Stuck in the middle

Real life dilemmas mirror Israel's situation all too well.

Rabbi Berel Wein

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I recently was on the tour of the Galilee region here in Israel. The tour stopped for a visit in the town of Rosh Pina. Because of cars parked on both sides of the street, the bus was unable to negotiate and bring us to the top of the hill where the walking tour would begin. Since I had visited Rosh Pina a number of times previously, I decided that I would remain on the bus instead of climbing all the way up the hill.

However when the bus driver parked the bus all the way down the hill, he sweetly informed me that I could not stay on the bus and that he was going to lock it up and go to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer service.
Not realizing where the synagogue really was, I volunteered to accompany him since I also wanted to participate in the prayer services. The bus driver led me through a wooded area, which opened up to an enormously high and steep staircase. At the top of the staircase stood the synagogue, which was our goal.
The bus driver, who appeared to be approximately half my age and only two thirds of my bulk, started walking up that staircase in a brisk manner. As I later determined, the staircase had one hundred twenty five steps before it reached the street level of the synagogue and it did not have a handrail or banister on either side.
Now a wise person would just sit down on the bottom step of the staircase and wait until the bus driver returned and opened the bus again. However, I felt challenged and so I began to ascend that staircase. After climbing about sixty steps, winded and amazed at my own stupidity, I stopped to contemplate the situation. It was just as dangerous for me to go down, as it was strenuous for me to go up the rest of the way. I was literally stuck in the middle.
Standing precariously on the narrow step, I rested to catch my breath and decide what to do. Since I was climbing the staircase for the sole purpose of participating with a quorum in the afternoon prayer services, I brazenly assumed that the Lord would help me climb the remaining half of the staircase and so I proceeded to walk up the steps to the top.
I must admit that after the climb I prayed with some fervor, thankful that somehow I had made it to the top of the staircase and that my vital organs still seemed to be working properly. Taking a far safer route down to the bus when the prayer service ended made me think of the dilemma that faces all of us at one time or another in our ordinary lives.
We are often in a situation where we are stuck in the middle – where it is too difficult or impossible to extricate ourselves from where we are and yet we dread having to pursue the matter to its apparent outcome. The uncertainty as to whether to proceed or withdraw, to climb or to descend, is a very uncomfortable feeling.
This is pretty much the situation in which Israel finds itself today regarding its relationship to the 'West Bank' and to the Palestinian Arabs. Should we continue to build in those areas and contemplate annexing them to Israel itself or should we consider withdrawing further, both territorially and ideologically. This issue is now the heart of the debate that consumes much of governmental and civilian thought here in Israel.
We are stuck in the middle and there seemingly are no good choices or avenues of escape that can prove satisfactory and positive in the long run. Our experiences with Gaza and Lebanon have made us very wary of abandoning the territory or settlements unilaterally. It seems that any move that Israel would make would endanger its short-term and certainly long-term security.
Yet, in the face of worldwide opposition, even from those countries that claim to be friends of Israel, annexation of territories that are in dispute would bring about enormous diplomatic disapproval and other dire consequences. Once the Oslo agreements placed us on this slippery slope more than two decades ago, we constantly find ourselves to be in this position. Perhaps we have no other choice but to just stand on that middle step and wait and see what may yet develop in this very volatile part of the world. But it certainly is no fun to be stuck in the middle.