My wife and I recently toured the excavations at the City of David just below the Old City of Jerusalem. Our guide, Rafi, explained that the unearthed city, right next to the present-day Arab village of Silwan, was far older than the “Old City”, and it had been inhabited by Jewish kings, noblemen and commoners from the time of David Hamelech.
The day was unbearably hot as we made our way deeper and deeper into the fascinating labyrinth of Ir David. Our tour group eagerly devoured any little shade we could find, and we were glad to get into the underground portion.
We got to a certain point at which Rafi began explaining how people in the city relied upon the Gichon Spring as a vital source of water. This freshwater source, also known as the Shiloach, was outside the city limits and thus vulnerable to enemy designs. 2,800 years ago, King Hezekiah feared the spring’s exploitation by the Assyrians, who had been hostile to the Northern Kingdom and were turning their sights against the Kingdom of Judah, centered in Jerusalem. If the Assyrians were were to divert or sully the water, it would threaten the lives of thousands of Jerusalemites. He therefore embarked upon a daring and challenging engineering feat of digging through stone to create a channel through which the water would flow directly into the city.
To accomplish this, Hezekiah had two teams of diggers do their work; one started from the city down to the spring; the other from the spring up towards the city. The teams finally met somewhere in the middle, and had a great celebration which was memorialized by a special inscription which can still be read today. When the Assyrians finally laid siege to the city, thousands of Hezekiah’s subjects had essential water available.
Rafi then informed us that the tour would continue through the actual hewn tunnel, starting from inside the ancient city, and out towards the original external source. He said the tunnel still has flowing water, and the water would go up to our ankles for most of the twenty-minute walk, with a stretch early on where it would go even higher. He helpfully added that there were no lights, but we could proceed by feeling the tunnel walls.
My wife and I hadn’t realized the tour went through the tunnel, and we watched Rafi and many other better-informed people pulling out Crocs and water shoes for the trek. We looked at each other helplessly, as we were both wearing leather shoes that would get ruined in the water.
Rafi, as if sensing our consternation, announced “For those of you who weren’t planning to go through the wet tunnel (he glanced at us meaningfully), there is a dry route which takes only five minutes. Feel free to take that route, and you’ll need to wait fifteen minutes for the rest of us”.
My wife said, “Ok, I guess we’re taking the dry route”.
This, of course, made perfect sense. Her logic was impeccable. We were not properly shod. But I really didn’t want to miss out.
“Umm…I think I really need to go into the water tunnel.”
“Are you kidding me? You’ve got leather shoes on!”
She was right. What was I thinking?
And then it dawned on me. I’d go in my socks, and pack my shoes in my backpack. I told my wife my plan, and said I’d see her just as soon as I could. She wished me luck and proceeded toward the dry route, and I headed with the group toward the water tunnel.
Before we went in, I noticed two Catholic priests and several of their parishioners who were right behind our tour group. They were also American, and they seemed to really be enjoying themselves. They followed me.
I rolled up my pants as much as I could, and plunged into the tunnel in my socks. Sure enough, the cold water quickly climbed up to my thighs, soaking my pants. I winced as I stepped over a few sharp rocks. But there was no turning back now. I marched onward into the pitch blackness.
I got into a rhythm, feeling around with both hands to make sure I followed the tunnel’s contours, and occasionally banging my head when the ceiling got low. I started thinking about how long it would take for my pants to dry, and how badly I’d end up cutting my feet. Then my mind wandered to our parked rental car and whether I’d have time to feed more time into the app before I got a ticket.
Basically, I started thinking about everything but the significance of where I was walking.
And then I heard someone begin to sing. Another joined in, in perfect harmony. Their voices echoed marvelously in the tunnel.
I strained to hear what they were singing. It sounded like Latin. I realized that it was one of the priests singing along with one of his parishioners.
It sounded haunting and beautiful.
And then it hit me.
Here I am, standing in the shadow of the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple. The holiest place in the world. I am walking through a tunnel that brave workers dug for a Jewish King, to save thousands of pure souls from the agony of starvation nearly three thousand years ago. The stream below me was where the Judean Kings were anointed, as an auspicious sign of continuity to their reign.
Some fine non-Jewish tourists are feeling inspired to sing hymns.
And I am thinking of when my pants will dry, and wondering if my feet are bleeding. And whether I got a parking ticket.
This was a sorry state of affairs, and I guess I was jealous that they were inspired while I had failed to be.
I needed to get inspired too!
It was several days before Rosh Hashana. That’s it, I’ll sing Avinu Malkenu!
And so began the Battle of the Bands in the Shadow of the Temple.
I began singing the haunting tones of Avinu Malkenu, Our Father, Our King. “Asei Imanu Tzedaka vaChesed – Do with us Righteousness and Kindness. Vehoshianu – And Save Us!”
They stopped singing, perhaps to hear me and my inspiration. Then they began again. Two groups of people finding inspiration in an ancient Jewish water tunnel.
Next I chose Im Eshkachaich Yerushalayim – If I forget thee O’ Jerusalem. I poured my heart into my rendition, and was unable to see my audience. In fact, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of me.
No applause, no comments from the gallery, but I finally forgot about my silly and mundane concerns and began to soak up the tremendous inspiration latent in where I was walking.
My trek was drawing to a close, so I ended with the Carlebach David Melech Yisrael – David King of Israel. At this point I was singing at the top of my lungs. Finally. I was in the moment.
I exited the tunnel and found my wife waiting for me patiently. I excitedly told her about the Tunnel Vision I had experienced. How I realized that when faced with something inspirational, I need to let it develop and become a part of me, without mundane concerns getting in the way.
I left the darkness feeling hopeful for the future of our people.
There was light at the end of the tunnel.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.