On the first intermediate day, we traveled to Bet El for a Cowboy Happening. Our children were horseback riding, decorating horse shoes, shooting bows and arrows at haystacks and just having a good ol' time.
A LITTLE SPIRIT
Then we met my favorite tour guide Avi Dobuler, "Top Guide", at the top of Pisgat Yaakov, Bet El's highest hill. From there we went to an ancient plateau to the site that we believe could very well be THE site of Jacob's Dream. About 4000 years ago, our patriarch Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, had a dream that angels were climbing up and down on a ladder that stretched from Bet El up to the heavens.
Both scriptural, geographical and archaeological evidence point to the fact that this place had been recognized as a religious site for centuries. (I was listening, but I wasn't taking notes, so if there are any errors in this report, they are mine, not Avi's.)
1) Avi showed explained what the mountains we saw on all sides of us were. The location fit the description in the Bible from the time of Abraham. "Hashem appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.'...he relocated to the mountain east of Bet El and pitched his tent, with Bet El on the west and Ai on the east; and he built there an altar to Hashem and involked Hashem by Name."
2) A holy place retains its character, and so when Jacob left Israel to go to Haran, he stopped at a familiar place to pray. He slept on a few rocks and then they became one. Hashem told him, "...the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendants."..."Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone that he placed around his head and set it up as a pillar; and he poured oil on its top. And he named that place Bet El..."
On this plateau is a curious stone, as long as a man and, even more curious, very much like the shape of Eretz Yisrael.
Moreover, an oil stain on this stone, tested decades ago, Avi said, was said to be from the patriarchal period.
3) When Jacob returned to Israel with his family, his mother Rivka's nursemaid Devorah died and was "buried below Bet El, below the plateau, and he named it Alon-bachut." Right near this place that is believed to be so holy for Yaakov, there is an ancient oak tree with a burial cave only a few steps away.
4) During the days of Yerovam, the King of Israel and advertsary of Solomon's son Rechavam, Yerovam wanted to stop the Jewish people from going to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, so he set up two altars with golden calves - one of which was in Bet El.
"In Bet El, he [Yerovam] set up the priests of the high places that he had made. He ascended the altar he had made in Bet El..." (Kings I: 12:32) Indeed, there is a high place - still existant today - set up to the east of the place of the dream that is quite possibly the place of the Temple of Yerovam and a higher place, the site of the sacrifices.
5) There's more and more, but one more note. Just south of this site is an ancient Roman guard tower. Since this plateau is not on a main road, Avi Dobuler asked, "Why was there a Roman guard tower there?" The answer goes back to a point that he had made earlier. Once something in the Land of Israel is known for its holiness, that character is usually retained. This plateau was known always as a place of prayer, as a holy place for our patriarchs and our people. The Romans did not wish the Jews to pray at their holy sites, therefore, they set up a guard tower to make sure the area was Jew-free. (Some things never change.)
Anyway, it was just fascinating. And I even plan to make a movie about it. Check out http://www.voices-magazine.com/ and look at VOICES TV to find the latest videos.
My family joined the rest of the world today at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. Oh you didn't go to the zoo today? Well, you're the only ones.
The zoo was so overcrowded that there was a sign on the front gate that said, "The zoo is overcrowded. Please DO NOT come in." Everyone read it as they walked right in.
The sign was right. You could hardly walk down the zoo's paths and you really couldn't see many of the animals.
Unbelievable as it sounds, in the crushing crowd, I actually saw some hometown folk joining the throng. That was fun.
And, if you had patience and were able to hang around each of the animal cages, you could eventually angle yourself in some direction to get a peek at the elephant, the grizzly bear, the lion and the rest of the zoo stars. And if you had a little bit more patience, you could actually see some of the animals being fed. That was worth the wait!
In addition to the pleasure (actually nachas - that's parental joy) that I got being with my grand/kids, I loved seeing young people from my own neighborhood working at the zoo. I was so proud that they were spending their Chol HaMoed keeping the zoo a beautiful clean place. Here's to terrific kids - Ariella Bogner, Eliana Lang and Gidon Lang. If other Efrat/Gush Etzion kids were working at the zoo this week, here's to all of you!!
Of course, I made a movie at the zoo too, and I hope you'll be able to find it at http://www.voices-magazine.com/ .
In addition to snapping the animals, I asked zoo keepers and some zoo guests what their favorite animals were. Of course, the elephants were a big favorite, but so were the tigers, the zebras and the bears.
The zoo really was crowded, but for most of the tens of thousands of visitors today, Chol HaMoed wouldn't be the same without a visit to the zoo.