Friday, March 13, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayakhel-Pekudei-Shabbat Parah 5775–New Heart, New Spirit

These are difficult times for American Jews and their relationship with Israel, and I make no secret that I am somewhat critical of the current Israeli government and its policies. So I thought I would take this opportunity to say something positive about Israel (along with some , inspired by the special haftarah we read this Shabbat for Shabbat Parah, one of the four special shabbatot before Pesakh.

Yes, I will admit that in reading the first part of the haftarah, in which Ezekiel relates how G”d was so angry with the people when they dwelt in the land, defiling it with their practices and lack of morals and ethics, that G”d kicked them out, that I made the comparison to the modern state, and how I think some of its practices are equally troubling, and could just as easily lead to the same result.

Then G”d, through Ezekiel’s vision, complains that this very act of dispersing the people brought dishonor to G”d, the peoples of the other nations mocking the fact that G”d own people were driven out from G”d’s land.

So G”d declares that for G”d’s own sake, G”d will gather the people and bring them back to Israel, and purify them. This is not the first time we’ve seen G”d concerned for G”ds own reputation.

For close to two millennia, the children of Israel lived in exile. Then, wonder of wonders, a new nation of Israel arose. It was as if Ezekiel’s prophecy were coming true again, in modern Israel. Jews were gathered back to their land, and given, as Ezekiel’s prophesied, a new heart and a new spirit. As I read the text, which speaks of abundant fields, rebuilt cities, and a populated and fortified nation, I could not help but think of modern Israel. It made me proud to think of this modern Israel, and all the great things it has accomplished. Though we cannot ignore the not so great things, we should not bury them entirely or totally overshadow them with Israel’s shortcomings. Israel has much of which to be proud. It is once again a land flowing with milk and honey. It is a shining star of democracy in a part of the world that sadly needs more of it. The world is quick to point out the problems, but often fails to recognize the good, of which there is plenty. Israel has gifted us with agricultural technology, computer technology, communications technology, medical devices and procedures, stunning artwork, and so much more.

I’m afraid, however, that not all of modern-day Israel has lived up to the promise. Pride and hubris devour humility. Israel has every right to be proud of how it has remade itself, how its people have worked hard against difficult odds to create a thriving, vibrant nation. Perhaps there is something to the cries of some in Israel’s orthodox community that secular Israel may be forgetting something crucial--G”d. We need all to remind ourselves that it was not for our sakes that we were restored to the land, and the land was restored. G”d did it for the sake of G”d’s name, as Ezekiel reminds us.

As a liberal Jew, I of course do not subscribe to the orthodox viewpoint that a particularistic understanding of Judaism is the only valid one, and the only one of which G”d approves. I also firmly believe that the values and ethics of non-orthodox Judaism might go a long way to helping steer modern Israel on the right course. (Orthodoxy, however, is an important part of the mix. A liberal Jewish religious establishment given sole authority over religious matters would be no more valid to me than the current system which gives orthodoxy a stranglehold.) Note, by the way, that in the haftarah, G”d doesn’t say G”d will only take the strictly religious Jews and restore them to the land. G”d promises to restore all of us, pious and transgressor alike (though show me a truly pious man who has never transgressed.) G”d doesn’t say, through Ezekiel, that we should purify ourselves. It is G”d who will do the purifying, who will put a new heart and spirit within us, so that we may dwell in the land in peace and prosperity.

It seems as if one part of the process remains to be completed. G”d has not yet, apparently, cleansed us of all our iniquities. Though the biblical worldview may have been that G”d can do this even against our free wills, I suspect that, over time, G”d has discovered the G”d-limiting aspects of having granted us free will, and it is wishful thinking that G”d could simply restore us to a pure state. I think we have to be open to it. Maybe we can help the process along if we take the time to remember that G”d is doing none of this for us. G”d is doing this for G”d. Yes, G”d’s motivation may be pride and reputation, but is that necessarily always the wrong reason? Consider that world opinion of Israel is pretty low. Just as G”d wants the rest of the nations to not think of G”d as a G”d who kick’s G”d’s own chosen people out of their land, should not modern Israel seek to have a positive reputation among the nations? Will Israel get that reputation through being overly prideful, or through humility? It is time for modern Israel to walk humbly with it’s G”d. It is time for all of us to open ourselves to G”d so that G”d may put into us a new heart and a new spirit – a heart full of love, and a spirit always seeking the path of peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2015 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Pekudei 5774 - Pronouns Revisited
Vayakhel 5774 - Is Two Too Much?
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773 - Craftsman. Artisan. Artist. Again.
Vayakhel-Pekude 5772 - Vocational Ed
Pekude/Shabbat Sh'kalim 5771 - Ideas Worth Re-Examining
Vayakhel 5771 - Giving Up the Gold Standard
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 - There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel 5768-An Imaginary Community?
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 - So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing

No comments: