I live in the Golan Heights in Israel, in a small community, called Moshav Keshet. When people ask me where it is, I tell them to go to the top of the Sea of Galilee, turn right and stop right before Syria. Despite the fact that it sounds like a stressful place to live, I live in what my father likes to call paradise. It is one of the most beautiful, peaceful and relaxing places on earth.
My friends come up to visit to take a break from their hectic lives, to reconnect with themselves, nature, their Creator. Since moving here four years ago, I have found myself learning more and more about life, G‑d and nature, just by watching the world around me. The more I learn, the more I pay attention to the details of nature which in turn heightens my awareness to learn even more. It is a fascinating and exciting process.
Here, rain is life Each year I am in awe of the beauty and miraculousness as the season changes – how the same piece of land can go from flourishing green growth, flowing with water and bursting with flowers, to brown dry death and back again, year after year. One might think that it gets redundant seeing the same process repeating itself over and over. The opposite is true for me. Each year, I experience my feelings of excitement anew when the rain begins to fall and I, once again, await the transformation from death to life.
This year with the return of the rain after the dry summer, as the green started to grow, the feeling of excitement was even greater than usual. Last year the rainfall in Israel was sorely lacking and our water levels were at a serious low. At times like this the prayers for rain take on new meaning. Our very sustenance depends on the rain which fills the Sea of Galilee and other springs which in turn provide us with water to drink, bath, water crops.
Here, rain is life. Children from kindergarten age speak of the importance of praying for rain. My elementary school age kids both brought home beautifully decorated prayers for rain that we hung up on our front door. This year the winter began with a serious rainfall on Rosh Hashanah. What a wonderful way to start the new year with signs of blessing and plenty. May the blessing continue!
Recently, driving from Keshet to Katzrin (the nearest city -15 minutes away), the fields and valleys of the Golan Heights, once again taught me an important life lesson. I noticed that on one side of the road, the fields were sprouting their yearly green carpet. The color, the beauty, the freshness, struck me as it always does. Life, nature, renewal; what a miraculous world G‑d created!
But then I looked to the other side of the road. Why didn't I see the same green carpet? There was knee-high dead grass that covered it. Patches of green were only visible, tucked between the remnant, dry grass. I was struck by the dichotomy of what I was seeing and continued to turn the image over in my mind as I sought some sort of explanation.
The fire had burned the tall dead grass and created a fertile field Sharing my observations with my family one evening at home, I learned that the same phenomenon had struck my husband who takes this drive daily. He recalled that at the end of the summer there had been a fire on what was now the green side of the road, but not on the brown side. The fire had burned the tall dead grass and created a fertile field ready for the new green growth to be seen, as soon as it broke through the ground. The same green growth was happening on the other side of the road but was hidden by the dead leftovers of last year.
When discussing this with a teenage neighbor he told me (with the simplest tone of obvious understanding) that fires actually do something to the soil which causes it to be more conducive to growth. (His explanation was much more impressive! )
What did I learn from this? For one thing I learned that sometimes we need to look beyond the surface to be able to see new growth. I also learned that what may appear to be a bad thing – fire = destruction – can actually be a cleansing process. It gets rid of all of the leftovers and makes space for new growth and even enhances that growth! We can't necessarily see the beauty of the green during the fire. For that we must wait. But oh how it is worth the wait!
What is fire? Isn't it fascinating that the same medium can be a source of heat to keep us warm and safe in our home and protect us from the cold outside; or it can burn destroy that home that gives us shelter. It can cook our food – but not too much or it will burn. It can be our dearest friend or our worse enemy. Who doesn't love to sit next to a bonfire, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, sing songs, and imagine the endless shapes in the coals? But don't get too close, and be careful from flying embers.
The challenges that come along in our lives often feel negative, tragic, or destructive. They bring us down, cause us to doubt ourselves, our strengths; cause conflict with friends and loved ones – the list is endless. Can these same challenges also warm us and keep us safe and nourish us? Can they also help us climb the ladder rungs of life and help us progress towards whatever it is we are supposed to accomplish in this world? Is it possible that they are all part of a plan to ultimately help us to see the green carpets of growth more vividly?
Often we need to take a look beneath the surface or just wait for the rainfall (showers of blessing and abundance) to see what new and beautiful things can grow and be seen more clearly and easily in the footsteps of what seemed like destruction.
We have a choice of which eyes we use to look at the physical world around us, as well as at the events of our lives. We can choose to look at the details of nature and learn deep life lessons. We can choose to look at the events of our lives as positive and growth producing, even when they are fraught with pain.
May we all be blessed with eyes and heart to see the blessings in our lives; the blessings in our challenges either after the fire, or by looking beyond the surface. May our fires warm us without burning! And may we each successfully maneuver our way up the rungs of own personal ladder of life and reach great heights.