This past Sunday afternoon from the view of our balcony over Hertzl Blvd we were treated to a free airshow of sorts as we got to watch fire-fighter airplanes making their goes trying to tackle the forest fire that was blazing just down the street from us in the Jerusalem Forest. While there were rumors that parts of Har Nof were going to be evacuated and my wife and I half-jokingly (and half not) started talking stock of our belongings and deciding what we would save if we had to salvage something, thank G-d in the end the worst we got was having the house filled with a rustic campfire smell.
Though baruch Hashem the fire was relatively short lived, it did remind me of another recent slew of fires in Jerusalem that taught me a more long term message. Across the road from my work there is a field tucked away amongst the city hustle and bustle serving as a quiet little oasis. Often after a long hard day, taking a little bit of time there to chill out and talk to Hashem is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately there were a series of fires that went ablaze in the field a couple of weeks ago that basically leveled it. Where before you could surround yourself with grass taller than your head, now charcoal crunches under your feet. Yet a surprising sight is visible from the remnants – a random piece of grass or other plant surrounded by ash but itself basically unscathed. The one thing all these plants have in common? They are all still green and holding moisture. It appears that although all the vegetation in the field appeared relatively the same before the fires, most of it was already dead and just serving as dried out ready fuel.
Chazal relate that Choni HaMa’agel had a hard time understanding the passuk in Tehillim 126 which says of the 70 year exile in Bavel, ” we will have been like dreamers,” and thought, “Is it really possible one could be asleep dreaming for 70 years?” Then Choni fell asleep for 70 years straight before he woke back up. Tehillim 90 states, “The days of our lives our 70 years” and based on this we see the concept of 70 years represents a person’s lifespan. Commenting on Choni sleeping for 70 years Rebbe Nachman says that we see it’s possible to fall asleep for one’s entire life – spiritually speaking. One can spend one’s whole life going through the motions, and even praying and learning Torah but in reality they aren’t accomplishing anything because they are just “practicing/observing” their Judaism in a sense, but not really “living” it.
Though all the grass in the field originally looked the same, the fire ended up showing which ones were dried up and dead and which ones were still moist with life… they were only ones left standing after it all. Sometimes G-d sends different types of “fires” to burn off the dross in our lives. There may be two people who to an outside observer look the exact same yet one of them is just going through the motions while the other, though he may be struggling and even appearing to achieve little success, is truly striving for something more. To the one who is dead inside, when things start getting too hot they will just fall by they wayside while the second one may get burned by the stress and challenges but will ultimately come out of it tell the tale.