One of my favourite Biblical psalms is 121, a psalm or poem prayer of David. Its opening line leaps out to greet me: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where will my help come from?’’. I see the young David, a thoughtful but troubled young shepherd, looking out at the majestic snow-capped Hermon, or perhaps he’s an older more jaded David approaching Jerusalem, assessing its towering approaches with apprehension; the anxiety of a man torn by family feuds and internecine politics. It’s a line of both hope and concern, worry and wonder.
I thought of this evocative line recently when on a farm in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. From my window, beyond the flat dry paddocks, across the mild meandering river, above the small hawk hovering in the wind, rising like a sleeping giant was the statuesque Mount Cook. Its head garlanded in snow, its face hoary with icy, alpine age and around it a minion of white-capped mountains. It’s the tallest peak in New Zealand, bearing the name of the intrepid explorer James Cook. Long before Cook, Māori’s too were entranced by this moody majestic mount. It’s known for its wild and wilful spirit, and at its base are memorials to the many men who have lost their lives trying to tame and conquer it. Be wary of this majesty it warns for it is also dangerous. The lines of the poet GM Hopkins come to mind – O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.
I’m entranced by the mountain and as I welcome in the Shabbat, I lifted my eyes to it and it became a glorious and glowing bride lifting my heart and reminding me where my help comes from-Boi Kalah! (The Sabbath is compared to a bride in Jewish tradition).
To pray in a place like this at a time of torturous tension and trials for my people, reminds me of how much there’s still to be grateful for. There is still so much beauty and wonder in our world.
The mountains remind us that life endures and so do we. We may be wounded, but we too can once again stand strong and defiant against those who would destroy us. As the lines in our daily tefillot: “True is the eternal God. His words live and persist… for ever and all time. So they were for our ancestors, so they are for us, and so they will be for our children… and all generations” (Siddur –Emet Veyatsiv).
Life carries on and we need to let it carry us. There are simchas we need to celebrate, life events to mark. They are doing it in Israel during a war and we will continue to do it here!
I love the verse from the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 15;29) Netsach yisrael lo yishaker, loosely translated as The People of Israel are eternal, but it also can be read as the Eternal God does not lie – He will stand by His people and all people of truth. At a time when falsehood and propaganda against Israel and the Jewish people is at fever pitch it gives me strength. I lift up my eyes to the mountains, aware of the danger, but appreciative of the enduring hope!