In last week’s Parasha, Jacob is on the run from Esav. He is so preoccupied by his fear of being caught that when he stops, he did not realise that he had stopped at the holiest place in the world. It was only once he closed his eyes and stopped thinking about the external forces that he was able to appreciate where he was through his dream. From this we can learn a very powerful message- it really is so easy to let beautiful moments in our lives speed past us. Our task is to try realise where we are, and appreciate the gifts that are bestowed upon us everyday.
On Friday night we walked as a group along the beautiful cobblestone path to a balcony, to enjoy the sunset whilst welcoming the Shabbat. I was told Shabbat in Tzfat was meant to be extremely spiritual, however I was quite sceptical. We stood together on the balcony and gazed at the stunning sunset with the silhouette of the mountains. The clouds were frozen in the sky, as if they too were resting. I felt unified with the Kabbalists who 500 years ago would stand and look upon the same magical sky while bringing in Shabbat. We sung songs and heard ideas while the sky faded from orange to navy. As beautiful as it was, I was not feeling a spiritual connection. However, I then closed me eyes physically, and I completely lost myself in song. As I was standing on the crowded balcony, I felt as if I was standing alone, connected to G-d. We finished bringing Shabbat in soon after, and walked back to the hotel for a delicious dinner.
Once dinner was finished we went to our first tish of IST. As a student of Moriah College, I have been to a fair amount of tishs and was weary of a tish with this many people. I was very wrong. Even though I was sitting in an outer circle, the power of all our voices shook the room. A few amazing stories were shared, which added to the incredible atmosphere and bonded us even closer as a group.
For those of us who were still awake, we were offered to go on a walk to one of Tzfat's best kept secrets- the cave. A group of around thirty of us set off with some Madrichim on a short walk. When we arrived at the entrance of the tunnel, we formed a single file line and put our hands on each other's shoulders and walked in. The darkness was indescribable, it was as if our eyes were closed. I was nearer to the back of the line, so the echoes of those who were already in the room carried through the tunnel to us. This caused some to become nervous and others excited. We moved through the tunnel at an extremely slow pace, with our heads down to stop us from banging them on the low roof of the cave. We eventually made it into the open area, not that our vision changed at all. However, it was obvious we were somewhere else. The acoustics in the room were magical, our words bounced off the rock walls all around us. Although I could not see the group, I could feel our presence. When we started to sing, I could hardly comprehend the power of our voices. All the different pitches created the illusion of instruments. The echoing was so loud I could have sworn we had microphones. As we tished altogether, our eyes practically closed and unable to see anything, I truly felt the power of my voice.
On Saturday were woken at nine and were treated to some delicious pastries. We then left to walk to Shule. I couldn't help but smile as I gazed upon the beautiful stone streets and at fellow Jews walking to and from Shule. We arrived at Shule and divided into those who wanted to go to Shule and those who wanted to do a Tefillah workshop. I decided to go to Shule. The Shule was a small room filled with lots of spirit. The members of the Shule were very welcoming and even offered to share Siddurim with those who did not have. As we davened, I closed my eyes to the fact that we were merely in a tiny room and opened my eyes to the Jewish spirit in the room, the unity that I had with these people all the way across the world through our prayers.
Once Mussaf was over we met up with the whole group and walked in bus groups through the streets as our Madrichim told us stories of typical people who lived in Tzfat. Once we arrived back at the hotel we had lunch followed by Chaburot with our family groups. Gilad, our Madrich, told us a story of a man desperate to find the Moschiach before he died. His Rabbi sent him to a poor family for Shabbat for three weeks and told him he would find the Moshiach there. Each week he would arrive with food for them. When he returned on the third time, he overheard one of the children referring to him as the Moshiach. Once he closed his eyes to his desires, he learnt what truly mattered.
We were then given free time. There was an option to do Hitbodedut, a form of Jewish meditation through talking out loud. We walked as a group to a park and split up to each go into our own spaces. I climbed up a small hill and sat on a bench, gazing over some houses in Tzfat. At first, it felt strange to talk out loud and not receive a direct reply. Yet when I started speaking, I could feel Hashem was listening- that I was not alone. After that the words gushed out of me like a waterfall. I said thoughts I did not know I had. When the ten minutes were up, I was shocked, it felt like it had been ten seconds. As the group reconvened, we laughed about how it had felt weird, yet it was fun and rewarding.
After a short discussion, Nina, the Madricha who took us on the Hitbodedut experience, told us we were now going to do a screaming meditation. We excitedly walked down to the cave that some of us had gone to last night. As we walked through the tunnel (this time it was a little brighter) into the cave room, we were very excited. It is not often that one is presented with the opportunity to just scream as loud as one would like. We stood together in the dimly lit room and we started singing the song ‘Shema Kohleinu.’ We started by singing normally, but began altering the volumes of our voices, eventually getting softer and softer. Our delicate voices danced around the room until we were silent. Nina then counted to three, after which we were all instructed to scream as loud as we could. A shout rose from within me that I did not know I had. As our yells shook around us, I felt the power of my scream, and the power of our unified screams. I left the cave with a sore throat and a satisfied smile.
We walked back to the hotel for Seudah Shlishit and Havdallah. As we all stood together singing during Havdallah and swaying in unison, I paused for a moment. I watched as all 138 of us rocked not quite in time with one another, but still united. I could not help but smile at the beauty of our unity. All the voices joined together as we said our farewells to Shabbat.
After a beautiful Havdallah, we all got changed for dinner and a boat ride. After eating an excessive amount of falafel and hot chips, we watched in awe as a large boat pulled into the dock and shot colourful fireworks right in front of us. Once we were allowed to, we all went onto the boat. There was a large open area for us to dance. Even before we left the dock, the DJ had started the music and we were all dancing, closing our eyes and enjoying ourselves. In contrast to a spiritual Shabbat, we had a loud, bright night dancing at sea. We all walked off the boat at the end sweating and laughing.
As the second week of IST comes to an end, I have realised the importance to do what Jacob did, to close my eyes and appreciate where I am.