Wednesday, July 18, 2007

כרת ה' את ברית אברם

I’m often asked why I made aliya, what it is that drives me to stay in Israel despite the constant war, and personal trials and tribulations.

I was once told by a Rabbi living in Israel that I am “limiting myself” by insisting on only dating men who are committed to staying in Israel. I thought to myself “ya, I’m also limiting myself by insisting the guy keep shabbos and kashrut, hell, being adamant about marrying a Jew is also very limiting.” But since I’m not generally in the habit of being chutzpadik to Rabbi’s however wrong or misguided I believe their hashkafot to be, I kept my thoughts to myself. This pesach, however, when faced with the question again I answered very simply: “I live in Israel for the same reason I keep kosher and keep Shabbat – because G-d told me to.” I was unprepared for the Rav’s next question: “If that’s the case is everyone living outside of Israel transgressing a commandment the same way they would if they ate pork? To which I answered “no.” And in my head I added “it’s worse.”

“Because G-d said so.”

This would not have been my answer four years ago. Certainly, my attachment to Israel was always very strong and when I wasn’t in Israel I inexplicably felt that “something” was missing, that my life lacked a certain purpose, that I was always a little lost. The question of “why do you live in Israel?” would have prompted an answer such as “because Israel is my home.” “I feel G-d’s presence more strongly.” “I feel purposeful and a sense of fulfillment.” But, answering in terms of what G-d expected of me? Not Likely. I would not have considered putting “living in Israel” in the same basket as “keeping Shabbat” and “keeping hilchot negiah” in terms of a halachic imperative. I cannot say that it was a feeling of duty or desire to fulfill G-d’s commandments that first brought me to Israel but an awareness of a halachic obligation has increasingly been the driving force that keeps me here.

It has taken a long time to internalize the fact that ultimately, I observe mitzvot out of a sense of “hitchayavut” – obligation and duty. G-d cut a deal with Avraham, that contract was passed onto Yitzchak and Ya’akov and then onto B’nei Yisrael until finally, we stood at Har Sinai and G-d proclaimed “anochi hashem.” He became our G-d and we became His people. I, as a decedent of Avraham and whose soul was present at Ma’amad har Sinai am also under this contractual obligation. On tisha b’av we will read the following pasuk from the book of d’varim: "...לא ישכח את ברית אבותך אשר נשבע להם" No matter how badly we lust after sin, G-d will not forsake the contract of our forefathers which he swore unto them, so why would I? Certainly on a day to day, mitzvah by mitzvah basis I find questions and challenges all the time. However, for me the bottom line that “G-d said so” is just that simple.

For a Jew, keeping Shabbat is not a choice. Non Jews are prohibited from observing Shabbat for it is a gift that G-d bestowed unto the Jewish people alone. People ask me “why do you live in Israel?” as if living here is a choice for me. More and more I realize I live here, davka, because it's not.

אבינו מלכינו חטאנו לפניך

On the eve of the 17th of Tammuz:

Tonight we begin to mourn.

The sin of the spies, destruction of the Temples and expulsion from the Land of Israel, expulsions from lands not our own, inquisitions and pogroms, the holocaust, expulsion from gush katif, the capture of gilad, ehud and eldad, the second Lebanon war - throbbing wounds that refuse to heal and scar our collective heart and soul while we wince at the pain of fresh gashes.

It is no coincidence that all of these events occurred during the three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. It is no coincidence that the expulsion edict ordered the Jews be out of Spain by July 31st, 1492 (27th of Tamuz, 5252) nor that the Gregorian date the Israeli government arbitrarily chose for the destruction of Gush Katif no more than two summers ago happened to be the 9th of Av. It is not by chance that Eldad and Ehud were captured a year ago to the day.

Chazal tell us that spiritually, the height of summer is a dangerous time for the Jewish people. I’m not going to even pretend I know what that means. However, history has proved all too frequently that this is a time of sorrow and particular danger for us. And just when we want to enjoy our summer, we are told to behave otherwise. Just as Halacha provides a framework that separates the holiness of Shabbat from the rest of the days of the week, so to halacha lays out a code of conduct that separates the three weeks from the rest of the year.

The 17th of Tamuz marks the day in which the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem. Three weeks later the city of Jerusalem lay in ruin and the on the 9th of Av the second Temple like the first Temple before it was in flames. The Land spit us out.

On Yom ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim we celebrated our redemption, our triumphs and accomplishments. We marveled at the miracle of returning to our Land. We reveled in the heady joy of it all – the rebuilding of the Third Temple is tangible and lies just within our reach!

But today we mourn. We lament a leadership so corrupt and incompetent, a people seemingly apathetic to initiate change, enemies that bombard us from all sides. We bemoan our failure to truly unite as One People and our inability to behave as an am mamlechet kahonim and fulfill our destiny of being a nation that is an or la’goyim. We grieve our losses. We weep for bearing witness to the continual destruction the Second Temple.

We will no longer celebrate, dancing will stop, music will give way to silence. We will fast and pray, take account of our actions, remember the past and work to improve ourselves for the future.

Chazal have taught that the root of our problems lies with the sin of the spies in parashat shelach. Because the spies spoke about the Land of Israel in a way that frightened and distressed their fellow Jews and caused them to doubt their ability to conquer our inheritance, we were punished by wandering the wilderness for forty years. On “that night” the spies report caused Israel to cry out. “That night” was erev tisha b’av.

Perhaps the tikun, the remedy to repair our transgression lies in the same parasha. One may heed the words of Yehoshua and Calev – words as relevant today as ever:

“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us--a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is removed from over them, and the LORD is with us; fear them not.” (bamidbar 14:7-9)

We must speak to our fellow Jew with love and care in a way that fills him with hope. We must treat each other kindly and inspire each other. We must always remember that G-d is with us and no matter what the difficulty we should not rebel against Hashem but walk in his ways, and trust in Him. It is only as a united people that we can overcome any threat. We are G-d’s chosen people. Hashem is with us.

Alef- Bet

As we wrapped up our summer learning program my esteemed Rabbi and teacher shared with us the following: “Ladies,” he said, “you are among the most educated of Am Yisrael and among the women of Am Yisrael, all the more so! You spent your vacation time and paid to learn but you can’t keep your Torah to yourself. Go out and teach Am Yisrael.”

I’m among the most educated of the Jewish People?? This frightens me to no end.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said: If you only know 'alef-bet' and you meet another Jew who only knows 'alef', you must teach him 'bet'. I have worlds of Torah still to learn but I have been taught more than ‘alef’. I am heeding the Rebbe’s call and will do my best to teach 'bet'.