I was headed to a restaurant in search of a strong cup of Greek coffee, the kind with grounds you can rub your tongue against. I was stumped over the increasingly vehement feelings expressed by a friend of mine, and her insistence on finger pointing about the faults of others, namely the Palestinians.
While I had expressed frustration recently over not being able to find an unbiased news report on the recent terrifying stabbings by Muslims of Jews in Israel and the West Bank, she responded with a diatribe against all Palestinians. Since she is talking about moving to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank soon, I suppose I should not be surprised that she was consumed by an emotional fury and religious zealotry. When I suggested that her invective wasn’t going to win friends and influence people, she responded, “It is not my intention to win friends and influence people.” That shocked me.
The current violence seemed to have begun around a rumor that comes up periodically and that particularly angers religious Muslims, claims that the Israeli government is going to change the status quo at what Jews recognize as the Temple Mount, and Muslims the Noble Sanctuary. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has categorically stated there will not be any change. Settlements are not the trigger of the latest violence, but, they are problematic.
In 1977, I was just out of college, and in Boston sitting in the cramped office of Leonard Fein, who had just started the new magazine, Moment, for American Jews. I suggested I could do a photo essay for him in Israel.
He asked, “On what?”
Put on the spot, I replied, “One of the new settlements.”
I was recalling an image from photographer Archie Lieberman’s earlier book, The Israelis, of a farmer with a sheep—and was thinking maybe I could find a fresh take on it with these new farmers there, well, if they had sheep. My suggestion was rebuffed.
Fein said, without elaborating further, ‘The settlements are problematic, aren’t they?’
It’s taken me a long time to understand what he understood very well then.
So now, in response to my friend saying it was not her intention to win friends and influence people, I replied, in astonishment, “Isn’t that what we’re here to do, to learn to live together on this planet?”
When I drive, the letters and numbers of license plates suggest ideas to me. Nothing spoke to me as I drove across town. But when I pulled up to the Greek coffee shop and parked behind another vehicle, there it was, staring me in the face, written in enigmatic shorthand, but I couldn’t decipher the hieroglyphic. I’d pulled into a space behind a car with a license plate that read “MKB 911.”
I laughed, inwardly.
It was an older model unwashed car, with bird crud on the window. I took a peek at the young man sitting behind the wheel texting intently into his cell phone, and decided it was unlikely the owner had sprung for this license plate.
It spoke to me, though, loudly. MKB suggested the merkabah, and 911 the destruction of 9/11, but what exactly did that mean? I now felt called to perform an exegesis on a license plate.
The merkabah refers to a vision beheld by Ezekiel who was one of the prophets in the Bible. He describes seeing a chariot pulled by four angels who each had four faces—of a man, a lion, an eagle and an ox—and four wings and alongside, wheels within wheels. Upon seeing the merkabah, Ezekiel heard the voice of God directing him to become a prophet to the Israelites.
Since then the Book of Ezekiel, and the merkabah, have been associated, but not always, with apocalyptic thinking. If one accepts that prosaic interpretation of the vision, then the message here was that this was an emergency vehicle, a warning of a big disaster coming, and that you need to be safe inside a spiritual space. In Sedona there is a New Age group of followers that meditate on picturing themselves encapsulated in star-tetrahedron-shaped personal merkabahs.
However, I am more inclined to think that it is precisely the religious zealots, those who lay biblical claim to Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, who would kill to claim holy ground, who could cause the destruction of Israel.
What this iconography said to me, rather, was a message, a formula, really, to avert that disaster—that instead, by staying in line with the spirit of God, when the four angels, representing the four elements, earth, air, fire and water, which in nature are separate, are harnessed and directed and balanced by spiritual power, they work together to create this amazing physical universe, with the infinitude of energies of the wheels within wheels that empowered the merkabah.
When disparate elements can work together for a greater good, that is the place where safety is to be found, for the planet to avert that apocalyptic insanity.
As Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”