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Driving on Empty in the Judean Desert

Friday, 11 August, 2017 - 6:15 pm


When I drive, I often like to use up every last ounce of gas before I go to fill up. Over the years, I discovered the hard way that it wasn’t always the best approach to driving a car. Once I broke down as I ran out of gas right across the road from a gas station, but other times I wasn’t as lucky. As a result of these incidents, I have  improved over the years and learned to go the gas station before the last minute, and occasionally I even fill up the car when I still have a quarter of a tank left.

Recently while I was in Israel, we decided to go for a hike to the Ein Gedi nature reserve in the Judean desert next to the Dead Sea on a day it was supposed to end up being 106F. We were determined to get there as early as possible and aimed to be there at 8:30am when it was only supposed to be around 90F.

As I reached the end of Highway 1 which runs from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and prepared to drive along the Dead Sea / Judean Desert, I passed by a Gas Station but thought to myself, I will probably be okay and it’s not as important as getting to  Ein Gedi on time to begin our hike before the full heat hits.

Ten miles down the highway I suddenly realized that I probably won’t be hitting any Gas Stations in the near future as on my right were massive desert mountains and cliffs and to my left was the expanse of the Dead Sea. I watched as the gas meter somehow started to drop rapidly and before long, I was very unsure about continuing up down the hills that are the Dead Sea coast or turning back and trying to make it back to the gas station. In the end we kept going and arrived at Ein Gedi with the gas meter right at the red line and I decided to do our hike before it’s too hot and we will just have to deal with this afterwards.

We enjoyed a stunning hike in the place where King David once hid as we climbed through waterfalls that dot this semi oasis in the middle of the ragged cliffs and desert hills. Finally when we were at the bottom once again I asked about Gas Stations only to discover that the closest one in either direction was about 22 miles away.

I tried buying gas from rangers but no one had any to spare and now I got really worried that we may break down in the middle of this crazy weather in the middle of the desert. The rangers said to us “don’t worry you will make it”, but I must say I was a little more concerned.

 I had no choice but to get going, so off we went on the road north and watched as the gauge reached the very bottom, to the place where it can’t keep going down anymore, but we just kept going. I even tried asking some soldiers at a checkpoint on the way for some help, but they couldn’t help me and told me I would be fine. For the final ten miles I prayed, turned off the air conditioning and did whatever else I could to lessen the gas usage and then after quite a few tense minutes I finally spotted the Gas Station which became my oasis in the middle of the desert.

However my relief quickly turned out to have been premature, as the attendant told me that they only take Israeli credit cards or cash. Well it turns out that we had less than 50 shekels in cash between us, so we did our best with that and the guy filled it up,  but then when we  turned on the engine we discovered that the gauge was still where it was three minutes ago. We tried complaining but to no avail, so off we went to the next gas station two miles away and finally filled up with gas and could drive on in peace.

As I thought about this afterwards, I realized that one of the things I tend to let slide and leave as a last priority is filling up on gas before we get to empty. It seems insignificant at the time compared to the bigger things that I am dealing with, but in truth it is just a small detail that can make it or break it in my overall journey.

In this week’s Torah Portion of Ekev, the portion starts off with an encouragement for keeping of the Mitzvot and the blessings that it brings into our lives as a result. The great commentator Rashi explains that the usage of the word Ekev which means heel, is a reference to the Mitzvot that we tend to ignore and trample on with our heels as we perhaps consider them insignificant in the bigger picture. The message Moses is conveying is the importance of not underestimating the small details in life and the instructions which seem like they might be insignificant.

It is true it sometimes takes a certain perseverance to be attentive and committed to the smaller details of our life mission, but all too often they are not just small details, rather they might be the small nails that are holding the box together. Just like making that small stop at a gas station which may take three minutes, but it might ensure a smooth and worry free wide or even better a breakdown in the middle of the desert.

Judaism has many big ideas and it also has many details which may at times not seem as important, but Moses reminds us this week that the details of G-d’s divine plan really count. Nothing is redundant and we should do our best to make sure that we engage in the details of G-d’s mission as well as the big ideas and Mitzvot.

Good Shabbos


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