She doesn’t have the highest mountain peaks, nor the most majestic waterfalls. She doesn’t lay claim to raging rapids, nor lush jungles. Not massive oil fields, nor deep, diamond-rich mine shafts.
Excluding the West Bank, she is 12 miles at her narrowest waist. At her widest —just over an hour drive, east to west. You can zip through her length from Kiryat Shmoneh to Eilat in a hair over 5 hours — even keeping to the posted speed limit.
Her size could most aptly be described as “cute.”
Machu Pichu, the Great Wall, and the Pyramids are, without a doubt, more physically imposing than the old, weathered wall that sits in the heart of Jerusalem, and the dramatic photographs one can take in the Grand Canyon would likely garner more “likes” than those attempting to capture the booming silence of the Negev.
And yet, for almost everyone who has had the good fortune of spending time in Israel, something about it is unlike anyplace else.
Israel doesn’t have “the biggest” or “the tallest” anything.
In natural landmarks, she holds the record only for “the lowest” place above water (for what that’s worth as a claim-to-fame).
To be fully appreciated, Israel must be appreciated in her fullness — as a whole.
Snow caps and icy rivers adorn her head, and a bone-dry desert skirt down to her feet. Mountains cloaked in forests between her shoulders of ocean and lake, with one savory and one sweet. Her heart is protected by the embrace of stone hills, hand-planted with tall pines, one for every bar- and bat-mitzvah boy and girl in the Diaspora. And an oasis sprouting date trees dripping honey that border a crystalline sea of salt. Succulent vegetables and lip-smacking fruit — some grown in the earth and others in thin air — global seeds grown locally. Grapes of every kind and every terroir in a 40 mile spread that require 300 miles in California wine country. And dairy — creamy as can be.
In a morning commute, one can pass through three-and-a-half millennia, from the arches, domes and towers of synagogues, schools and palaces to the buzzing start-up hub of Silicon Wadi on the coast.
The political/religious spectrum from right to left can be traversed in 45 minutes from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
And at that old, weathered wall in the heart of the city — on a Friday night — all of life bursts forth with the mosaic of planet earth. Chassidim crowned like royalty with fur streimels. Yemenites who can enunciate lost syllables of the Hebrew AlephBet. Moroccans whose shrill melodies ascend like the smoke of the ketoret. Breslovers jumping in ecstatic prayer. A giant circle forms with hundreds of soldiers interspersed with yeshiva students, all enraptured in being part of something so much larger than themselves — even if that which they are a part of is one of the world’s smallest nations (0.2% of the world population).
And behind them, stand tourists from Kenya, Nigeria, China, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Germany — who came to see that famed wailing wall and found a people dancing in joyous songs of harmony.
We have been fooled to celebrate only “the best,” “the brightest,” “the most beautiful,” and “the mightiest.” We fall for it every time. Whether we’re sizing up the world, or no less tragically, looking at ourselves, and how we stack up against everyone else.
The lesson we’re taught where three continents, forests and desert, and Jews-from-all-over meet — is that what is meaningful is not where we stand compared to anyone else, but what we do with the gifts we were given. How we bring it all together in the way only we can. It is the land “in which [we] will not lack anything”* because we have our personal everything.
As we shift our entrenched perspectives, jealousy is transformed into partnership. It stops being a competition, and becomes the completion of a whole.
This can happen once we realize that we have everything we need to be ourselves.
*Devarim 8:9 according to Talmud Sukka 35a with Rashi.
(Rabbi Jack Cohen is the Director of Advanced Programs at outaeor at UPenn. His areas of interest are individuality and how we change the way we think. He received his Rabbinic ordination in Jerusalem, and holds a BA from Penn in Physics and Philosophy.)