‘Loosening the Hair’ – Shabbat Naso 5778(2018)

This time of the year especially I remember having a full head of hair. Warm days in May and June summon up for me the feeling of  wavy locks on the back of the neck. The only thing about it that I don’t miss is the sweat! Near baldness, in temperate terms at least, is significantly cooler than the long shag I sported as an 18 year old. Back then, however, the hair was cool.

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Young_man_with_long_hair_(State_1)

The image of a loosened head of (long?) hair shows up twice in this week’s parashah, and in both instances it seems to symbolize disorder. At the start of the ordeal faced by a wife suspected of infidelity by her husband, we read that “the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering of remembrance, which is a meal offering of jealousy. And in the priest’s hands shall be the water of bitterness that induces the spell.” [Numbers 5:18] A chapter later, in its description of the Nazirite’s oath, the Torah indicates that “throughout the term of his vow as nazirite, no razor shall touch his head; it shall remain consecrated until the completion of his term as nazirite of the Lord, the hair of his head being left to grow untrimmed.” [Numbers 6:5]

 

Bible scholar Stephen Geller offers the possibility that “this element of emotion or spontaneity is precisely what links the laws of the sotah ordeal and the nazirite oath. Both involve feelings a person cannot contain. From the point of view of the priestly tradition, which valued regularity and order, both unbridled jealousy and the perfervid emotions that might lead one to make an oath precipitously, were dangers that had to be controlled and fit into the ritual system. The quasi-magical ordeal might still a husband’s suspicions and the list of required sacrifices might prevent a nazirite’s hasty oath.” Geller adds: “The loosening or lengthening of hair symbolizes not only indeterminacy but also uncontrollability.”

 

The root that means ‘loosening of the hair’ – p,r,’a – while uncommon appears in two notable contexts in the Bible. The Book of Proverbs uses the verb to describe the throwing off of good counsel and appropriate behavior. And in the Book of Exodus (32:25), the word parua’ a participle derived from the same root, describes the wildness and out of control quality of the people in the midst of their rebellion at the Golden Calf.  In the eyes of the Biblical authors, nothing good comes from loosened hair.

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Many days it feels as if we live in a time of ‘loosened hair’ and it is profoundly unsettling. Indeterminacy and an absence of control and order seem to be the order of the day. Unbridled jealousy and perfervid emotions dominate public discourse and drive public policy. I get the distress felt by the priestly authors of Numbers 5 and 6 at the prospect of profound disorder. The same priestly authors gave us the antidote in the form of the blessing that centers and anchors this week’s parashah. The geographic middle of Naso is inhabited by Birkat kohanim – the famous priestly blessing which concludes with the hope that God will lift the Divine face and grant us peace. Short hair and shalom, evidently, have a great deal in common!

 

Shabbat Shalom.

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‘Wave that Flag’ – Shabbat Bemidbar 5778 (2018)

“Wave that Flag, Wave it Wide and High!”

Midrash Bemidbar Rabbah teaches that the flags – degalim – displayed by each of the tribes when they encamped in the wilderness carried great symbolic meaning. Playing with the letters in the word for flag – dalet, gimmel, lamed – the Midrash reads the flags as indicators both of grandeur (gedulah) and of separation (geder). Flags, grandeur, separation: “the flags (degalim) were grandeur (gedulah) and separation (geder) for Israel.”

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This has been a week of flag waving for Israel, a week both of grandeur and separation. It has also been a week of conflicting emotions, ranging from ecstasy to agony, and of disturbing juxtapositions. A fine line distinguishes grandeur from grandiosity on the one end, and the Hebrew word geder means both ‘separation’ and ‘fence’ on the other. Flags flew this week in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, and on the Gaza-Israel border, all of them carrying great symbolic meaning.

On Saturday night, Israel won the Eurovision Song Festival. Netta Barzilai’s performance of a song called ‘Toy’ carried the day. Tel Aviv’s streets immediately filled with joyful Israelis, singing, dancing, and waving flags. The party lasted until dawn and featured Israel’s flag and the internationally recognized rainbow pride flag. Regardless of what one thinks about Netta’s song, it’s fair to say that this week began with a beautiful display of gedulah – grandeur/greatness – Tel Aviv style.

Sunday marked Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary on the Hebrew calendar of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War. In recent years, Yom Yershalayim has been marked by an event known as the ‘March of the Flags’ – a parade into and through the Old City undertaken by young Israelis carrying Israel’s flag and waving it with pride and self-assertion. The march winds through the Old City’s central markets with special emphasis on the Christian and Muslim quarters, culminating in a joyful gathering at the Kotel. Grandeur for some, grandiosity and triumphalism for others (I’m in that second camp), the Jerusalem Day march quite clearly designates who’s in charge and who isn’t; as an act of self-assertion, Sunday’s flag waving signifies a certain kind of separation, a metaphorical fence that divides as much as it unites.

Then came Monday, May 14th, the 70th anniversary on the civil calendar of Israel’s proclamation of independence. The United States Embassy in Jerusalem was formally dedicated on May the 14th and the ceremony put the national flags of Israel and the USA on prominent display. Gedulah without doubt, depending on one’s politics either grandeur or grandiosity, Monday’s flag waving meant to convey pride and self-assertion, and, as speaker after speaker reminded the audience, a commitment to the truth of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s deep and enduring connection to the city of Jerusalem. Wave those flags, wave them wide and high.

At precisely the same moment, Palestinian protests along the border fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel reached a bloody and horrifying climax. For weeks, Gazans have been gathering at the separation fence to highlight their desire to return to the villages and towns where their families once lived, all places within the State of Israel. Palestinian flags and Hamas banners have figured prominently in these protests, more than a few of them attached to kites carrying explosive materials that protestors have flown over into Israeli territory, on a few occasions setting fire to fields in Israel. Across the fence sit the Israel Defense Forces, including sniper units, arrayed under the flag of the State of Israel. Their job is to protect the border and to prevent breaches. The flags separate and this week they witnessed terrible violence. There are many questions in the wake of Monday’s death toll. Was live fire necessary? Are there less lethal ways to protect the border? To what degree and in what ways has Hamas manipulated and choreographed these protests? Such questions and more are already up for public debate in Israel. Now, it seems to me, is a time for grief and sadness over the loss of innocent life and the seeming insolubility of this conflict. The flags bespeak separation; they also symbolize grief.

One more thought from the Midrash. The banners and flags are meant to symbolize longing and love. The prooftext is a verse from Song of Songs in which the maiden proclaims of her lover “his banner over me was love.” (Song of Songs 2:4) Longing for the Divine Presence, love for humanity and for one another, just love. At the end of this emotional roller coaster of a week, the flag I wish to wave is that banner of longing and love. I hope you’ll join me in that prayer – “Wave that flag; wave it wide and high.”

Shabbat Shalom & Hag Sameah

From Servitude to Servant-hood – Shabbat Behar-Behukotai 5778 (2018)

Bob Dylan’s mid-70’s albums – most notably ‘Blood on the Tracks’ – anchored the soundtrack of my adolescence. That a Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota became the poetic and protest ‘voice of his generation’ was for me, and a good many others, a source of pride and the object of intense, even obsessive admiration. I knew, and still know, a great many Dylan songs by heart and spent a good deal of time in high school perfecting my impression of his raspy ‘singing’ voice.

Then, in the middle of my senior year, Dylan found God and became a born-again Christian. It was devastating. Among other responses, I stopped listening to his music. As a consequence I entirely missed his truly outstanding 1979 album ‘Slow Train Coming.’ Much later, and after Dylan had rediscovered his Judaism, I encountered his gospel works and fell in love with the opening track on ‘Slow Train Coming,’ a simple, and simply brilliant, piece called ‘Gotta Serve Somebody.’ Here are a few of its lines –

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
What struck me as simple minded evangelical theology as a young man today feels like a sophisticated commentary on the Torah, and in particular on this week’s parasha. Allow me to explain. The overarching narrative of the Torah tells the story of Egyptian servitude, and God’s redemption of the people of Israel so that they/we might become God’s people. At the saga’s start, the Israelites are slaves to Pharaoh; at story’s end, they belong to God. Pharaoh’s slaves are now God’s servants, and that somehow doesn’t feel like enough of a transformation. To the contrary, it feels like a simple swap: trade in Pharaoh and drive home with God instead!
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My friend and teacher, Rabbi Shai Held, sees a clear distinction between service (or slavery) to God and slavery under Pharaoh. “Whereas the latter systematically dehumanizes his subjects, the former values and cherishes them. Work and service come in dignified and degrading versions: the Torah is about a journey from the latter toward the former.” Rabbi Held draws on a verse in Parashat Behukotai to push his point with even greater force. “I the Lord am your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect,” says the Torah (Leviticus 26:13). Says Rabbi Held, “The verse implicitly contrasts what it means to be a slave to Pharaoh with what it means to be a servant of God. Pharaoh places the Israelites under a backbreaking and soul-crushing yoke, whereas God invites them to stand tall…one cannot really serve God without a robust sense of one’s own dignity. True divine service depends on those who serve standing tall.” (The Heart of Torah, vol. 1, pp. 214-215; vol. 2, p. 87)
A key verse in Parashat Behar, however, seems to incline in the other direction. “For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 25:55) To Me and not to Pharaoh; God, as it were, has tossed Pharoah out of the ring and taken Israel as God’s own. The early Midrash understands our verse exactly that way. “My deed (of ownership) has first priority.” (Sifra Behar 6:1)
The key word in all of this is ‘eved – which means both ‘slave’ and ‘servant.’ The same Hebrew root in a different form – ‘avodah – simultaneously means ‘hard labor’ of the sort associated with slavery and ‘sacred worship’ of the type connected with priestly work in God’s house. Are they really one and the same? Or does something truly fundamental transpire over the course of the Exodus and the Torah’s grand narrative?
Both my friend Rabbi Held and my adolescent idol Mr. Dylan are right. Over the years, hopefully, we come to learn that we’re ‘gonna have to serve somebody.’ Which is to say that “authentic freedom is found in service of something (and Someone) greater than oneself.” Servitude, I suggest, is transformed into servant-hood over the course of the Exodus and can be similarly transformed over the course of our lives. Sefer Vayikra, the priestly manual that resides at the middle of the Torah concludes with a powerful reminder that the upcoming journey through the wilderness is (hopefully) that truly transformative trip from ‘eved – slave – to ‘eved – servant, and from ‘avodah – hard labor – to ‘avodah – sacred work and worship.
Shabbat Shalom.

“Religious Humility” – Shabbat Emor 5778(2018)

In his new book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”, Yossi Klein Halevi beautifully and stirringly describes his own journey into interfaith dialogue and connection.

Once, before the wall was built, before so much else that went wrong, I tried to get to know you. In late 1998, in what seems like another lifetime—truly another century—I set out on a pilgrimage into Islam and Christianity, the faiths of my neighbors in the Holy Land. I went as a religious Jew seeking not so much to understand your theology as to experience something of your devotional life. I wanted to learn how you pray, how you encounter God in your most intimate moments.

My goal was to see whether Jews and Muslims could share something of God’s presence, could be religious people together in this of all places, where God’s Name is so often invoked to justify abomination. I wanted to learn to feel at home in a mosque, to see in Islam not threat but spiritual opportunity. To hear in the muezzin’s call exactly what it is intended to be: a summons to awakening.

In Judaism, there is one sin for which not even the fast of Yom Kippur can atone: desecrating God’s Name. Only a religious person, misusing or acting unjustly in the Name of God, can be guilty of that offense. The interfaith encounter, I believe, sanctifies God’s Name. Interacting with believers of different faiths creates religious humility, recognition that truth and holiness aren’t confined to any one path. I cherish Judaism as my language of intimacy with God; but God speaks many languages.

 

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My friend Yossi’s poetic words chart a fascinating and suggestive trajectory. Interfaith encounter often begins with theology. It has for me at least. I’m eager to know about the religious traditions of my neighbors in a bookish kind of way. A next, and I think deeper, step involves an effort “to experience something of your devotional life,” something not readily learned from books. To get to know how “you encounter God in your most intimate moments” I need to visit with you in your spiritual home, to sit with you, to witness, and perhaps even to join in your prayer.

That willingness to visit, and to sit together, with adherents of ‘other’ faiths is what enables Klein Halevi “to learn to feel at home in a mosque.” From my own experience I know that it takes more than a visit or two to arrive at that level of comfort. The move from feeling and experiencing a tradition other than one’s own as “threat” to viewing and knowing it as “spiritual opportunity” isn’t quick or easy. It takes time and commitment, and a maximum of awareness and open-heartedness. And with a truly open heart, it is possible to hear someone else’s call to prayer as “a summons to awakening.”

Hearing that summons in the devotional life of another leads Klein Halevi to a bold and compelling theological claim. “The interfaith encounter, I believe, sanctifies God’s Name.” Why? How? Simply put, “religious humility” is the result of the deep connection with a follower of another way, the humility to recognize “that truth and holiness aren’t confined to any one path.” Your path is no less valid, or legitimate, or authentic, than mine; God – the One who is truly Great – is bigger than both of us, bigger, indeed, than all of us.

The religious value known as sanctification of God’s Name – kiddush ha-Shem – and its opposite number, desecration of the Divine Name – hillul ha-Shem – is a pre-occupation of the Book of Leviticus. An essential task of the priest, outlined in Parashat Emor among other places, is to insure that the Divine Name is ever sanctified and never desecrated. “You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I the Lord who sanctify you, I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God, I the Lord.” (Leviticus 22:32-33)

Classically, kiddush ha-Shem means martyrdom. Better to sacrifice one’s own life than to violate the tradition’s three essential prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, and murder. A more internalized understanding of this command focuses on self-denial in a different way. To highlight Divinity, the priest has to de-emphasize himself. My teacher, Rabbi Art Green, unpacking a teaching of the Sefat Emet (19th century Poland) explains it beautifully: Once a “person’s ego-self has been set aside, room is made for others; such a one is joined into the community that together becomes God’s presence in this world.”

Our congregational experience of interfaith dialogue and encounter, and my personal experience as well, bears out Rabbi Green’s insight. When we have made room for others, the result has often been a palpable sense of God’s presence in our midst. Praying together with and alongside friends of other faiths has served our community as “a summons to awakening” in Yossi Klein Halevi’s rich phrase. This past week’s ‘Of Love & Protest’ gathering pointed the way to the deep truth that “God speaks many languages.” I invite you to watch/listen to kiddush ha-Shem and “religious humility” in action. I believe that you’ll find it to be uplifting and inspiring. I very much hope so.

https://youtu.be/5qZsh4mVkfY
https://livestream.com/accounts/10195961/events/4321519/videos/174157399

Same Outside, Different Inside! – Shabbat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778(2018)

The titles of two recent kids’ books describe the current mindset of our diverse society. “We’re All the Same on the Inside” calls out one, while the other reminds us of this essential truth – “Same Inside, Different Outside.” I get the point and agree that in this moment of division and conflict it is crucial to focus on what connects and unites people. Things like race and ethnicity are only visible from the outside. On the inside we’re all simply human. As Shylock famously puts in Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

Still, I wonder if we don’t have it exactly backward. What if, on a deeper, more spiritual and emotional level, we’re actually not all the same on the inside? What, in other words, if we classify all of the items on Shylock’s list – hands, organs, passions, food, diseases, seasons – as ‘outside’ and save such things as soul, spirit, individuality, creativity for our ‘inside’ list? Yes, each of us ‘possesses’ those qualities or aspects; at the same time no two of us has precisely the same mix of them. A statement widely attributed to Abraham Lincoln succinctly gets at that idea: “Every man is born an original, but sadly, most men die copies”.

The Torah pursues the question of difference and distinctiveness in its characteristic way. Just before rattling off a rather lengthy list of mainly sexual prohibitions, Leviticus offers up this general rule: “… You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.” (Leviticus 18:3) The Torah’s words raise many questions. What are practices? Do they differ from laws? Why Egypt? Why Canaan? And more. As one ancient midrash, Sifra, articulates it, “Is it possible that one should not build buildings or plant plants as they do?” How, in other words, do we go about being ourselves, and not operating as mere copies of someone else?

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The Torah promotes what is known in family systems theory as differentiation of self. “Differentiation means the capacity of a family member to define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from surrounding togetherness pressures, to say ‘I’ when others are demanding ‘you’ and ‘we’… Differentiation means the capacity to be an ‘I’ while remaining connected.” (Edwin Friedman, “Generation to Generation” p. 27) The measures of differentiation, it seems to me, are entirely internal. Where one is on the “scale of differentiation” will determine how one responds to all of the externals on both Shylock’s and the Sifra’s lists. Differentiation, in other words, is about an individual’s soul, spirit, individuality, and creativity. It is wholly an inside game.

The Sefat Emet, the great 19th century Hasidic master, serves up the punch line. “Every deed has an inner and an outer side; the (inner) root of all things is surely in holiness, since all was created for God’s glory.” In contrast, some actions “have no relationship to the inner meaning of all things.” These deeds – habits, customs, actions – are labeled by the Sefat Emet as “mere externals.” Here’s how it works. “The mitzvot set aright the inner image of the human being…they give us access again to our original garment…by ‘doing’ them you fulfill your true image as a person!” Live inside the mitzvot. Be the original you. Stay well differentiated. That’s the path to holiness. Everything else is merely external.

Shabbat Shalom.

So Far Away from Me – Shabbat Tazria-Metzora 5778(2018) – Yom Ha-atzma’ut!

N & D Jerusalem 1987 from Israel 50 Years (Magnum)

This week I’m feeling the distance. Thanks to Israel’s 70th, my emotions feel much sharper and more raw. To compensate for not being there for the commemorations and sirens of Yom Ha-zikkaron (Memorial Day) and the celebrations and parties of Yom Ha-atzmaut (Independence Day) I’ve resorted to a steady diet of Israeli media – radio mostly, and also the news and television websites – the past few days. Hearing, seeing, reading through my blue tooth speakers and onscreen has simultaneously (and ironically) enabled me to feel closer and has also highlighted the distance. Yehudah ha-Levi’s most famous words resonate powerfully for me right now. Libi v’mizrah v’anochi b’sof ma’arav – My heart in the East, But the rest of me far in the West (in Hillel Halkin’s creative and lovely translation).

Distance is physical and temporal, and also emotional and spiritual. Even with Israel’s Reshet Gimel blaring, my internal sound system has been playing an old Dire Straits song on a continuous loop. “You’re so far away from me, So far I just can’t see…And I get so tired when I have to explain, When you’re so far away from me. See you’ve been in the sun and I’ve been in the rain, And you’re so far away from me…” Judging from the avalanche of essays and articles in recent months describing, diagnosing and prescribing the ever widening gulf that separates Israel and American Jewry (not to mention the seemingly unending population studies and attitudinal surveys whose results routinely fill my inbox), I’m not alone in feeling that Israel is ‘so far away from me.’

Distance takes many forms. Mine is very particular, rooted in my personal experience, my philosophical commitments, my temperament. I feel deeply connected to Israel, in love really, and so for me distance is coupled with longing. My distance aches and it’s a rather complex web of emotions – pride, disappointment, joy, worry, desire, and more all rolled into one. For others, distance means a (nearly) complete absence of connection. Israel’s there, I’m here, nothing more to say. For others still, distance takes the form of distaste, even disdain. Those varieties of distance are also rooted in individual commitments and experience. We American Jews are all over the map, but in one way or another, we’re all distant.

A rather extraordinary teaching from the Sefat Emet – R Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger (late 19th-early 20th century Poland) – explores the dynamic of distance and closeness. Rooted in the Torah’s insistence that an individual suffering from scale disease, a significant source of impurity in ancient Israel, be removed from the encampment (mi’hutz la’mahane moshavo), the Sefat Emet reflects on the possibility that “there are some who attain wholeness by drawing near and others who do so by distance.” For some, our teacher daringly suggests, “distance is redemption (takanato)!”

“Learn from your distance”, might be another way to express the Sefat Emet’s idea. Seek out the tikkun – the repair or redemption – present within. There is much to be learned from American Jewry’s distance – physical, temporal, emotional, spiritual – from Israel. Our work as a community, it seems to me, is to engage in that exploration in a deep and serious way. What is redemptive about our distance? How might we locate the inner tikkun, the divinity and redemption, that is assuredly there? Those questions, and queries like them, feel meaningful and worthwhile to me. We who dwell outside of the camp called the Land/State of Israel have much to consider this Yom Ha-atzma’ut.

A word about the photo at the top of this page. The picture was taken on Ben Yehudah Street in central Jerusalem in 1987 or 1988. The juxtaposition of a religious Jewish man and a woman in her IDF uniform walking past one another caught the photographer’s eye as it catches ours. Look a little deeper into the picture and you’ll spot the top of Nomi’s head just above the religious man’s black hat and my profile just over the top of the soldier’s head. I happened upon this photo in a very beautiful album published in honor of Israel’s 50th. I now understand that it conveys one piece of my own distance in a particularly striking way. I’m happy to share it with you in honor of Israel’s 70th!

Shabbat Shalom & Hag Atzma’ut Sameah!

Urgently Inquire – Shabbat Sh’mini 5778(2018)

The Torah – Genesis through Deuteronomy – contains close to 80,000 words. According to one Talmudic tradition (Bavli Kiddushin 30a) a two word emphatic verb – darosh darash (he – Moses – urgently inquired) stands at the geographic center of the Torah’s words. Now the root d,r,sh means ‘to seek out, to care for, to investigate, to search, to be intent on’. And as one 20th century interpreter puts it, there is ‘one darash for the first half of the Torah, and one for the second half.’ Think of it as an invitation to inquire urgently, to care for and about, to search out deep meaning, in both directions, forward and back, past and future, at the same time.
This year we encounter those central words of Torah on the Shabbat between Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Memorial Day – and Yom haZikaron/Yom Ha’Atzma’ut – Israel’s Memorial/Independence Day. Israelis refer to this cluster of observances, commemorations, and celebrations as the yamim – the ‘days’ or the ‘Yoms’. This Shabbat we stand between the yamim, Yom Hashoah and our reflection on the painful horrors of the Holocaust just behind us, Yom Ha’Atzma’ut and our celebration of renewed Jewish sovereignty in our historic homeland just ahead. The Torah’s invitation to seek out meaning lovingly and urgently in both directions couldn’t be better placed.

 

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The ‘lessons’ of the Shoah are many and varied. This year yields a striking learning for us to ponder. According to a new survey conducted by the Claims Conference – http://www.claimscon.org/study – awareness of and real knowledge about the Holocaust are on the decline. For example, nearly one-third of all Americans (31 percent) and more than 4-in-10 Millennials (41 percent) believe that substantially fewer than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust. And, while there were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, almost half of Americans (45 percent) cannot name a single one – and this percentage is even higher amongst Millennials. On this 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, we have a great deal of work to do.
A deep and caring inquiry into the Yom that lies ahead this week also yields many and varied learnings. At this 70th anniversary of its establishment as an independent Jewish state, Israel is strong and prosperous, and also a country facing serious, sometimes excruciating, challenges. Direct threats to Israel’s security remain in both the north and south. How to address and respond to them is highly contested territory; as ever, it’s complicated. The same is true of a series of internal dilemmas. Can Jewish and Arab citizens of the State of Israel build a shared society together? Can Jewish religious pluralism be nurtured and encouraged in the Jewish state? Can Israel welcome refugees from Africa or is it best to find homes for asylum seekers elsewhere? Can democracy continue to thrive in a country built on democratic practice and also pulled and motivated by ethnic and nationalist concerns and demands?
The Torah’s insistent demand of darosh darash calls on us to search deeply and lovingly in the direction of all of this week’s yamim. Knowing our past and charting our future is the holy work – the avodat kodesh – of this Shabbat Sh’mini.

 

Shabbat Shalom!