Second Thoughts: Price of Progress

hero image
Construction Crane
18 Mar 2009

The rabbis tell us that our physical world is a down-to-earth image of the heavenly spheres. The plan of the Beit Hamikdash, for example, is based on kabbalistic architectural plans which contain great truths and express Divine wisdom. I’m not sure what that means, but it is our job to attempt to contemplate and fathom these concepts, and to apply this wisdom to our lives and actions if only we can. And so, in our unending search for wisdom and truth, we reversed directions, bucked the incoming traffic and left the Holy City of Jerusalem (after first shedding a few tears).

Jerusalem is a big, busy, bustling city, the scene of constant activity, much too noisy for contemplation. In addition to the usual rush and traffic jams, everyone and his brother seemed to be renovating. Nary a house remained in its original condition. Porches were being enclosed, stories added, floors ripped out, kitchens redone, tiles exchanged, windows put in and taken out. All this in addition to new apartment buildings and high rise hotels going up on every empty corner. Debris decorated entire streets. Green disposal bins for construction material filled the spaces where cars once parked. The crowning glory was to be the new transportation rail-line, now creeping across town and thoroughfares, causing more havoc. Jerusalem was undergoing massive renewal. It’s called Progress and it comes with a price.

We needed a place more conducive to Divine contemplation. Someplace with a lower price which would offer more space, air, light and quiet. A place with more sky and daylight; more dark, starry, nighttime skies. A green place with trees, birds, waving palms and colorful flowers. And blessed silence. In short, a smaller town.

Of course we didn’t go too far from Jerusalem which after all, is the center of the universe. The magnetic field of the holy city is strong, and we kept it in view. Straight across from our new abode, as the crow flies, the city glistened in the sun or twinkled at night. And twenty minutes brought us Door to Wall at the Kotel. We had found the perfect location, a small piece of earthly Paradise.

Then, one soft, fragrant, pastoral morning, the strange sound of motors – beeping, thumping, chugging – reached my unsuspecting ears. I looked out the window and saw them….. yellow vehicles marching steadily along the road and stopping directly across from our house. Tractors, bulldozers, caterpillars, cement mixers – an entire array of industrial equipment began to arrive and fill up the beautiful, empty space across the street, the space that afforded us an uncluttered, undisturbed view of the low rolling mountains in the Judean desert.

A few harried phone calls and my worst suspicions were confirmed. An entire complex of buildings would soon be erected, block my view, shatter the silence I so adored. A torrent of noisy workers would inundate the area; the birds would be frightened away; screeching brakes, blaring horns, drilling, banging, shouting would fill the air. I was crushed. With trembling hands I opened my book of Psalms, ready to pray for a reprieve and wondering what terrible sin I had committed to deserve so awful a punishment.

I described my pain to my son. He was not sympathetic. “Of course they should build! Let them build all over! We want to fill Eretz Yisrael up with Jews, don’t we?” At first I was annoyed. My own flesh and blood and nary a tear for his mother’s plight! But upon further consideration, I had to admit he was right, of course. Every centimeter left unclaimed by Jews is claimed by their enemies. Yishuv Ha’aretz – settling the Land – means building houses. They are an anchor to our Land. And the physical act of building, adding block on block, stone to stone, also mirrors the constant spiritual building we are engaged in. It never ends. Nonetheless, I wondered: where and when shall I find my own menucha v’nachala – my own personal portion of space, peace and quiet in the Holy Land?

I’m beginning to think that the answer is “Never!” At least not in this world. Every day is brimful of new challenges, changes, ups and downs, surprises. Nothing is static. Life moves on. We are forced – and free – to choose how to meet these challenges. Do we accept the challenges and struggle to overcome? Or do we try to avoid all unpleasant encounters, stay out of harm’s way and mind our own business? Or perhaps we fall prey to despair and disappointment. Whatever we choose results in a change of status, direction, situation. Our choices can be blessed and beneficial, or exceedingly harmful. They are rarely “neutral”. It’s all a little dizzying.

So I have made my peace with the tractors and noise and dirt and machinery and I am looking forward to meeting my new neighbors whose presence will undoubtedly change and enrich our surroundings. Let them build; let them come; let us fill up G-d’s Land. Things will be a bit more hectic on our street, a bit more crowded, a bit more like Jerusalem.

As the rabbis said long ago, no one ever complained that the Temple in Jerusalem was too crowded. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t; it probably was. But no one ever complained about it and I won’t either. The world changes minute by minute, and if I want to keep up, I’ll just have to change along with it and try to make it a better place in which to live.

And what better place to do that than a young, new, blossoming city in Eretz Yisrael? Progress like that is well worth the price!

© 2009 Yaffa Ganz. Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of more than forty Jewish children’s books including Sand and Stars – a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. Her latest book – “A Different Dimension” published by Hamodia Publishers – is an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.