Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Acharei Mot/Kedoshim 5764

Whither Zion?

In the Ashkenazi tradition, when Acharei Mot and Kedoshim are combined, the Ashkenazi Haftarah for Acharei Mot, from Amos 9:7-15 is read. (In the Reform tradition, Ezekiel 22:1-19 is read for Acharei Mot, and Amos 9:7-15 for Kedoshim. The Sephardim use Ezekiel 22:1-19 with Acharei Mot and Ezekiel 22:1-16 with Kedoshim. Confused enough yet?)

The Haftarah from Amos speaks of Gd's judgment upon Israel for their sins. It contrasts the words near the end of parashat Kedoshim, "You shall be holy to Me, for I, the Lrd am holy, and I have set you apart from the other people to be Mine." (Lev 20:26) For the haftarah from Amos begins "To Me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians -declares the Lrd. True, I brought Israel up from Egypt, but also the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir." Something has clearly changed-in Kedoshim we are set apart from the other peoples, and in Amos we are just like all the others. Commentators have written of this tension, and see them as a sort of balance to each other, for a pride, a hubris that comes from being a people set apart and chosen by Gd needs desperately to be tempered with the humility of knowing that we are yet like all the other nations. It is not of this tension and balancing that I wish to speak of today, but I thought it needed mentioning.

No, my focus today is on the closing words of the Haftarah from Amos. In the first half of the reading, Gd declares that Israel will be punished for her sinfulness, yet Gd will not wholly wipe them out. All of the sinners of Israel shall perish. And yet, on that day, Gd will restore Israel and bring them again to glory and prosperity. And these final words: "And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them--said the Lrd your Gd." (Amos 9:15)

Well, some time after Amos, the Jewish people were indeed uprooted from their land. Then they were restored to it for a few more centuries. But the second time they were driven out, in 70CE, it was seemingly forever. And then, in 1948, a great miracle occurred and Israel was reborn. Not as a Davidic kingdom, but as a hodgepodge of socialist, Zionist, secular, religious and democratic ideals.

Whatever your politics, whatever your Zionism is (or is not,) whatever you feel about the present situation between Israel, the Palestinians and the surrounding nations, surely, somewhere deep inside is the hope that Amos's words ring true...that this all too tenuous foothold we have on the land of Israel will persist against the odds.

Like many diaspora Jews, I struggle internally in dealing with my feelings about the whole situation in Israel. Israel, as a state, is far from perfect (though the same can most assuredly be said about this American nation as well.) In the role of gadfly that I often play, I have sometimes said that the present medinat Israel is surely not a worthy successor to the biblical kingdom of David. And when I make such statements, even just for the sake of argument, my loyalty, my Zionism, is called into question. And I have felt compelled to defend myself. Yet, now reflecting on the conversations I have had in this regards with many people over the years, I realize that I'm missing the point myself.

I may have set my standards too high. To begin with, I'm not even sure what I believe about the coming of a messianic age and a renewed Israel, let alone a restored Davidic kingdom. Whether the present state of Israel is the promised messianic restoration is not the issue. We Jews have waited two thousands years with that hope, what's a few more centuries or millennia?

Israel, even as a primarily secular state, ought to attempt to live by Jewish ethics and ideals. And there are many ways in which Israel does indeed do so. It's easy, when assailing Israel for her failings, to forgot her many successes, her attempts to employ Jewish values and ethics. It's hard, nigh impossible to be perfect. In our parasha, we learn of the ceremony for atonement for the community's sins through the sending of a goat to Azazel, and the foundations of what we now call Yom Kippur, a day of atonement.

If Israel, as a community, is guilty of sins, then surely she atones for them, she is likely to suffer for them, and Gd is likely to forgive her for them--if we believe that Gd works in that way. And Israel indeed is suffering. [I want to make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that the terror being inflicted upon Israel by the Palestinians and others is punishment from Gd for Israel's sins, nor that it is in any way deserved. I do not think I could ever embrace a Gd that allowed innocent Israelis to suffer so, and to allow brainwashed Palestinian youths to be the instruments to inflict that suffering.]

We, the Jewish people, have suffered, and suffered greatly these many centuries. And in her brief life, Israel, too, has suffered. It is Amos' words that ring in my ears and in my heart when I think of Israel. And Israel, as she lives today, and we, the Jewish people, having remained faithful (in our way) to Gd and our covenant, deserve for Amos' words to ring true--that we never again are uprooted from the soil that Gd has given to us. I thought that perhaps I could divorce, in my mind, the concept of Israel as a holy place, the land of my people, and Israel, the political state, and say that while I love and support the former, I need not be connected to the latter. I was wrong. As hard as I try, intellectually, the heart wins. And in my heart, I love the country that is now Israel, and I am connected to her, and she is the defender of these lands that we hold sacred. She is a Jewish country. We have our foothold. We must not let go.

I don't have to love Israel's politics to love Israel. But questioning Israel's politics does not require abandoning support for Israel, the country. And I also well know that very often the realities are distorted by the media. It is a complex situation. It is easy for us to sit here, in our comfortable homes, and pass judgment upon Israel. If any of you thinks you are really getting unbiased information, no matter your source, there's this bridge in Brooklyn that I can sell you, cheap.

As I sit here writing, reading and editing my words, I wonder what your response is going to be. Will you lambaste me for being too hard or too soft on Israel? Will you perceive me as a hawk or a dove? Will you even be able to figure out where I stand? If you do, let me know, because I can't figure it out for myself. All I can tell you is that, as a friend of mine has said in song, Israel lives in every Jewish heart--and she lives in mine. I am connected to her and I have love in my heart for her. Gd has again planted us there upon our soil. May she nevermore be uprooted from the soil that Gd has given us. Ken y'hi ratson.

Un'ta'tim al-admatem v'lo yinnatshu od mei-al admatam asher natati lahem, amar Adnai Elokecha. (Am 9:15)

Shabbat shalom,

©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous musings on this parasha

Acharei Mot 5763--Immoral Relativisms?
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761 - Schroedinger's Cat & Torah

Acharei Mot 5760-The Ways of Egypt & Canaan

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