Posts Tagged 'Haredi'

Revelation and Sustaining Our Community

When I was a Hillel Rabbi I had the fortune of helping a bunch of students apply to Rabbinical school. In my time on campus students went to almost all of the major schools. It is interesting to reflect that in one way or another each school’s application asked the potential student his/her perspective on Shavuot. OK, not the holiday, but his/her perspective on Revelation. This seemed to be based on an assumption that asking the applicant this epistemological question would clarify if the school was a good match.  With maybe one exception I would say that all of these students did not approach their interest in the Rabbinate in these terms. Rather, each one was drawn to the Rabbinate because s/he believed that becoming a Rabbi would help him/her make change in the Jewish community and contribute to the larger world. The idea of religious movement really came in as an afterthought to this broader vision. It seemed in almost all of the cases that this narrow idea of a specific movement was solely the trappings of the schools and not particularly relevant the student.

I was thinking about this when I started to read the beginning of  Behar Behukotai, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years thou shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the Lord; you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. ( Leviticus 25: 1-4)

In this portion we learn about the laws of Shmita. In this cycle the land is left to lie fallow on the 7th year and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden. Rashi asks an insightful question, ” Why are we talking about the matter of Shmita at Sinai?” Which is to say that the entire Torah is given at Sinai, why is this Torah portion outlining an ancient technique of creating a sustainable agriculture introduced as the laws that God “spoke to Moses in Mount Sinai”? It seems strange to single this law out. And maybe even more strange in that the Torah was given in Diaspora and this law was only going to be applicable in the Land of Israel.

When I think about these students I realize that many of them have already becomes or are about to become my peers. We were all drawn to the Rabbinate to create a more meaningful and sustainable Jewish community. I hope that all of us are contributing to the world in meaningful ways. But I am still worried. In the name of sharpening our skills, how has Rabbinical education dulled our initial visions to help the world? Has the lens of movement clouded our capacity to see the larger Jewish community and larger world?

In this sense I want to ask Rashi’s question in reverse. Why are we talking about the matter of Sinai when we are learning about Shmita? Do our understanding of what did or did not happen at Sinai really matter when it comes to making this world a better place? To what degree are the different understandings of Revelation or different movements of Jewish life still  relevant? So yes, I have fallen into the same trap of movement.  I call myself an Orthodox Rabbi.  But when asked what I am I will say that I am an Open Orthodox Rabbi.  And to a great degree I am still waiting to meet more Open Reform, Open Conservative, Open Reconstuctionist, Open Haredi, and Open Humanist colleagues. Repairing our fractured community scarred by a history of fighting movements might feel like moving mountains, but I hope it will make our community more sustainable.

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A Sleep

Recently there was another fiasco with an advertisement campaign done by Israel regarding their relationship with Diaspora Jewry. This campaign wanted to encourage Israeli parents to get their children to return from Galut- Diaspora. There were a few out there, many have been taken down. But this one is still up.

The first image is of a lovely American suburb. Inside you see a sweet boy wearing a football jersey (and not the soccer kind). He is drawing in the foreground and his father is passed out in the background (clearly tired from making their suburban life a reality). The son calls “Daddy”. With no response he goes to where he is sleeping to call “Daddy” again. When that does not work he whispers “Abba”. Immediately the man is roused from his slumber. Words come on the screen saying that your children will always be Israelis, but their kids will not. You should help your children who left move back to Israel. The simple meaning is clear, Israelis have fallen asleep in Galut.  I fear that even the creators of this well done and horribly misguided video missed the deeper meaning of their work.

In the Talmud we learn:

Rabbi Yohanan said: This righteous man [Honi] was throughout the whole of his life troubled about the meaning of the verse, “A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream”( Psalms 126:1) Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years? One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I also plant these for my children. (Taanit 23a)

We all know how the Jewish Rip Van Winkle story ends. Honi goes to the mountains where the mountain forms around him and he sleeps for 70 years. When he wakes up he goes down to the valley to see the next generation benefiting from the fruit of the labor of the previous generations work in planting the carob trees.  But how did this resolve for Honi the meaning of “we were like unto them that dream”- the line that we say in Birkat HaMazon– Grace after meals. As we see in Jeremiah (25: 11 and 29:10) the original Diaspora was only to last 70 years. That explains the number of years, but, how could all of those years pass as if in a dream? What does it mean to be asleep in Galut?

We have lulled ourselves into certain comforts and we have forgotten our mission. Being Israeli has to be more than speaking Hebrew. It is clear to me that we are still inGalut even in Israel. We have found ways to lull ourselves to sleep there as well. But, it is not as simple as saying that Israelis need to return to Judaism. Judaism itself need to return to Jews.  As we have seen in recent events in Israel the religious right has lost it moorings. We need to learn to wake each other up and rise to the occasion of seeking our higher mission. How will we as Jews make and enduring contribution to the world?

If we are willing to learn from Honi, we need to be willing to sit with the question our whole lives. There is no quick fixes to these issues. We must sow the seeds today and be patient to see the fruit of this labor in future generations. To mix metaphors, we need to set the alarm now to wake us up in the future to ensure that we do not stay asleep in our Galut, where ever that might be. This dream is becoming a nightmare.


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