I haven’t seen him since I left Brooklyn, almost two years ago: “let’s walk and talk, and you can tell me what’s been going on with you; you can begin wherever you want…”, I said excitedly. “Ok, then”… he started slowly, cautiously, checking me, as if estimating whether I can take what’s about to come, “I’ll start from having been in Mt. Meron last week”. “Wait, what?” I said, stopping in my tracks, staring at him, his face slowly revealing the horror, “in that case, let’s sit”.
This’s week’s Torah portion, Be’har (the first of the two read on this Shabbat), literally means “in the mountain” and refers to Mt. Sinai. But I can’t stop thinking of another “har”, the mountain that saw an unusual, uncalled for tragedy, Mt. Meron.
The Torah portion speaks of the Shmita, the Land’s sabbatical year, and Rashi asks his famous question: what does Shmita have to do with Mt. Sinai? Weren’t all mitzvot given at Sinai? Rather to remind us that, if this one, which is most removed from Sinai was given there, likewise all mitzvot are from Sinai. The Or Hachayim adds that this speaks to our connection with the Land; that it’s not because we “ended up” here by chance, lost in the desert with nowhere to go, but because this is where our whole journey leads to; to “The” only place where we can live our life fully and be who we are. Mostly, it speaks to our interconnectedness, with each other, with the Land, with this strange, unique and amazing journey.
Much to say about shmita, which is coming up next year, so there will be lots of opportunities to talk about that; for now, int his late hour, just one idea. Shmita highlights the number 7, sheva which in Hebrew shares its root with save’a, satiated. 8 is already “too much” and shares its root with fat and oil, but 7 is full just right. 7 measures – or, presents the holiness in time, and we see the 7’s everywhere, growing in circles from creation: the human being as an individual is instructed to rest every 7 days. The nation celebrates its journey from slavery to freedom in an extended period of 7 weeks. Our environment waits 7 years for shmita, while our greater economy is based on 7 shmita cycles + 1 to the jubilee. The Zohar tells us that a cycle of human history is 7000 years; and that the next unit is of 50 thousand years to complete a cycle of creation. and there are bigger numbers yet.
This means that history’s span is huge, huge. Thinking of the greater, giant cosmos in this way, we might feel lost and insignificant, meaningless and useless. The Torah, in an effort to keep our sanity, shrinks all this for us asking us to not overlook the grandeur and its Creator while remembering our significance, place and purpose in this. Here, it says to us, this is what you need to do today, and this – on Shabbat, and this – during shmita. Here is how you tie your shoes, rest or buy groceries.
The effort to hold conflict has been very apparent this week, following the awful tragedy. Some religious leaders stood up to beat on their chests, our collective chests: “If something so terrible can happen, we’ve done something wrong and we surely need to amend our ways; be kinder, do good, learn more…”. Others were more specific: “it was wrong to have so many people there”, they said, “we knew the place is not set for this”… In a Torah that teaches that if you do good, good will follow (Deuteronomy 11), this is all true, and I do believe and accept this wholeheartedly. And yet, I can’t let go of the other side, because that’s not all the system teaches. It also demands us not to think for G-d and Her mysterious ways; and it asks those who are responsible to stand up, and to do what they had and have to, in order to make sure something like this does not happen again. Just because we believe that G-d is in and above it all, it does not absolve anyone from what needs to be done.