THE QUARTER-MOON HOVERS low on the horizon as Gadi speeds the pickup truck the
length of the Jezreel valley. From the passenger seat, I gaze up at the stars
sparkling above the Hill of Moreh, where Gideon mustered his troops. It’s my
second trip down the valley this night to the hospital in Afula. In predawn
darkness I think: my third child will be born this morning.
remembering that night, I recall a poem by Avraham Halfi, versifier of dark
nights and the radiance of the soul. For Halfi the moon is an illusion. Those
who see it as such are blind – they do not understand that it is God’s
A sightless God with lantern in hand
Seeks a path in the evening
And everyone says:
Here comes the moon
And like a tree it rises
light on the road.
Yet God, too, cannot see. He is blind, like justice,
like a man groping his way forward on a moonless night.
The road is
empty. It’s the ninth day of Shevat, January 24, 1991. We are in the first week
of the Gulf War. While none of the rockets Saddam has fired at Israel has had a
chemical warhead or landed anywhere near Jezreel, most of the nighttime truck
drivers and tractor operators are staying at home with their families, close by
their sealed rooms. At Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, where my family is living for the
year, we recite Psalm 83 every morning and evening: “Do not keep silence, O God:
do not hold thy peace, and be still O God. For lo, thy enemies make a tumult,
and they who hate thee have lifted up the head. ...who said, let us seize for
our possession the pastures of God.”
When Gadi dropped Ilana and me at
the hospital in yesterday’s twilight hours, we entered a maternity ward on war
footing – every non-critical patient had been sent home and cartons of medicine,
bandages, and Atropine were piled up along the corridors. Ilana’s
contractions continued at their initial slow pace for a couple hours. The
doctors told me to go home to be with my five-year-old daughter Mizmor and
threeand- a-half-year-old son Asor in case there was another attack. They’d call
me when labor began to progress. I’d have plenty of time to make the half-hour
trip from the kibbutz to Afula for the birth.
The call came later that
night and I summoned Gadi, our designated driver, to take me to my
Gadi reminds me that the Hill of Moreh is also called “the little
Mt. Hermon.” I think of my reserve unit buddies, who will that day sign out of
the snowy and windbattered outposts we’d manned for the previous month. I’d been
with them until just two days ago, when I was finally given an early
He drops me off at the main entrance and I walk through an
empty lobby to take the elevator up to the maternity floor. When I emerge I find
Ilana sitting on a bench in the darkened lobby bent over as a contraction
ripples through her abdomen. I sit down and put my arm around her. She
“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in the ward?” “The nurse
told me to walk around a little.
She said it would get the contractions
“Almost an hour. Since they called you.” A
beam of light cuts through the lobby as a ward door opens. A heavy-eyed nurse
“Ilana, where have you been? How often are the contractions
“Every three minutes or so.”
“Three minutes! Get right in here!”
They take Ilana straight into the delivery room, where a quick examination shows
that she is almost completely dilated.
“Good thing they thought to look
for her,” says the midwife. “She would have had the baby in the
It’s our third baby so we know the routine. Ilana firmly
turns down anaesthesia and reminds the midwife that we want a natural birth,
with no shaving, cutting, or other unnecessary procedures. I sit at her side, by
her feet, and coach her in her breathing exercises. The midwife watches
the monitor. I look up at her, and I see an expression of concern cross her
face. She tells the nurse to call in the obstetrician. The doctor strides in,
looks at the monitor, and then punches Ilana in the stomach with his
“What the hell are you doing?!” I shout in fury, but then the
baby’s head emerges and the midwife swiftly unwraps the umbilical cord from
around the newborn’s neck.
“It’s a boy!” I call out to
“It’s a procedure we learn in training,” the doctor apologizes.
“We saw there was distress, that he wasn’t breathing. We had to get him out
quick so that oxygen would get to his brain. The body punch is the best way of
getting him out quickly.”
The midwife hands our son to Ilana, who cradles
him in her hand and weeps softly. I touch his soft skin and kiss Ilana on the
forehead. A few minutes later the midwife takes my boy to be weighed and
washed. At Ilana’s behest, I do not leave him for a minute and make sure that
the baby whose data gets recorded and who gets placed in the nursery is ours. As
I follow her I look out a window and see the lights of Afula glittering in the
In Halfi’s poem, the moonlight of God’s lantern reflects
off the roofs of the earth and the firmament above. God’s light permeates all
and envelops the poet. Yet God himself is unable to see it.The rooftops sparkle like a looking glass
Leafy branches of light anoint me
above the city, within sail-clouds
The stars moor on a skyward shore.
return to Ilana. She is smiling and humming as if she has just been for a
morning stroll. She wants her baby back and I assure her that she will soon have
him in her room. I tell her that the doctor has checked and confirmed
that everything is in working order – heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and the
rest. We talk about the name we will give him at his brit mila, his circumcision
ceremony eight days hence. Mizmor’s and Asor’s names both came from the Book of
Psalms, so it is natural for us to look there. We consider several
possibilities, but none really catches our imaginations. Then I think of that
psalm we have been reciting in synagogue during the war. There’s that word
“pastures,” so peaceful and green, so appropriate to our home at the kibbutz.
And it appears, too, in a psalm we sing every Shabbat afternoon: The Lord is my
Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he
leads me beside the still waters.
He Restores my soul: he leads me in the
paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
In Hebrew, the
word that means “pastures” (or “oasis” or any green place) is “niot.” But
there’s a small problem. The word is in construct form, a declension that never
stands alone. It requires completion.
“He’ll complete it himself, in his
life,” Ilana says.
Because there’s a war on, the hospital is required to
keep beds free. So Ilana and I and Niot are picked up by Gadi and driven home to
the kibbutz that very afternoon. Before we leave the hospital, Niot
receives his first gift – a mamat, the sealed tent in which we are to place him
in the event of a missile alert, to enable him to breathe if he is surrounded by
Saddam’s chemicals and gases.
In the third stanza of his poem, Halfi
looks inward. God’s light has left him in the dark, but it wells up within him
in the form of a petition, perhaps to God or perhaps to the universe as a whole
as contained within the human soul. The light now emerges from human eyes, and
it is this light that will enable God to imbue his creation with compassion and
absolution: May forgiveness beautify all hearts
No soul is foul or at fault
There are no sinners among us.
We are weary of drifting in the
And blind God will forgive in the light of our eyes.
ago, 20 years after his birth, my son Niot, a proud soldier in the Golani
Brigade, died in a diving accident in Eilat. The heart nurtured in
Ilana’s womb beats and gives life now in another breast. His name remains
At the end of the shiva, the seven-day mourning period, I
read Avraham Halfi’s poem at his grave on Mt. Herzl.
The Lord gives, the
Lord takes away, blessed be the name of our blind, light-giving God forever and