Lunch time at Yeshivat Maharat. A very pluralistic group of women and men of all ages and Jewish denominations walks into our beit midrash (study). I walk a bit closer and say a very Israeli, “shalom”! They are surprised: “Shalom??” “You look like you’re from the “Eretz Hakodesh” (Holy Land)”, I say in Hebrew, with a big smile. “We are”, they admit, “How did you know?”
It’s hard to explain, though a variation of this happens often. Some connection runs deep, and it travels through the Land. In the daily daf yomi (daily Talmud page) this week we learn: משונה נחלה זו מכל נחלות שבעולם – This Inheritance – i.e. this Land – is unlike any other in the world. How can anyone say it, especially some 1800 years ago? Have they been all over the world?
The torah reading of this week takes it further, with the commandment of shmita, the “sabbatical”. The Land, we’re told, has its own Shabbat. Just like us.
In my endeavor to look at (at least) the first three Books of the Torah as a spiral, rather than just a linear story, I can’t help but notice that each book has a central, somewhat magical, godly, divine place of its own: in Genesis, it’s the Garden of Eden; in Exodus – it’s the mishkan (tabernacle) and in Leviticus –the Land of Israel. If they do spiral, it means each expands on the one meaning that the previous presented. If Genesis is about individuals, Exodus – about Peoplehood and Leviticus – about the practical implications of the earlier ideals in the form of mitzvot, we can say that the Garden – was a heaven for just two people; the mishkan – a place for the whole nation to connect directly with G-d who lives amongst us; and the Land — all that – a heaven and a place to connect with G-d – as well as a place where we can practice all we’ve been taught thus far, and where we can grow.
The group who walked in this morning came through the “Gvanim Program”. I had the honor and pleasure to work with this program during my tenure in San Francisco, and yes I told them that, which began a short game of “where are you from”, “which high school did you go to”, “what did you do in the army”, in hopes to find connections. But what I should have said was, “I knew you as soon as you walked in, because you look like my brothers”.
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The Shabbat offers us a “double portion” – two Torah readings, closing the Book of Vayikra, Leviticus, before we head to Numbers and Shavuot. The last one includes a list of blessings and fascinating consequences, too scary to read out loud. But I love the opening: אם בחוקותי תלכו…. If you walk in My commandments… (Leviticus 26:3) I like the “if”; I like the “walk”. Angels, says one of the commentators, stand; humans – walk. The 3rd and middle Book of the Torah closes with us on the road. The last words of this Book will be “at Mount Sinai”: we’ve left but have not yet made it to our destination. That is the heart of the Torah. We’re not about arrival, but we’re not staying behind either. We’re all about the journey.
And how do we understand that endless “journeying” coupled with “The” one an only Land? Yes. That’s what happens when you walk with G-d. You encounter contradictions. Or not.