Fire in the Land and a day for memory away – Weekend of Shabbat Be’har

I’m watching the news about the recent, some still going on, fires in Israel with a strange mixture of anger and pain. Images from past fires, that of recent November in NorCal; Haifa of December 2010 and November 2016 come to mind. At first, I am angry at “us”. After all, if there are fires on the heels of Lag Ba’omer, a day notorious for hazards following elaborate bonfires at night, and especially when the temperatures are in the 100F and it’s super dry, it must be carelessness, it must be stupidity, it must be… it must be “us” “not doing enough”. Then initial investigation notes that those are not started by a random, unattended “kumtzitz” left to smolder, but rather by arson. And then… of course, it’s ok to be angry at ourselves but not quite as p.c. to be angry with anyone else. What to do? what to feel??

In tractate Bava Batra (117:a) of the Babylonian Talmud 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 traveled all over the world and checked it out? Did their “compare and contrast”??
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. The land is a living thing, not just something we act on, but something that responds in its own way. She “eats” (Numbers 13:32) and can choose to “throw up” (Leviticus 18:25); a land that responds to a loving hand and reject those who mistreat her, exhaust her and manipulate her to their own hearts content.
I have this idea that it’s possible to look at (at least) the first three Books of the Torah as a spiral rather than just a linear story. Things (motifs, verbs, themes…) happen in a parallel fashion, expanding on each other and not just a long continuance story (that too, but not just-).

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. Under the “spiral theory”, each adds meaning as well as observance to that of previous one presented: Genesis is about individuals, Exodus – about Peoplehood, and Leviticus – about the practical implications of the earlier ideals in the form of mitzvot. This pattern repeats in more than one aspect.

Specifically here, as far as a “The Place”, in Genesis, we had a Garden, a heaven for just two people and G-d; in Exodus – the building of the mishkan – a place for the whole nation to connect directly with G-d who lives amongst us; and in Leviticus, we have the Land, a national home and source of “light unto the nations”, to inspire, not only our own individual and communal selves’ growth and well-being, but the whole world, in ways that are beyond what we understand.

The fires are extremely painful, and the smoke might cover our eyes and burn our lungs, but homes will be rebuilt and trees will be planted, those that were destroyed and more.

* * * * * * *

This Monday is Memorial Day, a fun, long, sunny, pleasant weekend of shopping, bbq’s, parks and travels. A Few years ago, back in CA, I got into a conversation with a community member, when I did my proud Israeli thing and invited him to Yom Hazikaron ceremony. He said, ‘will you also come to Memorial Day’? I said, ‘what’ in surprise, and thought (a little haughtily I must admit), ‘what, there’s a sale somewhere I shouldn’t miss?’ but he (patiently, I must add) directed me to the service at the Jewish cemetery, honoring fallen US soldiers, and I stood there, in awe and tears. And ever since, my Memorial Day changed. I still hope for a fun, long, sunny weekend with all its trimmings; no, it’s not at all Yom Hazikaron, and yet, somewhere along the day, it’s nice to pause.

Shabbat Shalom


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