Safety Amidst the Ice Floes

By Yaakov

My brother, living half the year in Hungary and half the year in California, writes me, living in Israel, a detailed analysis of the political situation vis a vis Iran, Israel, the U.S., etc., and at the end of his cogent points, adds, AND THE ONE PLACE I WOULD NOT WANT TO BE LIVING IN SUCH A SITUATION IS ISRAEL.

And I reply that there are many I know who believe that Israel will be the safest place in the world.

In my next email, I add to that:

…And if you will ask me how anyone can possibly say that Israel will be the safest place in the world, I’ll answer that I don’t know. I’ll say that maybe it’s something like the eye of the hurricane, but that doesn’t really answer it.

Reasonably speaking, the statement about Israel being the safest place in the world doesn’t make much sense.

And from one side, I wish that things ran only according to reason. Then I could use my powers of analysis and feel that I have a good idea about how things run. I’d probably feel much more comfortable in this body, in this world, if I could reach that point. Then, if things didn’t go the way I knew they should, I would have someone to blame for it.

Then, reason or better yet, misused, distorted reason, would be the explanations for the larger or smaller events of my life and of the way of the world.

But from another side, what can I do if I’ve seen many, many, many times over that the supra-rational enters into the picture, into all pictures, so much so that, as uncomfortable as it is, as difficult as it sometimes makes my life as it shakes up my belief in my own abilities to reason things out, I have no choice but to take it into account?

How can one possibly deal with something like that without boxing it off in a separate category, saying, “Yes, there is something that is supra-rational, something called “The Mystery,” but it’s over there, in another place. The place I find when I go meditate, or sometimes when I walk aside the ocean. Meanwhile, right here is reality.”

What can I do if I know already that without entering the supra-rational into reality I have an incomplete picture?

What can I do?

I have no choice but to learn to navigate unchartered waters.

And that has a beautiful and complete feel of truth to it, so if I have to navigate, so be it.

As maybe it was Mark Twain said, “a ship is a beautiful thing, but its purpose is not to sit in the harbor.”

It’s a constant learning process and the only way to learn is to be out there in the ocean. There are no rehearsals. And sometimes I hit ice floes. (I don’t want to say “icebergs,” because that brings up images of the Titanic, which lies forever on the ocean floor).

So the ice floes, or meteors if one prefers the metaphor of flying in outer space, are constant elements that have to be taken into account. They sometimes have the advantage of being, at least, solid matter, as opposed to the void that surrounds one in space or in the ocean.

A friend of mine tells me of the time he sailed a small boat across the ocean. He started out, more or less, with a book in his hand entitled something like, “How to Sail Across the Ocean.”

One day, out there somewhere, he decided to go for a swim. So he anchored his boat and jumped in.

What he saw and experienced was so frightening that he immediately scuttled his mission and bounced right back into the boat.

What happened was that out there the water is so crystal clear that he was able to see down and around him much further that he ever thought possible, pristine clear, and it was something like being inside of a crystal, or, I think, more like free-falling without any bearings. It terrorized him.

On the other hand, as one gets used to it, to whatever degree a flesh-and-blood human can, one receives what can only be called, “gifts,” the kind of gifts that those who stay in harbor cannot even conceive of. The kinds of gifts that give one the feeling that, “Ahh! For that I was born!”

The kinds of gifts that can give him his Life, and ruin his life.

And right after that, he can run into another ice floe. It’s what might be called an “occupational hazard.”

And there are any number of people around, good people, well-meaning people, who are ready to say, “Ah! You see! You see what it’s all got you to!”

And then you have your moments of doubt, but then, again, mercifully or not, Life beckons and you spend the rest of your time in harbor gathering up supplies.

And before you leave, you tell your well-intended, but settled friends in harbor the story brought down at the end of a Jewish book, Gesher HaChaim, that details the Torah laws of the mourning process:

Twins are in the womb. One of them is quite content with his life as it is, having all his food brought to him automatically amidst the mesmerizing rhythmic heart-beat and cushioned watery environment.

The other has some kind of what can only be called a “received,” intuitive awareness that there is more to it than that, more to come.

They go back and forth discussing it, disagreeing, for many months.

“Don’t you see, my brother? We have everything here. What else were we created for?”

And the second one can only speak vaguely of some feeling, some innate understanding of his, that there is something “outside.”

Finally, comes the time to go out. The “receiving” one is going first. As he goes, his brother is heartbroken. “My brother, don’t leave, come back! What did it get you, all your ideas?!”

What he doesn’t hear, or maybe hears only faintly without it penetrating his awareness, are the joyous cries on the other side, “Mazel Tov! You have a son!”

So you stay in harbor long enough to lick your wounds and gather supplies, dodging the “ice floes” which are also found on safe ground, the ones you meet up with oftentimes when you go into the settlers’ stores, as they beckon you to mature and become realistic, “if not for your sake, at least for your family’s sake for God’s sake, do it.”

What happens next? I don’t know. I’m still licking my wounds and all I have is a vague memory of a previous scenario, which may or may not be relevant next time around.

3 comments on “Safety Amidst the Ice Floes

  1. Yaacov — your piece deeply touched me. Perhaps it’s the poetic nature of your writing; the way you intertwine your effervescent faith with candid, bold moments of mournful uncertainty. Whatever it is, it resonates.

    So thanx for sharing it. There aint many ships like that out in my part of the ocean!

    You might be interested in checking out a blog I recently put up:

    In the meantime I bless you to keep up such sailing in the Holy Land and, not matter what, don’t spend too much time overboard!

  2. David,
    When you’re in the ocean, you’re winging it the whole time. The safe harbor is the place you go when you hit too many ice floes. You go back to solid land in order to gather your resources. You take it easy, maybe sleep a little more. Think about doing what you’re “supposed to do as a responsible member of society.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in and of itself. But if you’re enough of a pioneer to have already ventured after a vision, you may have a hard time staying there, even though you’re tempted to stay there after you recover rather than venture back out into the ocean. Those are the moments of doubt about your purpose. But then you remember that a ship isn’t built to stay in harbor, and also, something which you call Life beckons, and from then on, you’re there only to gather up supplies for another voyage.
    We sometimes forget that Yiddishkeit has a place for pioneers.The Chazon Ish expressed it beautifully in the first paragraph of his sefer, “Emunah and Bitochon:” He writes, “The world before him seems to be a hidden, wondrous enigma which captivates his heart, leaving no ambition other than solving this puzzle. This solution absorbs his soul…his soul becomes disoriented, mourning and yearning…to comprehend this secret and knwo its roots.”
    Some of the Chasidic Rebbes I’ve been around know all about the ocean and what the Chazon Ish writes.

  3. Hi!

    Very nice post.

    I see we have a mutual friend. When I heard that story from “your friend” it really gave me chills up and down my spine.

    I read your piece twice, but I’m still confused what you mean by the safe harbor. Care to elaborate on the nimshal?

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