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

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

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


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


, (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


“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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