is something amazing - in its raw truth - about getting
away from your comfort zones, being vulnerable to the elements,
going into nature, and doing it with others. To sing, laugh
and cry together as we sit under the serene heavens was
Additionally, there is great power in creating a Shabbat
environment in a place where Shabbat was perhaps never felt.
It's like treading a path where no one had previously walked.
You feel - in the words of the Baal Shem Tov - as if Existence
itself from the beginning of time has been waiting for you
to come to this place and sanctify it.
With all the chaos and upheaval going on around us today,
with all the senseless deaths - it was beyond empowering
to spend this time with real people. You know that feeling,
when you just sit and watch quality people be real. I wish
I could convey how deeply moved I was to be part of such
an extraordinary experience, only enriched by the fact that
I could spend it with my son, Menachem Mendel, who joined
us in this adventure.
Of all the Sabbaths I have experienced - in five star hotels,
age-old or modern synagogues - the most powerful one of
all is Shabbat under the heavens. No crutches, no excuses,
- just you, others and G-d.
In all our years of praying, never did the Shabbat prayers
come alive as they did in Lebanon (State Forest). As we
stood under the canopy of trees (over our central tent)
we could literally feel the resonating words: "The
heavens will rejoice, the earth will exult; the sea and
its fullness will roar. The fields and everything therein
will jubilate; then all the trees in the forest will sing."
"The rivers will clap their hands, the mountains will
And sing they did, together with all of us.
Even the thunderstorms (until exactly 10PM) joined the chorus.
"His lightnings will illuminate the world; the earth
will see and tremble."
And if this is not enough, we suddenly heard ourselves singing:
"The voice of G-d is over the waters, the G-d of glory
thunders; G-d is over mighty waters... The voice of G-d
breaks cedars; G-d shatters the cedars of Lebanon. He makes
them leap like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild
Lebanon?! Yes, Lebanon.
As we sung these words, we all felt as if the ‘Lebanon’
around us was being shattered and the 'forests stripped
bare' to make room for new openings.
Usually these are just words we say in the Friday night
service. Last Friday night we actually experienced them.
Wish you were there.
And then - after a night of incredible words, songs and
camaraderie - the next morning we read in the Torah the
moving words of Moses asking G-d to enter the Promised Land.
Moses begged G-d with 515 (!) prayers to allow him in.
"I entreated G-d at that time, saying... "Pray
let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other
side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon."
But G-d was angry with me because of you, and He did not
listen to me, and G-d said to me, "Enough; speak to
Me no more regarding this matter. Go up to the top of the
hill and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward
and eastward and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross
this Jordan. But command Joshua and strengthen him and encourage
him, for he will cross over before this people, and he will
make them inherit the land which you will see."
The great commentator Rashi says that "this good mountain"
is Jerusalem and "the Lebanon" is the Holy Temple,
as some of the commentaries on Rashi explain, that the Temple
is called Lebanon because it purified [Lebanon from the
word ‘malbin’] the people of their sins.
"Lebanon" is also comprised of the two words ‘lev
nun,’ literally ‘heart fifty.’ It manifests the power of
‘bina liba,’ the understanding heart - the fifty gates of
understanding, that allow the heart to fully experience
And so the Shabbat went, every moment richer than the one
before it. Beautiful Shabbat meal, with words of inspiration
from Phillip, Zvi, Yocheved and so many others. Glorious
Shabbat afternoon, peaked by a moving Third meal, with its
special melodies and the unexpected touching words that
Noah shared with us about his father and about his love
and appreciation for his wife.
Amazing havdalah service, and even stronger melave malka,
as we sung and danced into the fire-lit night until the
Sunday morning captured the spirit of unity. People from
diverse backgrounds, young and old, joining as one - in
a true model for what is expected of us as we return to
civilization. If only we can hold onto this inspiration.
Sunday night I return to New York, only to ready myself
for my next trip Monday morning.
Monday-Tuesday, July 22-23 - JFK Airport
From Lebanon to Israel I go. I fly.
Arrive Tuesday morning. Go immediately, with my friend Greg,
to the Wall. Same wall, nothing seems to have changed. Yet
so much has changed. Does the Wall feel the changes over
the last year. Is it sadder because of the blood lost? Or
is it oblivious or just plain worn out after seeing so many
years of suffering?
Cannot tell by looking at the wall. But I can tell by looking
at people's faces.
Wednesday, July 24 - Judean Desert, Jordan Valley, Tiberias,
Drive to Tzfat via the Jordanian valley route (Highway 90).
The so-called West Bank. Over the green line (the land conquered
by Israel in 1967). We drive through the Judean desert.
To the right is the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and the border
dividing Israel and Jordan. To the left is Jericho and other
Arab occupied cities.
In the valley we spot fields of date trees, olives, grapes,
bananas and more. The words in this week's Torah portion
(Eikev) come alive: "For God is bringing you to a good
land that emerges in valleys and mountains, a land of wheat
and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil
producing olives and honey."
I wonder if we have fulfilled the end of this verse: "You
will eat and be sated, and you shall bless G-d for the good
land He has given you." Are we blessing G-d and appreciating
what was given to us?
As we drive by Jericho I can't help but look out to the
right toward the River Jordan to see where the Jews crossed
the Jordan as they entered the land. Perhaps I can detect
Am completely blown away that this is the place Moses is
talking about at the end of this week's Torah portion: "For
if you keep all these commandments which I command you to
do them, to love G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave
to Him, then G-d will drive out all these nations from before
you, and you will possess nations greater and stronger than
you. Every place upon which the soles of your feet will
tread, will be yours: from the desert and the Lebanon [Lebanon
again; wasn't I just there?], from the river, the Euphrates
River, and until the western sea, will be your boundary.
No man will stand up before you; G-d will cast the fear
of you and the dread of you on all the land upon which you
tread, as He spoke to you."
I look around and around as we drive. Here is the place
that is the focus of G-d's providence of His world. "A
land which G-d your G-d cares for: the eyes of G-d your
G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to
the end of the year."
But are we dong our part in keeping the Land? G-d commands
the people to destroy the idols of the land's former masters,
and to beware lest they become haughty and begin to believe
that "my power and the might of my hand have gotten
me this wealth."
We drive on. First stop in Tiberias. Visit the graves of
the Rambam (Maimonides), the Shaloh and some other greats.
The road to Tzfat is closed. We circle only to find out
that there is no other route in this direction. They finally
open the road to our relief. But the cop won't let us make
a right (he apparently doesn't like cab drivers). So, more
circles. Israel seems to be a place where people disproportionately
go around in circles. Maybe it's a way the Holy Land gets
even with us after years of our neglecting it.
Finally we are on our way to mystical Tzfat. Best place
to be on this day, the 15th of Av. I want to see the sun
set over the Galilean mountains overlooking one of the oldest
and most powerful cemeteries - actually called ‘beis hachaim’
in Hebrew. When we ask someone for directions to the cemetery,
they correct us and call it "beis ha'chaim," House
of Life. Thanks for the correction.
Indeed, it is the House of Life. Here lay some of the greatest
tzaddikim - and especially Kabbalists, beginning with the
holy Arizal, the Bet Yosef (R' Yosef Karo), the Ramak (R'
Moshe Kordovero), the Mabit, R' Moshe Alsheich, and so many
others. Hosea the prophet I believe is the oldest gravesite.
The resting place of Chana and her seven sons [killed by
the Syrian king, Antiochus, for refusing to bow to his idols]
is especially moving to see.
A man sees Greg and I standing on a spot near the Ari's
burial place (kever). He tells us that we are standing on
the kever of the Ramak's son. "How do you know?"
I ask him, not seeing any markings indicating such. He tells
me that he once discovered a piece of stone at this grave
that bore the name of the Ramak's son.
This man piques my interest. How would he have discovered
the stone? We strike up a conversation. His name is Mordechai
Shababi and he is the keeper of the cemetery for the last
30 years. He inherited the position from his father who
inherited it from his father, as it was passed on father
to son going back over 500 years ago to the time of the
Of all people to meet here I meet this man. So I ask him
why some of the graves are painted in blue? He tells me
that since he doesn't have money to put up signs indicating
the identities of the gravesites, he painted the distinguished
ones blue so they stand out.
-- So now you know the secret to the blue graves in Tzfat.
He also shares with me a dream he had - which I will write
about next week.
The return trip to Jerusalem is a trip indeed. We leave
Tzfat around 8:30 PM. By now night has fallen and the Jordan
Valley - over the Green Line – is a new world where you
can feel buzzing activity 'between the lines. Army vehicles,
checkpoints and roadblocks litter the roads. As we drive
down the 90 and arrive near Jericho, we are redirected on
a detour to another road toward Jerusalem. A bumpy, dusty
one-lane road that is several feet from the fence on the
A friend in the car freaks out of fear. I, on the other
hand, actually find myself entering a very peaceful place.
After all, this is the last place where a bombing (G-d forbid)
would take place. In the middle of a desert. No one
around for miles. Only army vehicles. And I was excited
by the sheer opportunity to ride along the border where
the Jews entered the Promised Land 3274 years ago.
Make it back safe and sound at 12:30 PM. Am exhausted but
exhilarated. Not a good mix for sleep. But hey, who has
time for sleep anyway?
Thursday, July 25, Jerusalem
Visit the tunnels beneath Jerusalem and the Wall. If you
want to see the truth and reality of Jerusalem and Israel
you MUST visit these tunnels. Indeed, as I was to discover,
these tunnels reveal the truth about our entire world situation
You enter the tunnels at the western end of the Wall and
you exit in the ‘Arab Quarter.’ The tunnels reveal the Temple
structure before the Romans destroyed it and the Muslims
built their homes and mosques on these ruins.
The Western Wall as we know it is actually maybe only 1%
of the entire edifice that once surrounded the Temple -
actually, the land plate that created level ground upon
which the Temple was built. The Western Wall is a remnant
of a long wall that stretches hundreds of meters, which
you see as you walk through the tunnel, until you reach
the north-western corner, which is actually no longer a
wall but the actual Temple Mount (Mt. Moriah).
In the tunnels you see the original Herodian stones, and
you see the areas where the Romans destroyed the wall, and
how the were not quite able to finish the job, leaving jagged
edges of stone standing. What is even more shocking - and
blood boiling - is what the Muslims did 700 years later.
They rebuilt parts of the wall, no, not to rebuild the Temple,
but to serve as a foundation (and cistern and sewers) for
their own structures. They covered up virtually every remnant
of a previous structure, and converted the entire place
into new buildings, courtyards, streets, and of course,
the two mosques on the Temple Mount proper. To the naked
eye no one could tell that something existed here before.
But G-d has His own mysterious ways. Though most of the
wall was buried by the combination of Roman destruction
and Muslim rebuilding, a sliver of wall remained exposed,
allowing us a glimpse to the reality within. This remnant
is the Western Wall of today, where the shechinah rests
eternally, and it wakes us up to peer inward. And indeed
we did, uncovering these fascinating tunnels that reveal
the inner truth.
Suddenly, the entire reality of history - and today's events
– appeared before my eyes.
The Holy Temple in Jerusalem is the center of the universe.
The Holy of Holies on top of the ‘even ha'shesiya,’ the
Foundation Rock, upon which the entire world is built. Adam
and Eve were created atop this mountain. Cain and Abel,
Noah all brought their offerings here. Abraham offered Isaac
on this mountain. Jacob had his famous dream here.
The children of Esau (Romans) and Ishmael (Muslims), each
in their own time destroyed and concealed the truth of the
Temple Mount. Today, we see how perceptions are so distorted
and people are convinced that the outer façade is
true, and deny the underlying truth.
Everyone is invested in perpetuating this myth, and will
do everything to suppress the truth that lies beneath and
within the Temple Mount.
Why did they go to such lengths to build entire structures
- what is today called the Arab Quarter - to cover up what
lies below? The question is rhetorical; you can figure out
the answer yourselves.
As we exit out the tunnels into the Arab Quarter, I see
it all come alive.
Yes, as we traveled from Lebanon to Israel I realize in
the process that our challenge today is to uncover the hidden
foundations beneath Jerusalem, and to bridge the outer surface
with its true reality within. And the only way to do so
today is from the ‘bottom up.’ A grass roots effort of transforming
the trees and forest of ‘Lebanon’ in our lives into a dynamic
source of sanctity.
So, is Jerusalem still sitting alone as Jeremiah describes
2424 years ago? I guess so. But this time it waits for us
to make a move. You can feel that Jerusalem is waiting for
So, last Shabbos - Shabbat Nachamu - we transformed Lebanon
State Forest into a truly sacred space and time. This Shabbos
I enter into Jerusalem with something to offer. I bring
to you, Jerusalem, the warmest regards of souls inspired
by you. I bring to you the energy created by a group of
us last week in a beautiful Shabbos that we experienced
in Lebanon. I tell you, Jerusalem that you have a partner
that is willing to pay the price to reveal your hidden secrets
and to expose your inner self.
Resultingly, Jerusalem will perhaps feel a little less lonely