Leah’s Blog – Devarim 2023
Leah’s Blog Devarim – I am a Jewish American woman living in the heart of Israel –THIS is home. July 2023
As you know dear readers, I was not born in Israel but came to live here by choice. Something nagged at me growing up in the golden age of America, something way at the back of my mind. There were pokes of memory that hit with passion as in synagogue I would look and dream at the beautiful stained glass windows of the twelve tribes or hear an honestly great sermon about the Promised Land (yes in those days it was still politically correct to do so). After a while of celebrating Passover seder and kvelling over matzoh, singing diyeinu, saluting the Israeli flag with “Hatikva” and hearing “Jerusalem of Gold” over and over again, I longed to get to the other side. All of these happened, I get it- but what about now? The holidays were rich in symbolism and ornate Judaica would decorate almost every chag yet I thought to myself “Am I the only one in this synagogue who longs to go back into memory – today?” Memory is a living thing, it’s not just a thing of the past.
It seems way wacky that today I have to defend the core of the Jewish story and how simple truth has become so problematic. Judaism is known for its stories. Rooted into connections of places, family events, dealings with neighbors and enemies, the stories of our Avot are handed down like a doctor’s prescription to remedy come what may. Even way back in the middle ages the great sage, Rashi said of the first passuk of the Torah- “When nations come to say you stole the Land just prove your deed to the Land by showing the bible to them.” Most excitingly, there is a WE to this story – Israel – and deep in my psyche I know I am part of it, part of this story. This is a story of possessing a Land that goes back to the first kernel- Abraham. Not to be forgotten, the theme runs along the same path, to the Yabok Passing and over the Jordan into the legacy- the Promised Land. These stories are repeated again and again like the Torah itself which was passed from R’ Moshe to Yehoshua and Yehoshua to the elders and so on and so on. The Torah is likened to the tree of life “עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה” “A tree of life to those that hold fast to it.” That means that at this very moment this very portion of present time we reclaim the past. The life force pours out in abundance if we hold on to this tree. This story grows out of the Land beneath my feet. You really can’t understand it until your feet touch this ground. You must guard this land with your life.
Life in the heart of Israel required developing new skills of adapting to harsh conditions both on the ground and in the world arena. Recalling the stories of our Avot, their confrontations, struggles and tussles gives me the strength and knowingness to be a better and more authentic Jew. These Torahs are not just about reminiscing but about a state of mind you inherit as you are being contested, they are about standing on this mountain and actually viewing the Yabok. Memorized into my mind is this Land, the earth describes who we are. Today half a million Jews live in Judea Samaria.
Moshe Rabbeinu came to the overlook a few weeks before his passing. He does not pass on to the other side of the Yabok as did Abraham, Yaacov, Yehoshua and the new generation. Devarim is the vital lesson he gives over about stepping back and thinking about your lineage. You linked into this chain. The teachings reverberate like your heart beating right now, and in the back of your mind you yearn to be in a relationship with this Land. Devarim: you have been given the recipe of how to live in it. Down through the generations we only dreamt to pass this Yabok. We were like dreamers. This is our eternal heritage, home.
“Fear them not, for the Lord your G-d He shall fight for you.” Shabbat Shalom, Leah