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2. Noah/Divide פלג
My new bedroom opens to a balcony overlooking breathtaking views: the southern edges of Jerusalem – Talpiot and the promenade, Ben Hinom Valley (known also as Gehenna), Bethlehem in the distance, Silwan to the left. Snaking its way through the hillside in cement is the separation wall, clearly visible – security or not – it is a scary scar in the sacred landscape.
I say ‘my bedroom’ and ‘my view’ aware of how absurdly temporary is this rented reality. And yet, attachment and possession take hold so fast. “My hill’, “my homeland”, “my side of the bed – or the fence”. This is mine- and beyond the division – it’s not. Many divisions are real and important – sensible privacy laws, actual borders, friendly fences – but many of the walls that divide us are rooted in the illusion that more divides us that unites. Here in Jerusalem it’s much more dramatic. This sense of what is ‘mine’ and what is ‘yours’ and all this either/or and how it’s rarely peacefully ‘ours’ and rarely and/both. Divided we stand. Bleeding away.
Dividing things up is an old human habit- as old as the flood. The word and action shows up early in our history – right in this week’s Torah text, the second segment of the year. But alongside the sigh there is also a surprising ray of hope.
First the sigh: We’re post flood, over the rainbow, Noah’s three sons populate the earth, the names of fathers and sons are listed, the nameless women are mere wombs. But the meaning of the men’s names don’t matter that much either – except for one whose name receives an explanation: Noah’s great grandson, Peleg, son of Ever, whose name means ‘Divide’ – ‘for in his lifetime the earth was divided.” Genesis 25:2
And just like that baby, divisions are born. In Peleg’s lifetime the Tower of Babble will be built and will topple, and all will scatter all over the world, no longer one, divided by walls, translating each other, a world apart.
Here’s the hope: Peleg doesn’t just mean ‘Divide’ – it’s also the word for ‘a brook’ or a ‘small river’. Some borders, like water, are fluid, and some divisions and fences and fears can be erased.
From the balcony (“my” balcony?) I look down on a long wooden beam that is raised high and tied to a pole – a raised, dormant divide. For 19 years, from 1948-1967 this is where the border between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem divided the city. I wouldn’t know it had someone not pointed it out. The two parts of Abu Tor are still pretty much divided, and prosperity is not symmetrical, and so the tensions – but where there was a once a wire fence now kids play soccer on the road. There is no wall.
And every dawn, at 4am, I wake up to the sounds of calls to prayer. Muezzins from mosques across the valley and across the fence chant and sing in haunting Arabic, beyond invisible divisions that do not go higher than the height of homes. I start my days with this intention – fluid boundaries, hopes for streams of kindness, for less fences and fear.
Where are the divisions in my life? what are the fences I can lower, or discard? what can I do to melt at liquidate at least one such wall into a stream of liquid love?
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org