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2019 Ki Tavo

09/21/2019 03:49:39 PM

Sep21

Rabbi Glick: Ki Tavo el Haaretz—When you come to the land.

“A land that eats its inhabitant or a land flowing with milk and honey?”

Shabbat shalom

Ki Tavo el Haaretz. When you come to the land.

The land of Israel is both a physical location and a spiritual location.

Our Torah is always trying to get there. It always concludes before we get there, to begin again. That makes us like Moses, standing on top of the mountain looking out yearning to get in.

It was always a difficult land.

Eretz ochleih yoshveha—the spies from the book of numbers called it. A land that eats its inhabitants. 

But land of goodness, eretz zavat chalav udvash—as our parashah repeats again and again. A land flowing with milk and honey.

We live in that tension.

At the beginning of the week we thought the government of the country was going to include the Kahanists, far right racists.

The Israel We Used to Know Would Simply No Longer Exist

The land would really swallow us up.

Now, the people rose to the occasion, we can hope for a government that reflects the broader values of the country. There is hope for a leader who still remembers some of the Old Jerusalem, the Old Israel, who carries some of those hopes and aspirations.

Holding the tension between the two.

For so long in our collective consciousness, it was a mythic land. 

That bittersweet Story of Agnon the “Fable of the Goat.” About the boy who is led by his goat from his shtetl in Eastern Europe to a magical cave that takes him to the Promised Land and the beautiful hills of Tzefat, the real promised Land, where holy people live simple lives in harmony with the land, and the boy’s heart is captured and enchanted by the land.

He sends the goat back with a note in its ear for his father of how to find the cave. But his father never finds the note, despairs and eventually butchers the goat. The cave is lost.

We know how precious the passage way is to the higher Jerusalem and Israel.

We fear slaughtering the goat.

In our lifetime, it is even more real than for Agnon because it has become a reality. The passage way opened up and we actually did return to the land.

In the past it was mythic –

200 years ago, says Rebbe Nachman, Wherever you are going, you are walking to Israel. Because the steps of the Jew were always aspiring to fulfill the Promise of God to Abraham.

How Can You Ever Fulfill the Promise of God?

You kept on walking to the heavenly Jerusalem and Israel.

But we’ve had the zechut, the merit, of seeing the return to the Promised Land in our times. The actual cave.

Our parashah embodies this tension. Blessings and curses. The way we live on the land is what we get.

The Torah proposes to have the people stand on mount Arvel and Mount Gerizim. Each call out the blessings and the curses. Because God wanted it to be tangibly real.

Their life on the land could be, eretz halav u devash, a land flowing with milk and honey, or ret z ochelet yoshveyhah – the land that eats its inhabitants.

In the past week we have been in the midst of that tension, feeling it was about to swallow us up again.

Now, a ray of hope for milk and honey.

I remember how this tension played out in Israel over the past decades as I spent time there.

16 years ago—a year in Israel. It was an Israel in the midst of the 2nd Intifada.

It was an Israel under attack. People were subdued, traumatized. You never knew when the next attack could come from.

But there was also unity, support for each other. There was a special quality to the land and the people - an inner radiance

 

Then I spent a year in Israel 10 years ago.

There were, as always, deep divisions in Israel. It still had all of the endless difficulties. Lack of customer service, balagan, chaos. Yet there was still a resilient harmony and beauty. You caught glimpses of the old Israel.

I remember being commissioned to write a story for the Jerusalem Report about how Israeli Arab passengers were being treated better at Ben Gurion airport. As we can imagine, there had been endless complaints for years of strip searches, a lack of sensitivity.

But This Was a Positive Story

There had been a change. They hired smart community representatives to create pathways to understanding cultural differences and preserve security. They could hire a female security person to look through the intimate belongings of a female passenger. They could ask the Israeli Arab passenger not to bring olive oil in their baggage because it looked like a bomb in the xray machine. They could teach certain security realities that there are no way around, but it can be done in a different way. It worked.

It wasn’t a whole success.

I remember standing at arrivals at Ben Gurion hoping to interview Israeli Arab passengers. There were some who acknowledged that it was better. Others not.

When the security personnel at the airport saw me talking to all of arriving Arab passengers, they asked me: what are you doing?

When I answered I am a journalist, they did not even ask me for my qualifications.

They trusted me. Only in Israel.

Another story I wrote that year was about how Israeli criminals and Nepalese criminals had joined forces to make money from the Nepalese caretakers who were coming to Israel, which were 14,000 at the time.

The situation had deteriorated, fake visas, taking illegal fees, even in certain limited cases, near slavery like conditions—it was still better than other work destinations for the Nepalese, but not what one would want from Israel.

It revealed a dark underside to the country, but on the other side I also witnessed the slow response by the government and the democratic checks and balances.

There was also a very powerful network of organizations lobbying for the rights of the caretakers and putting pressure on the government. They, with media attention, eventually led to the loopholes closed and the criminals prosecuted.

They completely shut down all work visas to the Nepalese.

The Values of Harmony, Goodness and Beauty Won Over

Again I returned to Israel for a year 6 years ago, barely two years after my previous visit.

It was very different. The situation had just gotten to be too much. Secular and religious tensions were on the rise. The residual trauma of the 2nd Intifada that threatened the well-being and resilience of the Israeli society.

The failures of the attempt to take the high road and give back Gaza that had led to tens of thousands of rockets, including rockets to Jerusalem while we were there, always threatening to turn into a war.

The push forward by Hezbollah to acquire high-grade weapons to threaten Israel.

The spiraling cost of living.

The sense of international isolation that was returning, the failure of the international community to understand Israel’s side.

The breakdown of the status quo in the Arab world.

You just felt people continued on—it’s what they did.

But the land was not as hospitable as it once had felt to everyone there. It was as if there was a question that was under everybody’s skin. You didn’t want to acknowledge it was there. But it always [ate away] came to you:

Is it ever going to change? Will the land swallow us up again? Where is the milk and honey?

There is in truth one way most of us are going to respond to that reality day after day.

I remember with fellow rabbinical students going to pray in the early morning outside a national park near the store and restaurant. The manager there came in the in the middle, yelling and banging the floor with his table. turning the music on full blast, screaming at us.

We prayed even louder. We wondered was it because there were women wearing tefillin?

Someone went to try to reason with him.

He said: The religion the Israeli rabbinate had done something to him and to his family.

We tried to explain to him, don’t you see women wearing tefillin, we’re not them. He didn’t care.

Vehaya ki tavo el haaretz — And it will be when you come to the land

Beracha ukelalah — Blessing or curse.

We have the power to bring tremendous blessing and tremendous misery onto ourselves in this small strip of land.

Eretz ochelet yoshvehah — A land that eats its inhabitants

Eretz chalav udevash — A land flowing with milk and honey.

We veer between these two poles

Israel vibrant and resilient, its discoveries, science high tech, literature, culture.

Coming together for great shows of love for the country. The kooluluam videos where thousands of Israelis of all kinds gather for the tradition of shira she be tzibur — public singing.

Living one miracle.

As the song Ein li Eretz Acheret expresses, I have no other land.

And on the other end, the endless difficulties and tensions…

Two elections in 5 months, the rise of racist parties, internal stalemate.

We will see what the outcome will be.

For now from afar, We can hold on to the promise of the past few days. And the gift that our way to the promised land is not a magical cave only known to a goat that we fear we butchered, 

but a living reality full of vitality, feeling and life!

and what a blessing that is!

Shabbat shalom

 

Thu, December 3 2020 17 Kislev 5781