The Torah behind the City on the Heights

Foreword

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while. I’ve hesitated for two reasons. First, it inevitably gives away elements of the book’s plot. So I’ll just state here, you’ll enjoy this post more if you read the book first. Second, the ideas in it would be best served in a question and answer environment. There is a comments section in the blog, but it isn’t quite the same. If you think you’d enjoy this sort of forum, I’m happy to give talks on the topic (I speak regularly).

Despite these reservations, there is a place for this post – an opportunity to discuss on a fundamental level what I believe the Torah is offering and how that offering finds a place in this book.

The Book

For those who haven’t yet read it, the City on the Heights is the story of a teenage girl, Maryam al-Mosuli, who flees her home in Mosul, finds refuge in a place called the City on the Heights and is instrumental in giving that City a chance to succeed in its mission. The City’s mission is to serve as a model for a region in the throes of desperate warfare. The City itself is modeled on Amsterdam, West Berlin and Hong Kong – each cities in their time that served to rescue the civilizations they bordered.

The book is full of ideas and the basic fact is, I’m not the source of those ideas. While there are a few explicit references to the Torah in the book, there are only a few. I believe strongly that realistic and engaging plots are a far better vehicle for exploring and sharing the potential in our human reality than dry Biblical exegesis. But despite all of this, it is the Torah that stands at the heart of the book.

The Biblical Well & the Power of Thirst

The Biblical core of the story starts with the pivot point in the book’s plot; the bombing of the water tower. This action was inspired by a dvar Torah I heard from Yeshivat Har Etzion online. I don’t remember who delivered it, but it was discussing the Exodus from Egypt.

The speaker pointed out that right after the people pass through the Yam Suf (Red Sea), they are deprived of drinkable water (Ex. 15:23) They get water, but only when they take on a particular commandment. The commandment (which wasn’t discussed in the online dvar Torah) was to put a tree into the bitter waters to make them sweet.

There are a few concepts in the situation the Torah presents.

The first (shared by the speaker) is the idea is that slaves aren’t yet ready to be reasoned with or talked to. They need to be directed in more fundamental ways – because they have lost their own initiative – and threats to their very sustenance are one way of directing them. This dovetails with the argument that societies don’t just jump from slavery to freedom. They need to have the social and cultural underpinnings of freedom already established for that leap to work. If they aren’t ready, they need to be more forcefully directed in order to enable their growth.

But the more forceful direction those societies must be given isn’t just there to control, it is there to teach. In the case of the bitter waters we read in the Torah, the commandment wasn’t left unspecified. Instead, it was a commandment to cast a tree in the bitter waters, thus making them sweet.

Water, as it removes toxins and refreshes nutrients, is a key to physical survival. If we consider it on a spiritual axis, it is water that renews us. It represents spiritual renewal.

I believe the Jewish people crossed the Yam Suf on dry land because they couldn’t handle the spirituality of the Sea. Later in the Torah there is a mirror-image incident. During the Exodus, they sing Az Yashir Moshe (the Song of the Sea). But later, they sing Az Yashir Yisrael (Num 21:17). This latter song describes a stream running through the desert. It describes the people. But in this song, they are not being protected from water, they are the water. They themselves become a vehicle for spiritual renewal.

The waters the people encounter after the crossing of the sea are bitter because, for them, spirituality is bitter. They can’t internalize it until they cast the tree into the waters. Trees are consistently identified as gifts of G-d – think of the Garden and Adam’s fruit. The act they are commanded to do is thus to cast G-d’s gift into the bitter spiritual waters to make them sweet and drinkable.

What is G-d’s gift? In the Torah, it is G-d’s commandments. By taking on the commandments, we can appreciate the spirituality the Torah offers us. We drink from G-d’s well.

In the case of the City, Maryam threatens the water supply so she can force the community – all of the community – to participate in an action together. The people in the City are like slaves. Their communal will is broken, they have lost their own initiative and they’ve abandoned their own world to seek something new. They’ve abandoned their own political structures to place themselves under somebody other than themselves. They need, like the people who left Egypt, to be brought to something new.

The commandment to put the tree in the water is called a ‘chok.’ This is generally translated as a command beyond human understanding, but I see it very differently. I see it as a command that is fundamentally symbolic.

Maryam’s act also transmits a ‘chok.’ But her message is about far more than just having the people work together.

The Cycle of Creation

In Bereshit (Genesis), G-d starts by creating the world. With each creation he looks and calls what he’s created ‘good.’ Good is a loaded, subjective, term with many modern meanings. But I think the Torah intends a far more limited idea. We can identify it through its absence.

There are four things that are not labeled ‘good’ in the creation. These are: darkness, heaven, Shabbat and man. Our answer for the definition of ‘good’ starts with darkness.

In the story of creation, G-d creates the world in seven days. Day and night are defined on the first day, but the sun and moon are created on the fourth day (a biblical support for panspermia). This means day and night are not our day and night, but nomenclature. Day is the time of light, while night is a time of darkness. G-d creates during the day. He creates during the light. But during the darkness, creation is paused.

I see ‘day’ as a time for revolutionary change (e.g. the first birds) while ‘night’ is a time for evolutionary change. The world integrates what is new, just as we do when we sleep.

In this, um, light, darkness is the absence of creation. This definition carries over to the other three items. There is no creation in Heaven, no creation on the Sabbath and – at least in the garden – man is not creative. He may be creative like an animal is – procreating based on underlying physical drives. But he isn’t creative like G-d is, building something external to himself.

Adam’s mission is to act in the image of G-d and to thus be able to relate to G-d – as independent actors with a connection to the divine. He is placed in the garden to work and to guard it. But this isn’t the path Adam is on. Instead, he just kicks back and enjoys the nearly unlimited fruit buffet.

G-d tries various other means to get man to be creative. Maybe an animal can be a help opposite – giving him a push and helping him along the proper path. Maybe a woman will get him out of Our Father in Heaven’s basement (Gen 2:24). But neither works. Ultimately, the only thing that enables man to experience ‘good’ – or the act of creation – is ‘evil’ – or the experience of decay and destruction.

We eat from the tree of good and evil because we must know evil in order to know good.

As Jews, I think our responsibility is to help humankind overcome this reality. Our responsibility is to embrace creation without destruction. For the rest of the world, this ideal has practical implications. But for the Jewish people, it comes with ‘chukkim.’ We have purely symbolic actions that reinforce this idea.

(by the way, there’s quite a bit more to say about the Garden of Eden in this vein).

So what does this have to do with Maryam?

Well, after His six days of creation, G-d rests on the Sabbath (Gen 2:3). By not just pausing his work, but actively desisting from it, G-d makes the Sabbath ‘Holy’.

Holiness and goodness/creation are thus almost entirely exclusive from one another (it is only during the building of the Tabernacle that the term ‘Holy work’ is used Ex. 36:3-4). G-d doesn’t just not work, he desists from it. And He had to be working for the holiness to exist.

In our human facsimile of this, we work for six days and we rest on the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-9). The Sabbath is a timeless day, without creation or destruction. We create and then spend our creation on connecting to the timeless divine on the Sabbath day. Of course, the idea extends well beyond the Sabbath (to offerings, Sabbatical years etc…), but that is our fundamental cycle.

Maryam discovers this cycle in the farming village in Iraq. It is in that place that she discovers the deep well of human fulfillment that is possible through this cycle.

She brings this lesson to the City.

The City of violence that Maryam comes to is a City without purpose. It is a City without creation. And it is a City without rest.

It is, in many ways, like the world before Noah’s flood. The seeking of honor – even G-d’s honor – has eliminated the path towards the imitation of the divine.

When Maryam bombs the water tank, she forces everybody to work together to survive. But they aren’t just working together to survive. She bombs the tank shortly before a major Islamic holiday. She causes the people to work together in order to rest on a day of connection to the divine.

She has them engage in the spiritual underpinnings of this cycle – they create (or repair) in order to connect to G-d.

This process also has a parallel in the Exodus from Egypt. After the incident of the bitter waters, the people are denied food. They call out that they’d prefer to die in Egypt, eating by the flesh-pots and bread to their satisfaction (Ex. 16). G-d responds by bringing them Ma’an (Manna). One of the lessons of the Ma’an is the emphasis on not collecting it on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of rest after a week of collection.

For me, the message is that the satisfaction of the cycle of Shabbat far exceeds the material ‘satisfaction’ of eating your fill and then dying in Egypt.

Biblical Charity

Mayram’s actions, of course, provide only temporary relief. She has not washed away the reality of what came before. It is Elizabeth, with her financial insight, that enables the growth of a new, steady, reality. While with the smuggler, Maryam learns about Abraham. She learns that he only helps travelers because they will not be spoiled by his charity. They will grow because they will not be dependent on him or have their own potential undermined by his charity.

She brings this, and her experience in the farming village, to Elizabeth and Elizabeth realizes they are the key to the future. Elizabeth’s tax system, where people receive benefits only if they earn something, pushes people into the experience of this cycle. Even if people can realistically earn only a little bit, they can experience this fulfillment – and they can grow to honor G-d through His cycle.

The inspiration for this tax and welfare system is also Biblical. Charity in the Five Books of Moses is not just the giving of alms. In fact, there is no giving of alms. Instead, charity takes two forms: the interest-free loan and access to fields (multiple sources). We’ll talk about the loans later, but the access to the corners and the gleanings of fields is the most common form of charity.

When you read about this charity, you have to wonder: Why aren’t there soup kitchens? Well, when you harvest raw grain, a lot of work remains to make it into food. Maryam experiences those steps in Iraq. Likewise, those receiving charity in the Torah didn’t just get cash, they got raw food they had to convert into something useful. They were involved in the creative process – just not the whole creative process.

That same idea is in play here. The more the citizens earn, the better their lifestyle. But they must earn something.

Notably, there is no minimum wage. Almost nobody, because of disability or lack of skills, is locked out of the creative cycle and forced into total dependence. Instead, they are brought up the ladder of self-sufficiency and fulfillment. They may not make it all the way, but they are almost never priced out of the bottom rungs. Of course, some people can’t do anything, but the system has provision for that. They can share benefits with another – so one person’s earnings attract multiple supplementations (this also applies to children or married couples where one spouse does not work). Or they can receive charity – and then receive the supplement when they spend from their charitable funds.

The focus is on human fulfillment.

It is this focus on human fulfillment that leads to Elizabeth’s currency concept. Her currency is based on the median revenue of an adult in the City. It ties everything to the fulfillment concept. The underlying value of this society is not gold or wealth – it is human fulfillment.

Elizabeth’s actions unlock commerce. But they also unlocks a society that can find fulfillment someplace other than honor through victory. It moves beyond the pre-flood reality.

Debt

The society is not only distinct for its tax, welfare and monetary systems. It is also distinct in its abhorrence of debt.  If we go back to the Genesis story, we can understand the restrictions on debt. Debt gives form to risk. Risk is very real, but the Jewish people are commanded to ignore it when giving loans. We give interest-free loans. We pretend to live in a world without evil (decay and destruction) in order to make that world more real. Debt is the opposite of this. It gives reality to evil and strengthens it, threatening those who are burdened with it. When you make money off of debt, you are benefiting from the presence of evil in the world.

In a very modern sense, we can see the ill effects of debt all around us. Debt comes with a fixed cost and outsized risks. A government with debt – that doesn’t grow the base economy enough to cover its obligations – risks a spiral that damages everybody connected to it. People flee nearly bankrupt cities and states for a reason. Debt can drive companies to make dangerous decisions to avoid setting off the complete destruction the debt itself can trigger. And debt, of course, can force individuals into penury. On a wider basis, debt also drives the prices of assets up (e.g. housing) creating a reality in which people can’t own without indebting themselves.

How is this view of debt reflected in the City?

It is primarily reflected in the contrary force of investment. Investment is buying into the upside, not the downside. The first question a lender asks is “what is the risk?” The first question an investor asks is “what is the potential?” One is focused on the negative and one on the positive. An investor rides both the up and the down with those they invest in and the money they’re owed never overtakes the ability of their investment to pay. I’ll use a Sharia mortgage as an example. Assuming the covenants of the mortgage reflect the debt-free intent, what happens is that an individual with 30% down buys 30% of their house while the bank buys 70%. Then, the 30% person pays rent on the 70% while paying off what the bank purchased and slowly increasing their share of the house. Financially, it initially looks very much like a regular mortgage. There is both principle (paying off the 70%) and interest (rent on that 70%). But there is a key difference. If the house soars in value, the individual only sees 30% of that increase (assuming they still own 30%) while the bank sees 70%. They share in the upside. And if house values tumble? Well, the same thing happens: 70% of the value goes to the bank and 30% to the individual. There’s no such thing as being ‘underwater.’

This concept runs deep in the City. The City government doesn’t have debt. Instead, investors buy a percentage of its future GDP. They don’t buy into the City’s survival (as a debt investor would). Instead, they buy into the City’s success. The more the economy grows, the more they earn. And if the economy shrinks, it is not buried by its prior obligations. Those obligations shrink with it.

This works on the individual level as well. There is no tax write-off for debt expenses and local businesses aren’t paired with those seeking to loan them money. Instead, it is equity that is encouraged.

The Biblical connections don’t end with economics, of course. They go well beyond that.

Law

The book explicitly makes reference to Moshe (Moses) and the judges. It is the Assyrian Bishop who suggests making judges of 10, 100 and 1000 – mimicking the advice of Yitro (Jethro) (Ex. 18). This organization of judges comes shortly after the incident with the water. It also comes shortly before the giving of the Ten Commandments.

I believe the choosing of judges from within the people gives the people responsibility. And it is this that readies them to accept the Ten Commandments. It is what readies them for the first steps towards freedom.

This growth of responsibility is just as important as any economic theories. It is through responsibility that people can grow past the limitations of slavery and begin to acquire initiative of their own.

This growth of responsibility, which continues after the courtroom scene that marks the end of the main narrative, can also be found in the Torah.

Shortly after the bitter waters and the tree, the people are again thirsty. This time, Moshe is commanded to strike a rock, from which water will flow. I see the rock as the Jewish people – able to issue spirituality only with physical coercion. In his final blessings, Yaacov refers to the ‘stone of Israel.(Gen 49:24)

But much later, in the same reading as the Az Yashir Yisroel (where the people become the water), Moses is commanded to speak to the rock he once struck (Nu 20).

The people have grown, they can learn through words and not just violence. In fact, they learn more that way and they grow more though word-based education than they ever could through coercion. Of course, Moshe fails his test. He strikes the rock. It is Moses inability to understand that the people have grown that marks the beginning of the end of his role as the leader of the people.

The people who come to the City are like slaves – lacking the tools of free people. But they too grow, primarily through the cycle of fulfillment and the acceptance of responsibility, into people who are able to be free. They establish peace amongst themselves not through police action, but through agreement. This reflects the growth of a real community, as opposed to the ‘atroturf’ reality Steven initially creates.

The Tribes of Athens

The organization of the courts of law is something different. It comes from a Greek source: Athens. According to one version of the story, Athens was a City State divided into three distinct groups (City, Mountains and Plains). These groups were constantly at loggerheads. Eventually, a reform was launched by which a set of tribes were created. The tribes drew equally from each of the three groups of people. Each tribe thus has City, Mountain and Plains people in it. Through this action, the disabling division in the society was broken down.

The courts in the City are organized the same way. The sectarian groups are all mixed up and forced into associations of judgement that cross the lines. Of course, overbearing judges are proscribed by the ability to replace them – and the judgeships cycle – but the divisions between the various groups are broken down. They aren’t broken down in all regions of life, just in the world of secular law.

The point is never to erase the distinct cultures, but to enable co-existence around the greater goal of human fulfillment.

This concept, of co-existence, is not a feel-good ‘lets put lots of religious logos on our car’ kind of co-existence.

It is something far more purposeful – something which is also Biblical in nature.

Crossing

The father of Avraham, the progenitor of the Jewish people, was named Terach (Gen 11:26-32).

Terach had two very distinct attributes.

First, he named his children after the past, present and future. Avram refers to Av, the word for ‘father’. Nachor, the second son, referred to ‘sneeze’, which references the present. And Haran, which refers to education – or the future. Terach is aware of the basics of holiness, that we seek to bridge time.

But the second distinct attribute of Terach was that he was the first person to cross cultures in the Torah. Other people moved, but not from one people to another people. Terach was different. And so were his children. They crossed cultures. In fact, the Jewish people are called Ivri – which literally means to ‘cross’. Some say they are called that because they came from ‘across’ the river Jordan. But I think it is more fundamental to our character.

The Jewish people are always outsiders. We’ve always come from someplace else. Even in our ancient homeland, where a majority of the Jewish residents have come from nearby Arab countries, we are seen as outsiders.

Why is this important? It is because change is driven by those who are both outside and inside a culture. Those who are totally inside don’t see the need for change. And those who are totally outside lack the influence to bring it. It is the ‘outside-insiders’ are drive new reality.

In the Torah there are many outside-insiders. The most prominent and obvious is Moshe. He was born Jewish, but raised Egyptian. For him to change the Jewish people, he had to come from the outside. But the examples don’t stop there. Another great one is Yosef (Joseph), who changes Egypt as only an outsider can – but only after taking on an Egyptian name and committing himself to Egypt’s future. (Of course, his reforms are destructive, but such is the price of wisdom in government.)

The book borrows heavily from this motif.

In terms of people, the Israeli politician, Shimon Bar-Lev is a prominent outside-insider. His career is built on being inside, and outside, almost every group in Israeli society.

But this idea affects more than people. The co-existence of the judges is also driven by this concept. By judging across cultures, they are all outsiders who share a bond with each other. They are outside-insiders. It strengthens them and the society they influence far more than being set apart possibly could.

When you zoom out, the very concept of the City comes from this idea. The City is meant to drive change in a nearby culture. How? By being an outside-inside place. It is inspired by outside ideas and outside people, but it is also enriched and made real by inside ideas and inside people.

It is a place of ‘ever’ – a place of crossing.

The most central individual who fills the role of ‘ever’ is Maryam herself. She is the ultimate outside-insider; although she doesn’t realize it. She is modeled on Moshe, the great lawgiver. It is her position as an outside-insider that enables her to change the world around her.

As an aside, Maryam is an Arabic form of Miriam, the name of Moshe’s sister and also the origin of the name Mary.

While Maryam is inspired byMoshe, but she is not the only biblical character who gives form to people in the book.

Biblical Characters

I read the stories of the main characters in the Torah as stories of growth. The great people grow past their innate abilities and limitations. Avraham loved mankind, but grew to fear G-d. Yitzchak (Isaac) grasped for the concrete but learned to embrace intangible relationships. Yaacov (Jacob) was a fire-throwing revolutionary who obeyed no rules, but learned to control and direct himself after losing everything.

Of all the great leaders of Chumash it is Moshe who grows least of all. He is fundamental a protector of his people – a shepherd – and a protector he remains, even in defiance of G-d.

So where do we find these people in the books. We can start with Maryam. She is more than an inside-outsider lawgiver. She is also a protector. It is her protection of her brother Ibrahim (Arabic for Avraham) that drives her to act as she does.

But Maryam is not alone.

Elizabeth, who grasps the physical but learns to embrace relationships, is modeled on Yitzchak.

Mohammed, who breaks every rule to create a new reality – and ultimately fails – is based on the early life of Yaacov.

And Steven, who loves mankind, is based on the early Avram – driven to a new land for the opportunity to bless those he does not know.

Note, I didn’t include a number of prominent people (Sarah, Rivka (Rebbeca), Leah, Rachel, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda (Judah), Yosef, Asnat, Aaron and Miriam). It isn’t that that aren’t relevant, it is that they aren’t folded into this story. If you’re a real fan of one or more of these characters, sorry…

The characters in the Torah, and in the book, are more than standalone individuals. They all form part of a greater story. And it is that greater story that drove me to write the book.

Amalek & Zionism
In the Torah, the great counterpoint to the Jewish people is Amalek.

In the story of Avraham, there was a King: Kedarlaomer (Gen 14).  Kedarlaomer means ‘encircle grain’ and I see him as a man who gained control of the grain markets. He went to war to stop S’dom and Amora (which literally means grain) from rebelling and cracking his monopoly wide open. But on the way, he attacks a few other people. He takes the opportunity to tighten up his market control while he’s got an active army on the literal warpath. Among those he attacks are the people of Amalek as well as the Refaim, Zuzim, Emim, Horim and Amorim.

When Amalek is threatened by King Kedarlaomer, Avraham doesn’t step in to help. Kedarlaomer burns their fields. The people of Amalek never return to those fields. Shortly afterwards, the King attacks S’dom and takes Avraham’s nephew Lot. Avraham goes all special forces on Kedarlaomer. With just 318 men, Avraham attacks Kedarlaomer at night and destroys his army and rescues his nephew.

Amalek, perhaps understandably, is peeved. He could have been rescued, but wasn’t. So, forever more, Amalek defines itself as an enemy of the Jewish people. In fact, the other nations that were attacked consolidate and come up again. Og King of Bashan leads a number of them while Sihon leads the Amorim. They fight, and lose, wars against the Jewish people.

All of this is relevant for a few reasons.

First, it speaks directly to foreign policy. After the war, G-d tells Avraham not to be afraid (Gen: 15). I believe Avraham is just like us, afraid we are making the wrong choices as we watch the wars unfold in our region. But G-d promises Avraham He will be Avraham’s shield and will reward him greatly. I see this not just as a physical shield, but as an endorsement of Avraham’s decisions.

This all suggests that blunt military force is not actually the answer to injustice. After all, if we could force people to be good and holy, then G-d would just do so by himself. Of course, then we’d be robots/slaves – unable to be responsible and interact with the divine. No, in our reality, we need to find a path towards improvement that doesn’t fundamentally rely on eliminating choices (yes, yes, we do constrain choices on the road to freedom). Of course, if people attack us or our friends, we unleash a can of, well, you know.

So, in terms of foreign policy, we protect our friends, but we don’t seek to militarily intervene in cases of injustice. Perhaps, as with the City, a more valuable path is to provide hope while trying to influence others and draw them into relationships with us. All of this extends our circle of protection. All of this is reflected in the City.

Second, the Jewish people are commanded to remember to destroy Amalek’s memory from under the heavens (Ex. 17:14). This is often seen as a paradox: so long as we remember to destroy their memory we haven’t succeeded – right? But it isn’t actually a paradox. What we are destroying is their capability to preserve their grudge.

Amalek commits themselves to our destruction – because of the grudge they remember for all generations. We want to erase that memory. We want to erase that capability for never-ending war.

The Jewish people are held up as a counterpoint. One generation after leaving Egypt they are told not to bear a grudge against the Egyptians – after all, we were strangers in their land. And in more modern times, very few Jews bear a grudge against the Germans of today. We remember what happened, but we do not maintain our anger.

This ability to forget is critical to our mission.

But the ability to forget isn’t just about forgiveness. It is also about focusing on the future. We do have a memory to bring forward, a memory that is driven to spread the ideals of responsibility and the divine cycle of creation and rest to the rest of humanity.

I said before that I skipped Yosef in my list of inspirations. But I didn’t really skip him. Yosef is the prototypical prophet. He learns to speak in the name of G-d, he drives others with his message of purpose, he raises children who do not compete for pride and he always looks forward. I believe even his poor choices in government (stipends for his family, serfdom for the Egyptians, total power for Pharoah) reflected his good intentions and the plans of G-d.

Yosef’s time in government is catastrophic, but in other respects, he remains a model for the Jewish people. We must use the Torah to speak in the name of G-d, we must use the idea of purpose – of something greater than ourselves and our mortal existence – to drive others forward, we must inspire the world around us to not complete for honor and we must always look forward, instead of bearing the grudges of the past.

Fundamentally, The City on the Heights, is about that mission.

I live in Israel. I witness a version of Zionism that all too often stops with providing a homeland (and security) for the Jewish people.

But our Zionism must go far far beyond that. The Torah says, once we have rest from our enemies (which doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies) we have an obligation to destroy the memory of Amalek.

To me, this means we have a duty, an obligation, to supplant the memory of those who cannot forgive. We have a duty to inspire the world with purpose. We have a duty to speak in the name of G-d (by spreading the values of Torah). We have a duty to reach across cultures and civilizations in order to spread the cycle of human fulfillment and the empowerment of human responsibility. And we have a duty to overcome the unending cycle of vendetta – we have to erase the memory that sustains conflicts over thousands of years.

To me, the City on the Heights should exist – not as an experiment – but as a fundamental reflection of the mission of the Jewish people.

The Way Forward

When I was writing this book, I came to the point where Maryam sings her brother a lullaby. I knew nothing about Iraqi lullabies – so I Googled them. It turns out there is a singularly prominent Iraqi lullaby, the Dillelul.

As I read its lyrics I was amazed to discover that it spoke, directly, to the story of Maryam and her brother.

This song speaks of the loneliness of a woman who has lost her loved ones. She mistakes the wind’s banging for the arrival of those she has lost. In desperate sadness, she begs her child to watch after her in her helpless infirmity and endless pain. The child in the song sings one line – regretting that he has been brought to such a life.

As I listened to and read the lyrics of that song, I was brought to tears. I needed a lullaby, a bit of a reference to give color to the pages. But I found this: a song that spoke to the story in the book and to the pain my characters felt.

It was at that point that I felt this project was blessed.

One reader said that the stories in the book were real, told by real people – and that somehow I had managed to live and share them. This is not something my intellect – or perhaps even my talent – can achieve.

It comes only through blessing.

When he comes before Pharoah, and is asked to interpret his nightmares, Yosef responds (to paraphrase) “I can not interpret, only G-d can answer with Pharoah’s peace.” (Gen 41:16). With this admission, Yosef is given a useful understanding of the dreams.

I hope my understanding is, likewise, useful. I hope that this book is, in fact, blessed.

The Dillelul does not speak only of the woman and the child. It also speaks of her yearning. Her yearning for the suffering of her enemies. This is part of the ancient reality of this region. It is part of the nightmare that has engendered the chaos and loss that surround us.

As I share this book, I can only hope that my message imitates that of Yosef. I can only hope – or perhaps the right word is pray – that this book, can provide an answer of peace to the questions raised by the terrible nightmare of this region’s wars.

At this point, the success of this book, its policy message and its message of Torah, depends on those who read it. and on their interest and ability to spread it.

The success of this book depends not on credentials, but on friendships and relationships.

The success of this book, and the hope I see within its pages, depends on you.

Thank you,

Joseph Cox

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