I was on my way to a wedding in Jerusalem and it must have been the worst traffic jam I've ever been in. The kind of traffic where, after a while, your mind begins to dissolve from frustration and boredom and you begin to ask yourself questions like: Why is it called traffic jam and not traffic jelly?
At times like this, one is grateful for anything of interest to look at. So my eyes settled on the Azrieli Towers looming meaningfully on our right as we approached Tel Aviv from the north. Numberless stories high, it is little Israel's not-so-little contribution to the world's collection of skyscrapers. But it wasn't just the massiveness of it that interested me; it was the multi-colored electronic display on its side: hundreds of light bulbs in the shape of an Israeli flag, complete with a Star of David in the center. Nor was that all. Above it was a huge electronic message board flashing repeatedly the words, Zeh B'yadaim Shelanu, "This Is In Our Hands."
Since the words came without commentary---like the mysterious handwriting on the wall in the Book of Daniel---I began to ponder their meaning. What is the "this" which is in our hands?
Surely they could not mean the traffic. The failure of public planning has resulted in traffic jams like this on a daily basis. We have become the Eternal People in the Eternal Bottleneck, and it will be years before enough additional roadway and mass transit can be built to meet the country's needs. In the meantime, it's not in anybody's hands.
Nor could it refer to the weather. Israeli meteorologists had been predicting for days (with their usual prophetic confidence) the imminent arrival of an immense snow storm. The populace was held in a high state of readiness, fleets of snowplows fitted out, emergency supplies and rescue teams standing by. What finally came was late and not nearly so immense as advertised. Which proved once again that you can talk about the weather, but you can't do anything about it, not even predict its behavior with any reliable degree of accuracy.
If it was a defiant message to the agents of terror, one shudders to the think of the risk of tempting fate. Like sticking out your chin and daring him to hit you. And this is a guy who hits. I wonder if the rental fees on the upper floors of the Azrieli Towers are as defiant as their electronic sign. Since September 11th, there have been reports of a precipitous fall in the demand---and therefore the rents---of the upper floors of tall buildings.
Nor is it likely that they have the Israeli economy in mind. Not if the record unemployment and recent slippage in the value of the shekel is any indication.
What, then, is in our hands? The question stayed with me the rest of the way. We did finally make it to Jerusalem, and just in time. I was privileged to join the crowd of friends and family in the cold unsnowy air of the city as the two people who had only recently chosen to share their lives together stood side by side under the chupah. And then there was the incomparable moment when he placed the ring on her finger. A new bond had been created, new worlds set into motion.
And I had my answer. This is the kind of thing that is in our hands; the choices that we make in our personal lives; whom to marry, where to live, what to study. And they are by no means trivial. Even in the larger scheme of things, these choices have far-reaching implications. It has been calculated that a couple who have two children, and whose children then marry and each have two children, and so on, the geometric progression of ten generations will yield 1,024 descendants. After 20 generations, 1,048,576. After 24 generations---a mere 600 years----there will be 16,777,216 descendants. Something like the total population of the Jewish people.
Thus, the decision of two people to get married will ultimately affect the whole makeup of our people. Had they chosen to marry someone else, the configuration of everything and everybody would have been incalculably different. It is a whole world in the making.
And, of course, the kind of life they choose to build together will also be of immense significance. For that will determine how many of those 16,777,216 descendants will be part of the chain of Jewish tradition, or not.
Such are the things that, it seems to me, really are in our hands. I suspect that the folks at Azrieli Towers have something else in mind. But I can't imagine what it could be.