Op-Ed: Jerusalem Has No Natural Wonders
Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired...
The Land of Israel is basically a land of desert and rocky ground. And that is what it appeared to be for many centuries of neglect and barrenness. As recently as the beginning of the twentieth century visitors always commented upon the country’s desolation, poverty and drabness.
Yet today, from the northern and parts of the central Negev to the northern and eastern reaches of Israel’s current borders, the country is green, forested and verdant. This was accomplished by intensive, even sacrificial human labor and the ability to distribute water plentifully and efficiently to all parts of the country.
Developing and exploiting the country’s national aquifers, drawing on the waters of Lake Kinneret and building major desalination plants have all combined to make our country a green place. Waste sewage water has been purified and supplied for agricultural purposes. It is estimated that when the two new desalination plants now nearing completion will be fully operational in 2014, an astounding seventy percent of Israel’s drinking water will come from desalination methods. What a strategic blessing this will be!
God promised us a land that flows with milk and honey and all sorts of bounty and blessings. Israeli agricultural products, machinery, know-how and crop production efficiency help feed millions of people worldwide on a daily basis, as well as naturally supplying our country’s basic food needs.
Our little country is not only booming, it is blooming as well.
Jews have returned to their agricultural roots (no pun intended but compliments nevertheless will be graciously accepted) and are expert vintners and producers of olive oil, exotic cheeses and every imaginable fruit and vegetable. Flowers of every conceivable color, shadings and hue dot our country’s landscape and appear regularly on our tables and in our homes.
I have no recollection that as a child I ever saw flowers in our home or for that matter in any of the homes of my friends. Even on Shavuot the synagogues of my youth boasted no flowers on their premises. That may have been because of the cost of purchasing flowers in a much less affluent society than today’s Jewish world, or of the lack of an Eastern European flower friendly mentality or for other reasons. But, there is no question that flowers help dispel a feeling of drabness and ordinariness.
Israel has created itself as a major flowers producer and exporter. The flowers of Israel confirm the feeling of natural beauty that one feels when viewing the landscape of the country today. Our little country is not only booming, it is blooming as well.
Yet there is a beauty to the Land of Israel that cannot be seen physically but must somehow be experienced internally and spiritually. The Talmud poses for us the question: “Why are the hot springs of Israel located in Tiberias and not in Jerusalem?” Why does Jerusalem not contain any natural wonders – no rivers or lakes or sunsets over the sea?
The lack of any natural wonders in the Holy City is puzzling. After all, Judaism always preached the necessity of visiting Jerusalem so why was it not made to be physically wondrous and naturally inviting. The Talmud answers that Jerusalem’s beauty is so rare and holy, so naturally spiritual and eternal that physical and natural phenomena would prove distracting and perhaps even demeaning to the true essence of its beauty and grandeur.
Jerusalem has to be appreciated not only with one’s eyes and physical senses but also with one’s soul. The same is true of the Land of Israel generally. Even though the country is outstandingly beautiful in every physical and natural sense, its true beauty exists in the soul of the beholder.
There is so much history and purpose hidden in every inch of the land that to deal only with the surface and the obvious really does a disservice to the country. Perhaps that is what is meant in our daily prayers when we hope “for a new light to shine on Zion.” The new light should emanate from our souls and hearts so that we may be privileged to see Israel the beautiful in all of its splendor.