Turning into the Rising Wind
This past February, on a family trip to Israel, we drove through the Hula Valley, an agricultural region up north that is especially fertile because of abundant fresh water. Our guide shared with us that the Hula Valley is a major stopover for birds migrating along the Syrian-African Rift between Africa, Europe, and Asia. Every year, 500 million birds migrate along that route.
500 million birds!
Israel has always been a major crossroads between great civilizations. In ancient times, Egypt to the southwest and Mesopotamia to the northeast would vie for control of this important corridor. But history always speaks of the human traffic. Who knew that birds followed this route as well?
The trip is 3400 miles long. To preserve their strength, the birds catch the thermals — rising masses of warm air — which occur only over land, helping them to stay aloft with minimal effort, also ensuring a place to rest and feed. Israeli bird watchers love this.
Israeli farmers not so much. 500 million birds consume a lot of produce. With the region responsible for so much of Israel’s agriculture, this little winged jaunt could be an economic crisis in the making.
So what did Israel do? They created restaurants. Restaurants for birds. And the birds have learned the routine. They know what time of day and they know the sound of the trucks and tractors that cart out the food. For example, in one area, 30,000 cranes are fed over four tons of corn each day.
This keeps the birds fed, and the crops uneaten. Clear across the Hula Valley.
Our lives are filled with challenges in search of solutions. These challenges can be most unsettling to our lives. They can threaten our well-being, and sometimes our lives. But perhaps we can learn something from Israel’s fluttering visitors and the farmers who see to them. Sometimes there are elegant, practical solutions available to us, even when the situation seems dire and overwhelming.
The month of Elul brings a forty-day period of time that includes the holiday of Selihot and, close on its tail, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These forty days arrive no less momentously than the 500 million avian visitors to Israel’s Hula Valley. The gift these days provide is to offer us time and ideas that gently encourage us to find solutions to the tests we face. And just as the birds of the Hula Valley are beholden to the farmers and their tractors which line the flight path, there are men and women (and sometimes children, and even dogs) whose love and support serve as our own “thermals,” helping us to stay aloft during the long flights that carry us from times of challenge to places of contentment and well-being.
Teshuvah – turning – is our goal during these forty days. With earnest effort, we can turn the corner on something of ours that’s in need of change. Our reward can be sizable: aery flight into new vistas of living that bring goodness and blessing to ourselves, and to all whom we encounter along the way.
Based on a Selihot thought shared at Woodlands Community Temple, White Plains, NY (Sep 2012).