Hilltop youth at prayer
Hilltop youth at prayer Flash 90

Last week, one of my occasional visitors asked me if I was lonely. It seemed like a strange question. Lonely? I don’t think I ever experienced a feeling of loneliness all during the eight months that I have been living out here on the hilltop. How could I be lonely? Hashem is with me every moment of the day. In the morning He appears in my tent as a gentle wind long before the first crows of the few roosters who roam around the chicken coop not far from the sheep pen as if they are keeping guard. Usually I rise, wash my hands with the cool water in the covered basin outside of tent and begin to recite the morning prayers by the light of an oil lamp.

How can I feel lonely? Hashem is all about me as I stand outside my tent gazing up at endless galaxies of stars. Hashem is everywhere. His Presence fills the hilltop. His splendor illuminates the universe. It is He who has fashioned the stars and set constellations in their places. Here is the twinkling bear and there is the royal dipper. Who but Hashem could create an expanse of such wonder? My G-d, my G-d, my G-d is ever with me. I look up at the heavens and spin around in a circle, feeling the world spin around with me, above me, beneath me, all around my being. I feel encompassed by G-d’s never-ending love. My watchdog tilts his head to the side observing me. He too lifts his gaze to the heavens, perhaps wondering why I seem overjoyed with such rapture. A sheep awakens and bleats. In the distance, somewhere along the shadowy hillsides, I can hear dogs barking and the crowing of roosters which are soon accompanied by mine in an awakening orchestra of dawn. Lonely? How can a man feel lonely when his Maker is ever with him in everything he hears and smells and sees?

“The heavens declare the glory of G-d; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge….”

Here on my hilltop I have acquired more knowledge and faith than I ever did at school.

“In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his chuppah, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its warmth.”

I sit by the tent entrance and watch Hashem slowly pull back the world’s curtains revealing another magnificent dawn. I pray. I sing! I play on my flute and add my musical notes to the symphony of Creation.

“Praise the L-rd, O my soul. O L-rd my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”

I suppose I left my home for this reason. For the silence. For the solitude. To hear and see and contemplate on the Oneness of G-d and to meditate on His glory. To feel His closeness all around me. To escape quarrels with brothers and misunderstandings. To avoid the expectations and demands of others who don’t really know the real me . Do this. Do that. Think this. Think that. I left a place where I didn’t belong to a place where my presence was welcome. To meet myself and to discover my Creator. To follow in the footsteps of my Forefathers. To sing praises to Hashem and embrace His Chosen Land where rocks utter poems, trees breath, the soil brings forth new life, where the mountain wind blows with a mighty caress and the air fills my lungs, nourishing my body like food, calming my passions and cleansing all darkness and worry from my mind.

“And the L-rd said to Avram, after Lot was separated from him, now lift up your eyes and look forth from the place where you are, northward and southward, and eastward and westward; for all the Land which you see, to you I will give it and to your seed forever.”

The Land. The Land. I left home to draw strength from our Land, the holy foundation of our People’s existence, the intersection of Heaven and Earth, the abode of Hashem, the resting place of His Shekinah, to defend it from enemies who lurked in its shadows waiting to steal its hillsides and valleys from a Jewish People grown weary from struggle and weakened by a breakdown in faith and an estrangement from Torah. A herd of confused and frightened sheep who had lost sight of its true Shepherd and who followed meekly after leaders who were prey to the vanities of honor and monarchy, and who trembled at the jeers and roar of the foe. From where would salvation come if not from the bands of the humble and faithful, from the warriors of Hashem on the hilltops of Judah and the Shomron?

“May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his faithful people.

Praise the L-rd.”

Lonely? How could I be lonely? Hashem spoke to me through the words of His Torah. The wind spoke to me. Birds spoke to me. My sheep spoke to me. The Presence of G-d surrounded me wherever I grazed my sheep. How could a man feel alone when his Creator was always by his side infusing him with comfort and strength?

People sometimes ask, “Aren’t you afraid to live on the hilltop alone?” I understand their question. Indeed, if I were truly alone I probably would be afraid. But a person can learn not to fear. When Hashem is constantly with him, why should he fear?

“The L-rd is my shepherd, I shall not lack. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me besides still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Though I walk through the shadows of the valley of death, I feel no evil for You are with me….”

And what about school? What about your learning? My tent is my school. The hillsides. The skies. The rainstorms. The clash of thunder and the bolts of lightning which proclaim the power and kingship of Hashem over all of His manifold works. The sun goes down. The sun comes up. The rhythm and eternity of time teach me to trust in Hashem.

Here on the hillsides of Israel, there are no jealousies, no competition, no misunderstandings, no anger. Here no one yells. On the mountains of my G-d I am free. I am free to be me. In the valleys of my Forefathers I am welcome. I belong.

Later in the day, my oldest brother came to visit me. “Father,” he said, “wants to you see. He asks you to come home today. He requests that you hurry. He wants you to come now.”

My brother volunteered to watch my sheep until I returned. I didn’t want to leave my hillside, but my father beckoned. That too was from Hashem. So I set off for home. In respect for my father. The esteemed Rabbi. A man of Torah. A good man. Quiet in his ways and eager to help his fellow man, just as he had helped me to set off on my own when family conflict shattered foundations of unity and brotherly love.

Of course I wondered why he had sent for me now? My living on the isolated hilltop did not worry him or cause him chagrin. He had given me his heartfelt blessing. Yet as I headed back to civilization, I was loathe to leave my peace and quiet joy on the hilltop, living the Torah’s verses and cherishing the embrace of the Land, absorbing its mystical powers, while engaged day and night in a constant conversation with G-d.

A man was standing beside my father. Not just any man. I could tell from a distance, even before I could see the features of his face. I could tell by the celestial light shining forth from his being. Or was it light shining down upon him from G-d. Never before had I seen him in person but I instantly sensed that he was Shmuel, the Prophet of the L-rd. He was standing beside my father and my other brothers. He was waiting for me, a youth from the hilltops. He blessed me and went on his way.

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."