It is Hol Hamoed Passover, the intermediate days of the festival, and like most Israelis I find myself observing one of the holiday's more unforgettable traditions: sitting in traffic on the drive up north.
Slowly – painfully so – we crawl along, inching forward in a vain attempt to reach our destination in a timely fashion.
The wheels of justice, it has been said, may turn slowly, but they are nothing compared with the bottleneck on the Tel Aviv-Haifa road.
With each passing hour, the kids in the back grow increasingly impatient, their innate need to release energy kicking into ever-higher gear. Indeed, if it weren't for those inane little electronic devices they are constantly staring at like slumbering zombies, they would surely have been lunging at one another by now. I never thought I would say this but thank God for iPods.
The radio news spews out report after depressing report, citing a seemingly endless list of roads, highways and interchanges that are clogged up like sinuses during hay fever season. Oh, if only Sudafed could clear up Route 6! One benefit of sitting in a large metal box with wheels creeping along at 10 kilometers per hour is that it gives one the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed people-watching. Though not quite as developed as the science of bird-watching, gazing at two-legged mammals can be far more interesting.
Take, for example, the family in the car next to us, which appears to have packed every single thing they own into, on top of, and pouring out the back of, their car, as though they were truly fleeing slavery in Pharaoh's Egypt.
And then there is the irrepressible young Israeli who, even in the thick of a forest of cars, simply cannot drop his habit of trying to weave in and out of traffic, cutting people off with just millimeters to spare. The Zionist dream was always that we should be a free people in our own land, but right now I would settle for being free in my own lane.
Watch it, buddy! Having left in the late morning, I guess we had this coming, or at least that is what my spouse says to me before delivering the verbal equivalent of an uppercut to the chin: "If it had been up to me, we would have left at 6 a.m."
I attempt a gentle counter-jab, pointing out that leaving at that hour would in any event have meant coming up against the early-bird rush.
Traffic on Passover is like matzah: it is unavoidable, and it prevents you from, ahem, going.
Nevertheless, there is something about traffic jams that has never sat well with me.
Few things are as frustrating, or waste more precious time, giving new meaning to the term "captive audience." But beyond that, vehicular congestion raises some serious philosophical and even theological issues.
If we are put into this world to accomplish things, then what is the point of subjecting us to traffic? Doesn't it run counter to the very purpose of our being? Sure, we all have questions we'd like to ask the Creator, if only to better understand that there really is fairness and balance in the universe. But I guess in a world racked with catastrophes such as war, famine and male-pattern baldness, who can possibly comprehend that infernal curse known as gridlock? Worse yet, traffic jams don't exactly bring out the best in people, testing the patience of even the most forbearing of souls. With the sun beating down through the window, and the children testing the elasticity of their seatbelts, all I can do is sit back, stretch my legs and ponder the ultimate meaning of all this automotive inertness.
And then, suddenly, inexplicably, it hits me, like a lightning bolt from the world of supernal and unmitigated truths, jolting me out of despair. That there is a traffic jam here in Israel means one thing and one thing only: the land of Israel is once again filling up with Jews! After two millennia of empty paths and lonely roadways, the prophecy of Zechariah (chapter 10) is coming to life: "I will bring them back, for I will have compassion upon them.... and place shall not suffice for them."
Yes, that's right – even something as mundane as a line of traffic several kilometers long carries within it the seeds of our redemption.
And that, perhaps, is what makes Israel so unique.
For in the Holy Land, even a traffic jam can be a spiritual experience.