Principle of First Occurrence
During our first bus ride today, George spoke about the Principle of First Occurrence. Hebrew is a very small language with only about 80,000 words. Compare that to the 900,000 words in English! Because of this, rabbis and scholars pay close attention to a word’s first occurrence in the Bible. For instance, God is described primarily as “love.” So, what does “love” really mean? To get to the purest meaning of the word “love,” we look to its first occurrence, Genesis 22. God tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whomyou love – Isaac… Sacrifice him…” Looking at this description, rabbis and scholars agree that the purest form of love, the love that God shows us, is the love between a parent and child. Isn’t it interesting then that we are described as children of God, the Father? Even more astounding, God also takes His son, His only son, whom He loves – Jesus – and sacrifices Him for us, His segulaha. We learn all of this from the Principle of First Occurrence.
Today we had devotions on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The water was lower than George had ever seen it because we are here at the end of the dry season. We paused and listened for the qol dmamah daqah and looked across the waters at the historical cities of Tiberius and Capernaum. Then we recited the Shema in Hebrew and English, and we were on our way!
As we drove through Galilee, we were amazed at the vast hills and valleys everywhere we looked. It really makes the Bible’s metaphors stand out in a new context. It is amazing to think about the characters from the Bible actually traversing this same land on foot. The bus began to climb through switchback roads, and before too long, we reached our first stop: Mount Arbel.
Mount Arbel is a large mountain with a defensible fort carved into the side. Though we didn’t get to see the fortress, we did embark on a somewhat difficult climb to the mountain top. The view was breathtaking. We saw a huge section of the Sea of Galilee to the right and entire towns to the left. While we gazed out in wonder, George began a lesson in geography. In ancient times, the mountain pushed all the way out to the sea, forcing any travelers and merchants to go around Mount Arbel through the Valley of the Doves. Because it was so heavily used, the roads at the base of the mountain were considered the Crossroads of the World where many different peoples and cultures would engage with one another. George also pointed out where different peoples would’ve called home around the sea, specifically the Herodians, the Pagans, the Zealots, and the righteous Jews. Before we trekked back to the bus, we had to take our first group picture from atop the cliffs!
Next on the itinerary was Kfar Kedem, a new location that even George had never experienced. Kfar Kedem is a gated, conservative Jewish community with period reenactors, and our group was able to gain a first-hand experience of life in Biblical times. We only expected to be at this location for about two hours, but we ended up being there for nearly four! And our group loved it! We had a blast!
We started the reenactment with cups of freshly brewed herbal tea. Of course, our friends are very good at speaking their minds. Immediately after Brady took a sip of the tea, he touted, “This is awful!” We all had a good laugh, and George quickly found some sugar for those who might not like the taste. After some introductions, we all donned the traditional men’s garments during Biblical times and were ready to learn about the ancient Jewish way of life.
First we learned about raising goats. To the Jews, goats were a precious source of many materials. Goat hair is actually waterproof, so the ancient Jews made their roofs with goat hair woven into a covering. The hair was also spun into wool thread and used for string. Goats were also a source of protein. Goats’ milk was a common drink for the Jews, and this milk could easily be turned into milk for longer storage. Out tour guide then demonstrated how a shepherd would carry a baby goat when looking for a lost member of the herd.
At this point, the guide set us free to hold the baby goat, try some fresh goat cheese, and try to milk the goats. The friends had a blast with this, and everyone asked for pictures with the kid (baby goat)! In fact, Megan said this was her favorite part of the trip so far, and Ben had a bigger smile on his face than anything we’ve seen since Chicago!
The next station for us was learning to make bread. Our actor showed us the tools used for farming in the Old Testament and demonstrated the difficult process of findings collecting grain seed. He connected the process to scripture and made the word of God much more literal and powerful. When the Psalmist (126) talks about planting in tears, the Jews would actually cry every year they planted. They had no guarantee that the rain would come and that crops would grow. The seed they were planting was seed that they had chosen to withhold from eating that year, so the planters cried for all the days that they had to let their children go hungry in the hopes that the seed they did not eat would produce a greater yield the following year. The Psalmist words were not at all metaphorical, but were incredibly real. The Jews were completely reliant on God’s providence.
We were then able to watch as the actor ground the grain seed into flour, stretched the dough into a thin layer, and cooked pita bread over a fire. Once we watched the process once, we were all given the chance to try it for ourselves!
As our final part of the afternoon, we were all trained in how to lead and ride donkeys! Every one of the friends got to ride a donkey around a field, and there was not a sad or tired face around the group! They loved this part of the afternoon! Brady went around the track at least four times! Ben loved it so much he said, “I want to ride twenty donkeys until midnight.” What an awesome experience!
The people at Kfar Kedem were so happy to work with our group, and they so loved the work that Heart of God is doing that they treated us to a special surprise! They had us sit down to a short meal of pita and hummus and guided us through the traditional Jewish customs for eating. First we said a Hebrew prayer; then, before we uttered another word, we ate a piece of the pita. This prevented us from saying any other words between the blessing of the food and the time we ate it. The pita bread was incredibly soft and airy; it was probably the best bread we have had on the trip! The hummus was also delicious and was topped with fresh olive oil and spices. It was a great end to our visit.
As if we hadn’t just ate, we hopped on the bus and headed to our official lunch! For many of us, we tried falafel for the first time! Unfortunately, some of us liked it more than others, but we are extremely proud that everyone in our group were adventurous enough to try it! We topped off lunch with some Magnum ice cream bars (which is advertised as the best ice cream in Europe and the Middle East!) before getting on the bus and heading back to the kibbutz.
We arrived back in our rooms just in time to go swimming in the Sea of Galilee! Everyone threw on their swimsuits and ran to the beach. We waded in the water that Jesus walked on. We swam in the water that Jesus preached from. And as we enjoyed the water and lived in the moment, we watched the sun set on another wonderful day in Israel.
We are so proud of our friends today! Stephanie, Haley, and Shawnzy all faced their fear of heights while climbing to the top of Mount Arbel. Many of our friends conquered their anxiety of new experiences by holding the baby goat or riding the donkeys. Haley, who yesterday said she would not play games with us, hopped right in to our night game! Everyone is interacting really well, and this trip of strangers has quickly turned into a journey with friends. Tomorrow we spend our last day in Galilee, and we are incredibly excited for what God has in store.
The Principle of First Occurrence requires researchers to look back at the initial use of a word, the starting point that forever defines that word. Someday people will look at our lives and ask us questions like “Where did you get such a fire for God?”, “How did you conquer that fear?”, “What made you change?” And maybe, just maybe, we might look back on today as our Principle of First Occurrence that shaped the rest of our lives.