Last Wednesday, as the boxes started to mount up in the small apartment and as the floor space (and table space and counter space and every space…) started to disappear under cardboard, I asked my husband if we could go away for Shabbat.
Both the kids were out for Shabbat anyway, and there was nowhere to sit, or cook, anyway and the Rav was also doing his ‘big gathering’ in the North, that I felt like going to, for a change.
The husband, tzaddik that he is, agreed, so I rang around a few places and ended up booking Hotel Ron in Tsfat. Thursday, I continued to pack like a crazy person and around 8pm, we headed up North.
The Rav does his gatherings late, and the plan was to try to stick with the program as long as we could, then drive on to Meron and sleep in the car until day break, when we’d make our way to Tsfat.
Finding the location was an adventure in itself. Thanks to the ongoing persecution of a bunch of people who have taken it upon themselves to threaten every hall that hosts the Rav with bankruptcy and closure, these gatherings are happening in increasingly unusual locations.
The last time I went to one, in Beer Sheva, they put up a massive marquee last minute in someone’s tile warehouse. This time round it was a proper events hall - in the middle of an Arab neighborhood.
It’s hard to know who was more surprised, the local Arabs who suddenly had a whole bunch of Breslov chassidim descend on the hall (with their own refreshments, natch…) or the Breslovers who had to drive past a bunch of xtian effigies in glass boxes and huge light-bulbed crucifixes while trying to find the place.
Never a dull moment…
We got there around 11, the Rav showed up around 12 midnight, and less than an hour later, word went out that the gathering was re-locating to Meron. So, we got back in our car, joined the throngs of people driving off to Rashbi - and somehow managed to lose everyone.
I anyway was so knackered I fell asleep in the back of the car, but my husband tried to find everyone for a bit, before also falling asleep in the front. I woke up at 6am, went to do an hour of hitbodedut in the tomb, and ended up spending most of the time perched overlooking the beautiful greenery, wondering where all my ability to do six hour prayer sessions has gone, these days.
Life has been so busy for months, it’s hard to catch my breath.
The hotel said we could book in at 12pm, and it was only 8am, so I said to my husband: ‘Let’s go to Lake Montfort!’ We headed out, got lost, took a wrong turn - and ended up driving by Rashbi’s cave in the now Arab village of Peki’in. So of course we stopped!
The village seemed like it was deserted at that time of day, so we went and had a wander around, found Rashbi’s cave, and saw the massive Carob trees that are still sprawled all around it.
It was really cool. I’ve been wanting to see Rasbhi’s cave for years already.
Next stop was ‘Lake’ Montfort which was impressive for Israel, but about the size of a large puddle, for people who come from rainy Britain. Still, we walked around in the sunshine and enjoyed the view before heading off to Tsfat - which someone told me ages ago is one of the biblical cities of refuge.
And in many ways, it still feels like that.
After checking in, we went for a walk around the Old City, through the artist’s quarter and then down to the old Tsfat cemetery. I’ve been going to Tsfat for a decade already, and this is the most bustling and alive I’ve ever seen the old city there. It really seems to be going through some sort of renaissance.
The husband went for a dip in the Ari’s mikva while I went to do some praying by his grave.
There’s a lot going on at the moment, and I came with some heaviness of spirit and upset which very quickly lifted after an hour in the cemetery.
I heard someone talking about Chana and her 7 sons being buried in Tsfat, so I decided to try to find them. We were headed in completely the wrong direction when a couple of yeshiva boys with a guide to graves in their hands passed by. I asked them if they knew where Chana was buried and they gestured to the other side of the massive cemetery, and told us to try there, instead.
My husband gave me his quizzical half-eyebrow - finding a grave in Tsfat is not so easy, particularly if it’s not so well-known - but I told him let’s try anyway! If God wants us to find it, we’ll find it.
As it happens, God wanted us to find it.
As we got close to that side of the cemetery, where people are buried in the caves under the mountainous dips of Tsfat, we heard this gorgeous harmonizing coming from one of the caves. It was so beautiful, and the cave acoustics were amazing. We drew closer to see what’s going on, and my husband turned to me and smiled: the writing above the cave entrance proclaimed ‘Chana and her 7 sons’.
Who 2,500 years later is still being remembered and serenaded by Am Yisrael. Unbelievable.
We packed a lot into a day and a half, including praying in Meron, praying by the Arizal, finding Chana and her 7 sons, praying in Rav Yosef Karo’s shul, and visiting the grave of Rav Yehoshua ben Chanina, and Rebbe Nachman’s shamash Reb Shimon, who moved to Tsfat and was murdered by Arabs in the surrounding hills whilst doing hitbodedut.
It reminded me how much I’ve missed visiting the holy graves the last couple of years, caught up in a pace of life that’s been really, really crazy.
I got a lot of clarity in Tsfat, I got a lot of inner strength, and I got the energy to come back home and to carry on packing, and to carry on writing, and to carry on trying to shine light into the world, even when sometimes it’s hard and I’m tired of dealing with psychos.
Am Yisrael is so beautiful.
And we are so blessed to be part of this beautiful Jewish story, that is continuing to unfold in all of our lives, linking us back to our ancestors and forward to geula and Moshiach and true peace in our times.