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Projecting A United Will


Projecting A United Will
by Elisha Porat

translated from the Hebrew by Hanna Lasch

In my youth, the old-timers told me that people who sought solitude in the woods near the kibbutz were unique. Too highly educated to take part in the exhausting work, too sensitive for the daily hustle and bustle, too snobbish to participate in the daily affairs of the settlement, they set out for the tall Eucalyptus trees on the outskirts of the kibbutz to hide in the shade of their thick branches and build a tree house that could only be reached by a makeshift ladder.

And that is why people told all kinds of controversial tales about them; fascinating tales about a life of freedom up here, in the shaded domes, completely isolated from the warm, pulsating life beneath them. These men raised their hot heads upwards, toward a different sky, one that could not be observed by the pedestrians on the soft sandy path down below. Some were dropped from the collective kibbutz memory soon after having arrived. Others lived to a bright old age and eventually joined their comrades down below. They merely blush a little on being jokingly reminded of their former escapades in the treetops. Several of them have actually become legendary. But the tales serve to remind them of their first days in the country, their first steps on the kibbutz — most of all, they recall the unique smells.

As a lad, I chose to ignore the decaying tree houses in which crows nested. I tried to disregard the large rusty nails that were forever stuck in the big trunks and served as annoying reminders. Walking aimlessly beneath them, I would kick at some forgotten cigarette package and spit at the surprisingly fresh condoms that had somehow turned up under the tree houses. In my wandering, I merely intended to discover some concrete evidence of mythic existence.

And then, on one of my walks at twilight, as my power of judgment seemed to be somewhat impaired, I came across that legendary figure from the old-timer’s tales. He looked just like one of us, in his dark blue clothing and heavy rubber boots. “Come on up!” he called, encouraging me to climb those precariously loose steps. “From up here the entire world looks different.” Overcoming fears that had been nurtured throughout sleepless nights, I followed him up the tree.

“This way! This way!” He pulled me into his lofty outpost, which overlooked tower tops and power lines. “Sit down! Why are you breathing so hard, why are you so pale? They must have scared you with their stories down below! After all, this is merely a simple tree house, not a dragon’s nest.”

“Do you remember Rabbi Haim Vital’s stories? Do you recall one about the Holy Ari* and his failure?” Instantly he had removed all barriers. I was no longer a young dreamer, but his spiritual equal. I was no longer a moonstruck lad, seeking temptation and sin in the woods, but a pupil sitting in front of his teacher. I was extremely flattered to have been chosen from among my buddies who had remained behind, down there in the teeming kibbutz yard.

“If at one and the same time all the Jews of Saffad had worn white clothing... If they had all left town together and marched toward Jerusalem... Can you imagine that? Every individual wish would have disappeared: one foot, one pace, a single united step by people in white... Their heads held high and led by the Ari, they formed a united society. ‘Follow me! We are about to deliver Jerusalem! We are going to change the world!’ Can you imagine it? Do you realize what a chance was missed in those days in Saffad? It is simply mind-boggling!”

The floorboards creaked; the huge trees groaned in the wind; a shower of fragrant Eucalyptus cups fell onto the sand below. Calmly taking off his boots as though sitting on his porch, he comforted me, “Don’t be afraid. Worse storms have not managed to destroy my lofty aerie! Now, will you please listen to me! Imaging everyone on our kibbutz — men, women, children, and old-timers — standing in front of their huts and tents. All dressed in their Sabbath clothes. Holding hands, they sing quietly. And not just members from our kibbutz, but from neighboring kibbutzim, from the entire country! An enormous force of kibbutz members who all project their will in a single direction. Can you imagine what might happen? What might happen here and throughout the entire universe?”

Bending low over the wooden boards of the tree house, he covered his head as though trying to prevent it from bursting. “Such a unified will, one that encompasses millions, may cause a real revolution. Not just our country would be changed, but the entire globe; our miserable earth would move in a completely different orbit, one that was intended from the beginning. Do you see where the Ari erred? How could he have expected people to be ready in a couple of hours! What a crazy schedule he tried to enforce! Who can be expected to get ready at such short notice? Do you see the sorry chain of events that eventually led to a missed opportunity? What a pity! One could simply burst with frustration!”

Taking hold of my boyish hands, he folded them together and said, “No power in the world can withstand a united people’s will. You must always remember this. Naturally, it would be nice if matters were accomplished tidily in suitable clothing and accompanied by the right tune. But most of all, it is imperative to prevent the disintegration of this united will into thousands of individual ones. Look down at the kibbutz. What do you see? Everyone is going wild and pulling in a different direction. That is not the way to achieve salvation! It simply makes me cry!”

I strained my neck to look downward and see what he meant. I tried hard to imagine what such an enormous will, one that united the entire kibbutz, might actually achieve. But aside from sudden tears caused by the effort and an obscure but penetrating pain, I felt nothing at all.

©Elisha Porat

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