This is Part Eight in a series of articles showing God’s call on a family, their decision to move to Israel and what happened when they did.
In Part Seven, “Today, tomorrow and every day after“, Scott writes about an unforgettable encounter on the bus.
It was a warm evening in May and the sun was beginning to set. Rays of light streamed down and sparkled on Haifa Bay. I looked up Mount Carmel and the windows on the buildings reflected the golden twilight. It had been a hot day and the lower garden at Bet El was cool and shady. The air smelled clean with just a hint of the geraniums that lined the garden pathways. Down here the sound of street noise was minimized and I could hear laughter on the neighbor’s TV and my mother’s voice as she spoke to my father.
I was excited. It was Lag BaOmer, or the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. In Hebrew Language School or “Ulpan,” I had learned that some said that Lag BaOmer represented the death of a famous rabbi while others said that it commemorated the lifting of a plague. Perhaps the most important reason given for Lag BaOmer was that it symbolized the light of the revelation of Torah, but truthfully none of that really mattered to me because the best part of Lag BaOmer was that it was celebrated with bonfires, a source of joy to any boy.
When I had learned about this day in Ulpan, I had begun planning. For a couple of weeks I had been stacking debris like palm fronds, weeds and broken limbs from the fruit trees around our home and from the massive old olive tree in the lower garden. I had made sure that I had enough for a big fire.
At sunset, I lit the huge pile. The dried rubbish went up with a whoosh. I watched the sparks and flames fly into the night sky and imagined that anyone looking down Mount Carmel could spot this fire. I leaned back against the trunk of the ancient olive tree. It was nearly as big around as a car and towered over me. It had grown within sight of the Mediterranean Sea, yet far from water and somehow it had still flourished. It was rugged and twisted by two thousand years of cold, heat, wind and drought, yet through all of the turmoil and even wars, it was full of another harvest of bright green olives.
As I stared into the flames, I thought of the time that our family had been in Israel. Just a few months earlier my parents had stepped out by faith and moved to the Land. In the short time that we had been here, I was surprised to find that it felt comfortable and familiar. Israel felt like home but there was one place where I was never completely at ease and that was Ulpan.
Israel has a constant influx of people making aliyah and the nation has developed a unique system to teach people the Hebrew language. Ulpan was designed to assimilate new immigrants into Israeli society as quickly as possible. The instruction was fast paced, unrelenting and a bit overwhelming. It covered most every part of modern Israeli society including history, songs, folk dancing and even holy days and prayers.
Students learned the language the same way that a baby learned to talk; we were shown an object or a person, the teacher said the name for it, and then we were taught how to use it in context and conversation. Between the other students, the textbook and the instructor, I continually looked for any hint or explanation as to the definition of a word or phrase. Many times I would look out of the classroom window and catch a glimpse of Haifa Bay, a place that I never got tired of seeing. It gave me a minute to process a word or a phrase and try to make sense of it. I had quickly learned that the teacher was not going to translate Hebrew into any other language for our convenience. It was all Hebrew, all of the time. In fact, the instructor had only ever said one thing to me in English.
After a particularly frustrating day, she said “When you dream in Hebrew, then you will know Hebrew.”
I had no idea that she spoke English and I instantly had several questions. What does this mean? How do I say this? But after that, she did not speak English to me again.
The evening had turned cool and the fire felt warm. I heard my father’s voice.
“That’s quite a fire.” He had appeared at the top of the steps leading down to the lower garden. “I can see the smoke and flames from it up here.”
I looked up. He was right. The fire was burning red hot and casting shadows on the stone walls surrounding the garden. The flames were reaching for fresh air.
“Be careful” he added as he turned away.
I was tired. It had been another long day at Ulpan. A log shifted and a scattering of sparks shot upwards. I had read that faith comes from Adonai as a divine spark or the sudden realization that anything is possible. My father had spoken about faith as a complete trust in God that what you hoped for was going to happen. I imagined all of the sparks shooting toward heaven as people’s hopes coming to pass. I just wished that learning Hebrew was that easy. That suddenly a divine spark would rise to heaven and God would enable me to speak and read fluent Hebrew.
A breeze swept across the blaze pushing the flames sideways. The wind also rustled the old tree and a few olives fell. As a young sapling, perhaps it had seen another great fire when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and God responded to his simple prayer by sending fire from heaven. I had been to the place called Elijah’s Cave on the top of Mount Carmel. It was where the tour buses went. I had also been to a different location down Carmel called Elijah’s Cave. There was a cave above our home that I liked to visit. Heidi, the elderly German lady that worked with us, had seen me going up there to explore and had told me that it was possible that it was Elijah’s cave. The truth was that there were caves all over Mount Carmel.
Perhaps it was Elijah’s cave. It appeared to have been used over time and there was more than enough room for an altar and a sacrifice consumed by fire. The opening at the mouth of the cave was large with a stone plateau in front of it. I liked to sit there and look out at the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Haifa spread out before me. On a clear day I could see the mountains of northern Israel. A huge colony of bats lived in the cave. They were affixed to the ceiling as a squeaking, squirming mass. Once I had tossed a rock towards the back of the cave which created a loud echo. Somehow the noise startled the bats and they took flight. Hundreds, maybe thousands of bats swarmed out of the mouth of the cave. The noise from their wings was loud and had sounded something like the sudden whoosh of the fire, but the bats themselves were totally silent. I had crouched down by the entrance to the cave as they flew by just inches away.
I crested the top of Mount Carmel; Haifa Bay was empty. All of the water was gone! I could not believe my eyes. As far as I could see it looked like a huge mudflat. There was debris everywhere. Far off in the distance I saw what I thought was light reflecting off of water. The once bustling harbor was full of every kind of ship but without water, they were all listing this way and that.
What was going on?
I turned to the person that was next to me. “Ma zeh?” What is this?
He was as shocked as I was and nodded his head, “I don’t know.”
I was trying to wrap my mind around what I was seeing. “I don’t understand what could have caused this.” I said, “an earthquake, a tsunami?”
“Maybe a war.” He said what we both thought.
We did not see anyone. We continued to speculate about what might have happened. The city was eerily quiet. Where was everyone? I had an ominous feeling and I felt very tired. It had taken a long time to get here and I was exhausted. As we talked, I peered down Carmel. I thought about the cave that I had gone to many times and imagined that I could just see the plateau at the entrance.
Then it dawned on me, I was speaking fluent Hebrew.
I woke up. I had dozed off and the fire had burned down. I instantly remembered the dream. I was puzzled by what I had seen, but I also remembered that I was speaking fluent Hebrew. I had dreamed in Hebrew!
It is said that the Prophet Habakkuk condensed 613 Torah precepts down to one principle: “the righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) God commanded Elijah (1 Kings 18:36) to confront the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, to repair the altar, arrange the wood, prepare the sacrifice and then have it drenched with water. Yet Elijah still had to pray. In fact his prayer sounded desperate.
He said “Hear me, O Adonai, hear me so these people will know that you Adonai, are Elohim, and that you have turned their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:37) Elijah had Adonai’s word, but he still had to step out by faith, trust the Lord that he had heard correctly and then do it.
When my father spoke about faith, he pointed out that it was impossible to please God without it. He compared faith to a muscle and said that the more a Believer exercised their faith, the bigger it got. I had seen my parents make a huge step of faith by moving to Israel.
I did not understand my dream or any significance that it may have had, but suddenly I could see myself speaking fluent Hebrew. The dream caused a spark of faith and hope to rise in my heart and I began to try to speak Hebrew even more. Was I embarrassed? Did I stammer and stutter? Did I say the wrong things and get words wrong? Absolutely, but faith can be like that. You can falter or even stumble but you must keep going because the Bible says that “Adonai rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness…” (1 Samuel 26:23)
Next: The friend that sticks closer. God told our family to move to Israel. This is our story.