40 Years in the Desert (A Passover Post)

Source: Kibbutz Gesher Archive

Source: Kibbutz Gesher Archive

This week is Passover, the anniversary of the Exodus that led to the birth of the Jewish people. This week is the commemoration of redemption from Egyptian slavery.

What does the number 40 mean?

Before becoming a people, we wandered the desert for 40 years. We were born as a nation upon entering Eretz Yisreal, as it says in

Devarim 27:9

ט  וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה וְהַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, אֶל כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר:  הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 9

(“And Moses and the priests the Levites spoke unto all Israel, saying: ‘Keep silence, and hear, O Israel; this day thou art become a people unto the LORD thy G-d.”)

The average gestation period for a pregnant woman is 40 weeks. According to the Talmud, it takes 40 days for an embryo to form in a mother’s womb. In Jewish law, a fetus is not considered a person until it leaves the womb.  The nation of Israel was not yet complete-only children-until we left our 40 year “womb”.

Until then, we had not been called “Israel” but “Children of Israel”.

When does the number 40 appear again in Jewish history?  In our recent history, Zionist settlement began almost 40 years before the Balfour Declaration.

According to Aish, the number 40 represents “transition or change, the concept of renewal, a new beginning”. A Mikveh (ritual bath) must be filled with 40 se’ahs (measurement of water) before it can be used . The Mikveh is the “consummate Jewish symbol of spiritual renewal”. (aish) The flood in Noach’s time lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, allowing for a renewal of the world.

Just as before we changed our names from Children of Israel to Israel, today we are once again given the opportunity to be reborn on our national homeland. With this opportunity, we can fulfill our full purpose as Jews-leaving the womb of exile to work toward a new freedom that awaits us in Eretz Yisrael.

The other day, my friend Brandon shared wise words of Torah with me.  He was discussing Shemot 13:18

. וַיַּסֵּב אֱלֹהִים | אֶת הָעָם דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר יַם סוּף וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

(So God led the people around [by] way of the desert [to] the Red Sea, and the children of Israel were armed when they went up out of Egypt.)

According to Rashi, the Jewish people weren’t armed. “Chamushim” actually means one one fifth of the slaves left Egypt.
Brandon asked, “can you imagine Moshe coming and asking everyone who wants freedom and only 1 out of 5 slaves follow? What if freedom is calling today and only one in five Jews is taking that opportunity?”
Is the opportunity for freedom, for rebirth, happening right now? Are we taking advantage of it?
Are our 40 years up, and is it time for us to decide if we are staying in the womb as slaves, or leaving to enter the world of freedom?  To be born into the Nation of Israel?  This Passover, as we recollect our redemption from slavery, we should also be thinking about how to end our own slavery and leave the womb of our own 40 years in the desert.

sources:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Bioethics/Abortion/Fetus_in_Jewish_Law.shtml?p=2

http://www.aish.com/atr/The_Number_40.html

Where I Come From, A Poem

WHERE I COME FROM by Rivka Liron Bat Cohen

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I come

from a people

with a warrior gene

a history of victory

a tendency toward miracle

perpetual David

against perpetual Goliath

a nation of soldiers

an enemy of empire

I come

from a people

where peace is imperative,

a beginning and an ending

an idea we work for

shaped by diversity

embracing difference

loving unity

I come

from a people

with a language

concentrated in one country

spread throughout the world

in houses of worship and houses of man

studied in it’s original form

spoken in partnership

with foreign dialects

breathing familiarity in to tradition

decoding, recoding, and recording existence

I come

from a people

of pioneers

inheritors of our own destination, our own destiny

reality builders

risk takers

tilling territory, toiling in history

working old soil with new hands

I come

from a people

with a code

a guide to improvement

a lesson in connection

a written relic

a living document

shaping ethical landscapes

speaking to individuals

addressing nations

I come

from a people

a spiritual nation

an indescribable inheritance

a disputed definition

a tribe of millions

thriving on questioning

seeking out truth

a symbol of singularity

an echo of eternity..

What Being An Artist Means

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Waiting on a bench in the Jerusalem Central Station, I met a girl who was an alumni of my University. She was in Israel for the month and she was on her way to visit her aunt and uncle who lived in the Yeshuv , Itamar.

We spoke about our experiences at Boston University, our recent adventures in the Holy land, and our shared status as artists.

Then she got to politics.  My new friend had entered into dangerous territory.

“You know, I’m an artist and all, and you, being an artist, you probably have similar ideas…but, since I’m an artist, I just don’t really feel comfortable with my aunt living in a settlement.  What do you think?”

Last time I checked, your creative abilities were not supposed to determine what you considered right and wrong.

I am an artist. I paint. I take pictures. I make films. I write.

The fact that I can put paintbrush to canvas does not have any impact on what I think about Jews living in our homeland.  That I can write out a poem does not mean that I am opposed to idealists and dreamers. That I can pick up a camera does not mean I deny the rights of my own people.

If you are an artist, you should be putting your creative energies into defending this land you blindly condemn because of your vocation.  There are artists in this land. There are artists painting pictures and there are artists painting reality. They create the world that they want to live in. They fight for their art, they die for their art, and you oppose them for their art.

Do not tell me you oppose them because you are an artist.

Yes, it is encouraged in society to hide your beliefs, to not stand up for what is right…but to believe in something simply because it fits a label you place yourself into? No wonder the world is upside down.

The Jewish people living in Yesha are artists. They create, they give, they fight.  If you are going to oppose something, let it not be because you are an artist.  If you are going to oppose something, let it be because this something is wrong.  However, In this case, this something…is right.

A Good Heart

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“It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you. A good person will rise above it”.  My father had always been a good person, but I had never realized the extent of his wisdom. His words were true. The whole world can be on the wrong path, but if you are strong enough, you can rise above it. 

Today in my University lecture, Professor Steven Katz was talking about those who rescued Jews from the Nazis during world War II.  His ultimate message was that their background didn’t matter, what mattered was their character. If you have good character, you’re going to do the right thing.

In the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says  “Go and see which is the good a man shall cherish most.  Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye.  Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion. Rabbi Yosi said, a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said, a good heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included”

Character is a  quality that can move mountains.  It can cause a person to rise above a negative situation or to fall below what is right.  As we leave Channukah behind this year, a holiday devoted to standing up for what is right, we should all invest ourselves in building beyond our resumes and becoming people that we would be proud of. We should stand up for what we believe in, build on what makes us good people, and finally, do the right thing.  

My Jewish Family

My sisters from Itamar

 

 

As I was on my way to Yeshuv Itamar in the hills of Samaria, my bus stopped to let on a family.  Since leaving from the central  station in Jerusalem, the bus had already been full with mothers, children, and fathers excited to come home for Shabbat.  The woman coming on to the bus had 7 children. The bus had only 1 seat left.

 I had sat in the front so I could feel the force of the hills as I entered the Shomron, but had not expected the surprise I would receive from my position.  Onto my lap came a 2 year old girl, hair in pigtails, smiling at her other siblings who were similarly occupying the laps of 6 other strangers that had accepted the responsibility of “seating” for the remainder of the trip.  

As an au pair in Israel, babysitting became a team effort.  Mothers I came across in the park would instruct me on keeping the baby warm, feeding her enough. I was never at a loss for advice.  At first, I took it as an insult. Eventually, I took their advice with appreciation and knew they only had my charge’s best interests at heart.

Here in Boston, I spend many of my Shabbats with an Israeli family at their house. I am welcomed in as a family member, invited over during the week, and I have an open invitation for a bed if I ever get sick in Boston and don’t want to be alone.  I call them my “adopted family” and I don’t think they realize how much of a blessing it is to have found them here in a city far from my home. 

Whether it be in Yesha or  it be in a different city in the United States, I never feel uncomfortable going to a fellow Jewish families house for Shabbat. Always, I know I feel at home. How is it that I can feel so comfortable in a complete stranger’s house? That I know I will be taken in with open arms and treated like a family member?

The Jewish people is more than a nation. The Jewish people is a family, and if Israel is the physical embodiment of the Jewish soul, then it makes sense that I feel comfortable with a stranger’s baby on my lap, or walking in to a stranger’s home, because, in reality, these people are no strangers. They are my family.

A Nation of Our Own

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In the period between 1935 and 1938, Entjudung (removal of Jews from Germany), although not official policy, was a strategy used by the SS to rid the country of it’s Jewish population. Organizations meant to increase emigration to British Mandated Palestine were encouraged by the SS and articles in the Jewish press encouraging Jews to stay in Germany were suppressed. The SS divided Jews into two major categories: assimilationists and Zionists.  The assimilationists encouraged German Jewry to remain in Germany and pursue recognition as Germans while the Zionists urged their communities to get out of the country.  

Those who chose to listen to the Zionists were lucky, because in the coming years, what would be known as the “Final Solution” was to take place. Six million Jews would perish and those who chose to leave would escape the tragedy of what was later to be termed “The Holocaust”.  It is strange to imagine what the Jewish world would look like if all of us had listened to the Zionists.

The Jewish people never do well when we imitate other nations.  German Jewry attempted to remain in Germany as “Germans with a Jewish religion” while the German people would never accept them as anything other than Jews.  In Biblical times, we asked for a king so that we could be like “all other nations”.  Although some of our kings had redeeming qualities, overall the institution of monarchy did not prove positive for the Jewish people.  When King Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with the other nations,

(Here’s the text from Isaiah Chapter 39 of the interaction)

ב  וַיִּשְׂמַח עֲלֵיהֶם, חִזְקִיָּהוּ, וַיַּרְאֵם אֶת-בֵּית נְכֹתֹה אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף וְאֶת-הַזָּהָב וְאֶת-הַבְּשָׂמִים וְאֵת הַשֶּׁמֶן הַטּוֹב וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית כֵּלָיו, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא בְּאֹצְרֹתָיו:  לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-הֶרְאָם חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּבֵיתוֹ–וּבְכָל-מֶמְשַׁלְתּוֹ.  {ס} 2 And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them his treasure-house, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. {S

the Nation that Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with and showed the Beit Hamikdash to, the Babylonians, would eventually destroy the temple and send us into exile.

Today, the Jewish people face a difficult question, but one that by now should be easy to answer: Do we act as the Jewish people or do we act to appease and strive to become like other nations?  History has shown that when we refuse to accept who we are, nothing good comes of it.  It has also shown us that when we choose to appease other nations with our actions, it is an exercise in futility.  When thinking of the Holocaust, we like to say “Never Again”, but we need to begin to look at the details and realize that there are steps that need to be taken in order to prevent another catastrophe.  Israel, our nation, should strive to actualize it’s potential as the Jewish State and not try to be the mini-me of the United States.  It should make decisions based on what is best for the nation and not what is best for the governments of other nations. Jews should strive to reclaim their cultural identity and embrace it.  Maybe it’s time that the we, the Jewish people, took a hint from the messages that hundreds of musical artists and writers have been telling us for years, and finally be “True To Ourselves”.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War against the Jews: 1933-1945. 10th Anniversary ed. New York City: Bantam, 1986. Print.