As the debate over gun control rages in response to Sandy Hook, here's an article I wrote some years back after the Jerusalem terrorist-tractor attack. It addresses the mystical aspect of swords-into-ploughshares in light of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet. (Two facts to ponder as you read: In America, there are more Gun Dealers than major supermarkets, and more gun sellers than Mac Donald's restaurants.)
The internet’s down!
And with it the phone.
Tannersville is quiet by night.
It’s a silence about the texture of a goose-down cushion. Thick.
Soft. Comfortable. I want to sink in but find no rest. Was it the movie “E-lollipop” that began with
the protagonist asking a stranger on a park bench, “Does the noise in my head
bother you?’? I am thinking of things
hard and loud. And the noise in my head
It could be yesterday that I saw the yellow Caterpillar tractor lurching across a
street. The footage was from a cell
phone. A silent movie. I imagine the sounds. The engine-belly, the fork on cars, the fork
on flesh, the sound life makes leaving a body, and the wails of terror and
grief. Now, cross-legged on the couch in
our summer rental, I gaze into the black beyond the window and review the
scene. My thoughts jump. I think of the caterpillars we watched as children,
seeing them lift-and-crunch from tail to fore as they jerk across a leaf. And I wonder if, standing beside the white or
yellow line painted along the tar of Rehov Yaffo, onlookers felt they’d missed a
step as the tractor crunched and swung for death.
I can’t put them together. The tractor and death. From the wooden puzzles of my kindergarten years and on, I’ve been taught that tractors support life. They churn soil and soften it to receive seeds. They are the backdrop of bread steaming from an oven, of apples in a bowl. My mind wrestles with a Caterpillar run amok in the
I guess one must know how to use one…The people of Gush Katif did. They tossed a desert into leafy greens. They drove their tractors across austere
sands and behold! – fields of cilantro and parsley fragranced the air…But the
neat categories of childhood don’t hold up to the Big People world I live
in. Despite what those
puzzles-painted-in-primary-colors would have me think, it was tractors that
flung the Jews of Gush Katif, like rocks tossed aside, from the Land. Bulldozers rendered their homes rubble in the
name of life and peace. And the very
tanks manufactured to protect them were turned on those who best knew how to
use their metal. Holy City
The internet’s down and the contradictions screech within me. I think of a passage in Ezekiel that talks of iron and alludes to the tanks and tractors of both the world at large and of our inner landscapes. Prior to the siege placed upon the First Temple, G-d told him, “Take an iron pan and place it upright as a wall of iron between you and the city…and it will be as a siege…a sign for the Jewish people.” Rashi tells us that the pan served as a metaphor. It presented G-d’s message that “in this way
will be besieged.” . It
called upon the people to repent. “If
not,” cried the pan, “the will be surrounded
by a wall of iron slotted together of soldiers carrying swords and cloaked in
shields. Return. For metal is upon you. Prevent the wall of iron from breaking the
walls of the City and of the Holy
Ezekiel and the people knew well the destructive power of iron. They saw it grind the
Temple into dust like the
homes on the hills of the Gush. G-d
knows how that hurts. Precisely because
of its deathly edge, no iron tools were allowed to be used in the construction
of the Temple. As the Midrash comments on the gold, silver
and copper we were asked to bring for the building of the sanctuary, “Iron was
not mentioned here, neither in relation to the sanctuary nor the Temple, because it is analogous of the people of Edom, who destroyed the Temple.” G-d’s aversion was stressed most with regard
to the altar, the primary vessel of the Temple, for
“the altar was created to lengthen the days of a person and iron was created to
shorten the days of man. One may not
raise that which shortens over that which lengthens. Even more so, the altar brings peace between
the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven.
Therefore no cutting or damaging (could) be imposed upon it.”
Each human alive can attest to the destructive power of its strength. From the hills of
Columbian mercenaries, from pistols fired in gang warfare to Uzis to tanks to
air force bombers, no patch of the planet where humans dwell has not heard the
sounds of iron shortening life, or watched as its soil is reddened with blood
cut loose. And yet, the metal has a holy
is one who’s “stones are made of iron.” The very stones that were crumbled to
fragments are rich in iron ore. And they
too speak to us in parables. They remind
us that locked deep within our beings is an essential core so strong it can
withstand exile. It is the point of
absolute beinghood within each of us that defies definition, which exists
because it exists. It holds us through
war. It supports us in the midst of our
madness. It is the fulcrum of confidence. The springboard of our drives. The elemental power of the soul. Land of Israel
We all have it. The trick is to direct that iron core in the right direction. One might well call it The Art of War – or for that matter the Art of Peace. “She has an iron will.” “He’s made of steel.” Is it good or bad? Is iron life or death? Our sages say, “Any sage who is not tough as iron is not a sage.” G-d calls us a “stiff-necked nation.” Bulls-eye! We’re obstinate and tough. But our “stiff-neckedness” is at core a chutzpa of holiness that has borne us through the hatred of nations from the ancient Hittites to the father of two from Tzur Baher in
Jerusalem who drove a tractor for death. Is steel good or bad? Is iron life or death? Depends.
The orientation is at my disposal.
The outcome really lies within my hands and heart.
The “art” of the matter is to catch the process at the outset. The
was besieged on the 10th of Tevet.
The walls were breached a half a year later on the 17th of
Tamuz. And the Holy City Temple was destroyed within a mere three
weeks of that. The remedy to prevent the
demolition and devastation was to hear the message of the pan put forth before
the siege. If we’d listened and really
gotten the prophecy of Ezekiel, we’d have converted the danger and death that
hovered above us to light. We could have
activated the essential force of our souls, our steel will, and built a new world
from the struggle.
I watched this battle within myself this past week. I’ve been angry at a friend for a while now. Despite my attempt to dialogue, the connection still felt rotten and full of the dark red stuff that clogs relationships in their down faze. I could have reminded myself of Ezekiel’s pan. I could have put a post-it-note “Tanks ‘n Tractors!” on my fridge door. But no! I festered in the mess. Then I whipped out my sword. And promptly cut an email to “Friend” that had zilch to do with what was really going on. I was all bulldozer on Rehov Yaffo, tank on an enemy turf. What I needed to do was go back to the beginning and catch the anger, activate my Essential Iron Core and be big enough to say, “I’m so sad you’re not in my life anymore. I miss you. Can we reconnect?”
The hurt was the desire to connect with someone else. It almost always is. That, or the real inner longing to bond with G-d. If I can find that point then I can build the rubble into a
Temple. It’s not just patching together the old, not
just “making do” with what’s left and building a shack of debris. To heal you have to go back to the
beginning. To halt the destruction of
the ninth of Av, you have to go back to the tenth of Tevet, back even to
Ezekiel’s pan. If you can get back
there, you can change the direction of the future. At ground zero, I can touch my metal,
activate my inner essence and find the strength to say, “I’m hurting”, or “Can
you help me with this?”, or “I don’t know.”
I catch the core of who I am before a hurt compels me to unsheathe my
sword. And from there I build the . Third Temple
There’s no building a world without steel. King Solomon himself set aside vast amounts of iron, all in anticipation of building the
. The call of the hour is to ensure that the
steel be that of healing and building rather than a blade which shortens human
life. You start with an iron pan on a
hilltop outside of Third Temple Jerusalem. If ignored, the metal dish forebears the
sound of sword upon sword, battle calls, the roll of tanks and cries that cut
into the heart and the heart of heaven. Jerusalem is
ravished. Caterpillars roll across the
road, blades hungry for blood.
Bulldozers rip homes and shuls from the ground, and military brass dump
families into hotel rooms for the night, or month – or decade. But if the people hear the song of the
prophet and the sound of the pan resonating across the valleys, then the iron
builds. We grow bold and strong. We are put in touch with why we are
here. And we realize that we have enough
steel within ourselves to build a brave new world.
This article was originally published on www.TheJewishWoman.org.