Last night I was feeling a little bummed out about not having enough time for studying Torah anymore. I’m working, which is good — and the consulting work I’m doing is interesting and well paying (at least by Israeli standards), and it is worthwhile work that makes a contribution, etc. At the same time, my daily work is no longer writing Divrei Torah, teaching classes on Judaism, etc. When I was working as a congregational rabbi, I had lots of time spent in Torah study — even officiating at life cycle events involved doing a little learning to find something interesting to say. Now I barely have time to keep up with my page a day of the Yerushalmi Talmud.
But this morning I got up at 6, got on my bike, and with a few friends rode out to Herodion before breakfast. Herodion is a 2000 year old palace – fortress built by Herod the Great, on top of a hill on the ancient route from Jerusalem to Masada — a place he passed when he was fleeing for his life in 40 BCE during a civil war for the throne. Herod came back king, and about 15 years later built Herodion.
From my home in Jerusalem, we drove to the turn off to Har Homa (which only took about fifteen minutes off the ride, but it’s fifteen minutes of riding through heavy traffic which is not so much fun). We rode past the sign in Hebrew which says "Traffic to Israelis is permitted between the hours of 6am and 6pm." The road goes through Palestinian territory in the West Bank, but it is completely safe. My friend said they were supposed to be taking that sign down. Anyway, 35 minutes of some exciting down hill rides and some slower uphill rides through the Judean desert and we were at Herodion. Riding back took about ten minutes longer because it was more uphill.
We had a 16-year-old American Israeli with us; I was giving a history lesson about Herod, and explaining what we were looking at. He asked if I was a tour guide. No, but the period from the 1st century BCE to the 1st century CE is so fascinating I’ve done a lot of research. How can you live here and not be wrapped up in history?
At the archeological park we met the manager just as he was showing up for work. I mentioned that my wife, Lauri, wrote a screenplay about Herod the Great, and he said, "send it to me, maybe we could put it on like a play during Pesach."
What an antidote to my feeling bummed out last night. Is this a cool country, or what? Once again, I’m amazed by how much history can be packed in before breakfast! My connection to God, Torah, and Israel this morning came through the wheels of my bicycle instead of the pages of the Talmud.