Monday, November 26, 2012

Bernikie - A Walk in the Hills Above Teveria©






When the Arizal would walk in the Galilean mountains with his  talmidim, he would often suddenly change course and follow untracked pathways. Hesaid he was following the lights emanating from the footsteps of different Tannaim or Amoraim who had
trod these tracks many hundreds of years before his time.

We dont see the light from the pathways, but the thrilling and uplifting feeling that the holy Chachamim  who comprise the  Mishnah  and the Gemara may have walked on these very paths, nonetheless accompanies one who walks down the steep unpaved Bernice Slope in the Switzerland Forest above Teveria. The path, which takes an hour and a half to traverse, is most aptly named Shvil HaAmoraim VehaTannaim.

The path is a most difficult one. It is recommended only for those who are physically fit and have much stamina. It must also be noted that there is hardly any shade along the way; the walk should be taken in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is not at its strongest, or on a cloudy day. Although the area is called Yaar Switzar (Switzerland Forest), trees are few and far between. At this time of year, the fields are especially full of purple and bronze thorns.

One must descend with utmost care, and while in motion keep ones eyes down constantly. The instructions of the Igeres HaRamban to his son are very applicable here: Head bent (forward), and his eyes looking down to the ground.

The impressive, breathtaking views along the way are well worth the effort. This could perhaps be the finest and most interesting vista in the region. There is a blue, panoramic view of the Kineret (that is shaped like a harp) and the scenic mountains that surround it.


Spread out beneath you is the city of Teveria. The city was founded approximately 25 years after Herods death (circa 30 C.E.) by his son, HerodAntipas, in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberius and was named for him. But our Chachamim found Jewish content in the name, calling it Tov Einayim because of its beauty, but mostly because of the fact that the last place the Sanhedrin was exiled to was Teveria (The Sanhedrin went into exile 10 times  and Teveria was the deepest of them all - Rosh Hashanah 31b). The

Sanhedrin are referred to as einei haeidah -the eyes of the nation. They are the ones who - because of their comprehension of Torah - are able to see far-reaching consequences and know what is best for the nation and each of its individuals.

Most commentators on the  Zohar say that whenthe Zohar states that Moshiach will first reveal himself in the Galil, it means in Teveria. The  Gemara (Megillah 6a) says Teveria is the navel (tabur) of Eretz Yisrael. In the Midrash the Sanhedrin itself is likened to the navel, for the same way the embryo receives its sustenance from the navel, so too is the nation nurtured and sustained by the Sanhedrin.

Seen behind the lake on the eastern shore is Kibbutz Ein Gev. Ein Gev is near the excavations of the ancient Greco-Roman pagan city with the strange name Susita (Hippios), or horse, and was the sworn enemy of the new Jewish city, Teveria, across the lake. Josephus reports that during the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70/3 C.E., Hippos persecuted its Jewish population.

To the north, one can make out the sites of the ancient fishing villages of Kfar Nahum, Ein Sheva and Migdal. Of the seven springs that emerged from Ein Sheva, only six have been discovered in our times. They produced warmer water than that of the Kineret, fostering the production of algae, which in turn attract fish. Fishermen have been active in the area for thousands of years.

Beyond them in the distance are the two highest peaks in the country: Mount Hermon to the north and Mount Meron to the northwest. To the south, ones attention is drawn to the Jordan Valley and beyond it to the mouth of the Yarmuk River (Nehar HaYarmuk).


Even without the magnificent views, the photogenic slopes themselves are a glory. About halfway down, there is an enormous, ancient carob tree. Lower down is a large and black monastery from the Byzantine period.

The grass is golden and there are many free-standing tzalaf (caper plants). From the debates of Chazal in the Mishnah, Tosefta and Gemara, one learns that the tzalaf was cultivated as a full-fledged agricultural crop. Even the young leaves, the tamri, were gathered and eaten.

Before the flower opens, there are small, button-like balls called cafrisin. In Talmudic times these were pickled and would net a high profit. Rabbeinu Hakadosh had a  chavrusa whose livelihood was collecting the cafrisin and was therefore called Yosie the Cafar. Even today, in high-class restaurants these balls are served under the name capers.

A striking, large, white flower with its pink stamens appears on the tzalaf. During the year, it blooms one day (less than 20 hours)  and thats it! The Gemara relates that Rabban Gamliel once told his students that in the messianic age a woman will give birth immediately(on the same day she conceives). One of the talmidim mocked this concept, saying there will never be something new under the sun. Rabban Gamliel gave this brazen pupil a withering look and the boy turned into a heap of bones. He then demonstrated that the tzalaf gives fruit each day. So, too, will women bear their fruit (children) each day.

The flowers piston then turns into a fruit. This fruit is collected and squeezed. The resultant liquid iscalled Cyprus wine. In Pitom Haketores which is said before Shacharis and Minchah, we find an ingredient that the  ketores is soaked in, called Cyprus wine. Some say this is wine that comes from Cyprus. But most opinions hold that this is the wine of the tzalaf.

Directions: Travel along the road above the kever of Rabi Akiva into Yaar Switzar until reaching the black trail. From here the descent starts.

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