The holiday of Passover is replete with symbols — matzah, wine, bitter herbs, salt water — but this Passover, I learned a great deal about Judaism and modern Israel from some rather unusual items — three mazes designed with ropes, wheat, and hedges.
There is something special about touring Israel during Passover and experiencing Israel to its fullest — both its land and its people — which is how we came to be driving down a dusty road near the northern town of Sde Yaakov (population 1135), located in the Jezreel Valley. The town is home to a family attraction entitled ‘Mavoch Ba-Emek’, or ‘Maze in the Valley’, three different mazes, designed for both adults and children. The first, which we were told was for beginners, consisted of different paths carved through a wheat field. There were numerous dead ends and tricky routes designed to frustrate those lacking in navigational skills, such as myself. The second maze was comprised of paths separated by ropes, and the third maze was constructed of thick rows of hedges.
Mazes have existed for many thousands of years. The first mazes were designed as labyrinths, single long and winding paths. Today, there are numerous popular mazes located in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Europe, constructed of different materials, which dazzle, confuse, and confound visitors from around the world.
Yet, I found the relatively modest mazes of Sde Yaakov fascinating, educational, and even inspirational. The first maze was plain, but beautiful in its simplicity. A field of golden wheat lay before us. The contrast of the blue spring skies with the yellow wheat, calmly blowing in the breeze was breathtaking, and provided an almost Biblical perspective of nature. It was most appropriate for Passover, which is so centered on wheat. While finding our way out took us longer than most visitors, we were delighted and energized by our relative success.
The second maze took on an entirely different dimension. There were eight different stations along the way, each featuring an inspirational poem from well-known Hebrew poets such as Leah Goldberg, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Naomi Shemer, and others. The lovely poems, which described, birds, love, and flowers, illustrated the beauty of nature in modern Israel. We were aided somewhat in our quest by an energetic pair of Sabra siblings, aged 9 and 11, who raced through the maze with us looking for clues, and read the poems on the signs along with us.
But it was the third, most difficult maze, which for me was the most satisfying. Comprised of a thick green hedge, each stop along the maze — there were eight in total — included a different Talmudic story, with an attendant moral lesson. Concepts such as the importance of honoring one’s parents, compassion, truth and honesty, believing that everything that happens is for the best, treating others as one would would want to be treated — were all explained in rich detail in Talmudic stories featuring Rabbi Akiva, Hillel, Rabbi Judah the Prince, and others. As my 15-year old daughter and I traversed the maze, it was far more than a navigational challenge — it became a meaningful educational lesson for the both of us.
It even extended to an encounter that occurred with some fellow navigators. I noticed that several people were ‘jumping over’ parts in the maze in order to finish faster. When I gently chided them that it was not really the fairest way to complete a maze, one of them grinned, and said ‘Welcome to Israel’. And in the interests of full disclosure, I am compelled to mention that while we found seven of the eight stations, and found our way out, we never did locate the seventh station.
These three mazes provided me with three object lessons for life in Israel today. The first maze showed the simple beauty of the land of Israel, things which are immediate and easily understood. The second maze, with its poetry and appreciation of nature, showed how beauty in nature can be described in the modern Hebrew idiom. The third maze, with its treasure of Talmudic quotations, depicted how basic human decency, kindness, and love are important throughout the ages, even if sometimes, those lessons are ignored.
The Hebrew word for maze, ‘mavoch’, means confusion or puzzlement. While the mazes were challenging and difficult for this navigationally-challenged individual, they eventually provided great clarity and insight into nature, both human and otherwise.
The matzah, marror, and the salt water? All unquestionably inspiring and meaningful. But this year, at least, the wheat, ropes, and hedges of the maze were no less so.