Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In the footsteps of Moses....a Mt. Sinai night

Today, Tuesday, was a chance to visit Mount Sinai. I was there once before, in 1981. That year, for a sunrise hike to the peak of the mountain. This time, for sunset.

In 1981, the eastern portion of the Sinai peninsula was still under Israeli control. Today, as Israel agreed under the Camp David accords, it is part of Egypt. The differences speak volumes -- once pristine beaches are now mostly the domain of unfinished and seemingly abandoned construction projects. Signs of poverty abound. And, while we just finished traveling freely for 300+ miles of cycling in Israel, the 220 mile drive from the border to the base of Mount Sinai included 4 - 5 military check points. The poverty in this part of Egypt is a marked, and sad, contrast to modern Israel.

Mount Sinai and St. Katherine's monastery were our destination, and theyare largely unchanged from my 1981 visit, and the terrain of the Sinai desert is as beautiful and striking as ever.

The hike to the summit took about 2 1/2 hours, including a climb up, I'm told, 3,700 stone steps (Moses had to go w/o the steps) to an elevation of 2,300 meters, close the the highest elevation in Egypt. If you've been to Masada, think of this as the snake path on steroids. Unlike Masada, the cable car is not a choice. On the other hand, some of the hikers do rent a camel for the bulk of the journey. We hiked. It was worth the reward.

We arrived in time to explore the peak, including a small chapel, The Church of the Holy Trinity, and a small Mosque. I've since read that the mosque is built over the cave where Moses is said to have spent his time on Mount Sinai and to have received the Torah. And, we were there to see the sun, setting over the horizon of the mountains to the west of Sinai.

The most special part of the day, however, was the hike back down the mountain, under the night sky. For the last mile or so of the hike, with the worst of the descent behind us, we were finally enveloped by the night sky over Mount Sinai. It was a quiet time, and a chance to think about the experience of the past week, starting in Tzfat, the home of the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, and ending here at Sinai, where we received the Torah. What a wonderful journey it's been! For the last portion of this day, we turned off the flashlights, leaving only the quiet magnificence of the night sky over the desert. Special as this Israel Ride has been, I know that many of the memories will eventually blend into those of other Israel Rides that I've been lucky enough ride in. One memory that I won't forget is the beauty of this Sinai night.

No comments: