Torah from around the World #36

By: Rabbi Roberto Feldmann
The Deliverance from the Bowels of Chile’s Mother Earth
A few years ago, some experts decided to degrade a planet which mythologically ruled the underworld, and reduced its dignity to a mere asteroid. Why? Because its orbit was erratic, a bit shifted and more elliptical than its other celestial brethren.

Chile is not a country, but a “cornice of the Andes”, García Márquez once said. And Pablo Neruda added, “of night, snow and sand is my homeland made”. And of template jungles, emerald lakes, ancient volcanoes, and misty Paleolithic beaches with seaweed as big as Leviathan’s fins. The Torah adds the notion of “Eretz Ochelet Yoshveha” (Numbers 13:32), a land that devours its inhabitants.

I have been born and raised in Chile. I hardly move or bother for earthquakes less than 7 degrees, but rather enjoy the majestic pudding the whole nature and man-made structures are turned into. A moonwalk, if you will. But this year, eretz ochelet yoshvea had an ominous sense of reality. The largest earthquake ever recorded in human history, almost 10º on the Richter scale, literally raised and sank entire provinces and their inhabitants. “Its much harder to push our fishing boats up to the sea,” complained an old fisherman in Cobquecura, “but fish fall into the sand.  That’s the reward for it being upside down now”. A couple who had just built their dream house at the beach of the coastal village of Iloca, complained:  “the house used to face the ocean; but has now a magnificent view of the Andes. The ocean is now too far away and can be seen from the kitchen only.”

And we here thought that these normal occurrences in our lives in this humbling geography, were over for some time at least. But Mother Earth is so alive here, that a relatively small mine, not deeper than a kilometer vertically down the Atacama desert, collapsed with all the miners below the 700 meters level (2000 feet deep) trapped in the bowels of a mountain.

President Piñera U-turned the airplane taking him to the installation ceremony of Colombia’s new president, and returned to Santiago immediately, then headed directly to the mine, in a remote location some 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of Santiago.

Eretz achal yoshveha: The earth had devoured the miners. Like Korach and his entourage. Desperate loved ones started flocking up to the mine, and after a few hours the jungle of contradictory information subsided, and factual information of where the collapse happened, and what chances of survival the miners had, emerged.

The families started to camp in the cold of the desert night and the heat of the desert day – the driest in the planet. They called it “Campamento Esperanza” – “Camp Hope”. President Piñera, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, all stayed put there, ensuring the best plan, the best equipment that could drill a catheter down its way to hell almost, in a delirious yet careful nonstop tempo towards the assumed location where they could be, in a race against time. They enquired for every detail, made sure every minute aspect was well taken care of. A painful, tense balancing act between velocity and precision.

The mountain was so silent, the unrelenting hope of loved ones, spouses, children and friends, who were sleeping in shifts, helping the rescuers, whose task became more technical and sophisticated as the hours passed. One week passed, two weeks, and the state of the miners thought at best to have found one of the primitive refuges every so hundred meters down its intestines, was an enigma: Nobody knew whether they were in there, or buried alive below tons of rubble, copper and rocks, a kilometer down the desert surface. Mining Minister Golbourne, once choked his tears when having to transmit the experts’ prognosis: there was only a slim 2% chances they could be alive, perhaps less. An angry camping spouse confronted him and told him: “Don’t bother us with your experts’ facts Mr. Minister; we have called our camp with a more realistic name: ‘Campamento Esperanza’, ‘Camp Hope’ ”.

Some of the experts, the kind that downgrade planets, calculated what a human being needs to survive in exactly the heat and humidity conditions to be found down there, and made sermons about the geology of the mountain, reduced hope to naught, mixing their petulance with what they call “realism”.

The government didn’t lose a minute, the whole country drilled and drilled through every second, minute, hour, day, week. Three weeks into it, Camp Hope was silent, but willing to spit at any expert who talked about percentages, probabilities of human endurance. Stop calculating, keep drilling precisely, unrelentingly. Even children helped. Australia sent equipment as did Germany, the USA, and other countries.

One day, one of the five or six catheters reached just the outside of the refuge almost a kilometer down the earth. The 33 miners were alive, as Camp Hope’s realism assessed, exultant. The whole country exploded in confirmation: hope is more realistic that experts’ percentages. The first papers with loving messages, water, food, and medicine were sent. We are alive, we love you, we haven’t abandoned you, the whole country is with you helping: you will come out alive. The response from underneath was immediate: We love you too, are eternally thankful, we are OK: We knew lately you were drilling towards us, since we heard (Elijah’s kol dmama daká), a soft, subtle sound of the drilling machines. Then we assumed we were not forgotten. After two weeks, we knew you were coming. We rationed the scarce food, we made routines not to go mad in the darkness, we sang, we prayed, we even exercised. We had water from the springs, and it was pure to drink, and with hunger we held strong.

Once communications – a lifeline, a Sulam Yaakov, a Jacob’s ladder – was created, then life could breathe and bring nourishment for body and soul back and forth through the “paloma”, the “dove”. Strange echo of Noah’s one. As if the miners were in an ark, and had to wait till the flood subsided. The experts disappeared or went mum. The machinery to save them came, and something never tried before on such a scale and depth was put in place. At first the experts talked about half a year to get to them and get them out. Neither Camp Hope nor the Miners’ sense of humor down in the deep despaired. When Independence Day came, falling exactly on Yom Kippur, September 18 (10th of Tishri) there were videos of the miners dancing cueca and singing the national anthem.

The drilling went so fast, so relentless, as if a whole country spent 70 biblical days drilling and drilling and drilling. The name of the uni-personal, rudimentary lift down was called “Fénix” – like the bird that arises from the ashes of darkness and collapse.

So the mythical, downgraded planet was given back its proud regency of the netherworld: They tell me Pluto is crossing now Mazal Gdi, (Capricorn), the sign of the desert. The myth has been reenacted in such an exact Gestalt, that even Fenix / Phoenix, was subconsciously evoked.

Rav Israel Joshua Trunk of Kutno comments on this Parashah’s verse: So Avram departed, as Adonai had spoken to him…(Bereshit 12:4). Generally, one’s enthusiasm to perform a Mitzvah diminishes as time passes, but Abraham continued going with the same enthusiasm and ardor that he had when God spoke to him. His enthusiasm did not wane and his desire was not weakened. By the same token, on the verse, “Who will ascend into the hill of the Divine? And who will stand in his holy place?” (Psalms 24:3), our Sages comment that while ascending is important, the real measure of the person’s (or the witnesses’) devotion is his “standing” before the Divine after having completed the ascent.

And since Tuesday, one by one, patiently, every single one of the thirty three miners trapped in the bowels of the depths of the desert, came to the surface, embraced wife, children, parents, president, friends, and the whole country, and even through the media, the whole planet was following it in breaking news.

It was biblical. It is a lesson for human petulance and false “realism”, and a monument to a different realism, one that combines all we have as humanity: a beating heart and the best technology, a resilient psyche and responsible governments, living human solidarity and help from friendly nations’ prayers and equipment.

This is not just a “story” like the media loves to call life evolving. This is a deliverance made out of the combination of everything that is good and positive, all the potentials of strength, patience, and the wisdom of the heart, which is not taken away by downgrading experts and their arrogant certainties. They hid like mice at the glaring light of another truth. While I watched each and every miner entering the Fenix cabin, and start his ascent, I pronounced “Lech Lechah”… “Off you go to your new life, reborn from the depths of depths of the dark!” initiated with a knowledge we can only slowly begin to understand and drop by drop, begin to learn.

This is not about a silly patriotism. This is about something so much deeper and universal in scope: what the human being has in emotional, cognitive and technological tools, can be used to resurrect the ones who have been called dead by the soi-disant “experts”, those who think science has nothing to do with the human heart, and technology has nothing to do with human hope. Those who think that synergy is collective hysteria and solidarity something for people in state of denial. Actually, those who preached, denied something much greater. Something divine that ejected Sarai and Avram to their journey of transformation, and whose children we Jews are.

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