Coming Down The Mountain
חכי לי שאחזור
מחר אני בבית
נמאס לי לתקן עולם
חכי לי שאחזור
טוב להיות בבית
כולם היו אחים בדם
יפה הדרך חזרה
Wait for me to return,
Tomorrow I'll be home;
I'm sick of perfecting the world
In a land of strife.
Wait for me to return,
Tomorrow I'll be home;
They were all blood-brothers
The road back looks pretty nice
— Mahhar Ani Babayit by Ethnix
Thoughts on leaving The Land.
In last week's parsha, Beha‘alotekha, there's a small chunk of text set off from the rest of the Torah by a kind of pseudo-brackets — strange upside-down nun letters, before and after Bemidbar 10:35-36. In the Babylonian Talmud, Shabat 116a, a few explanations are discussed for this strange phenomenon. One is that the nun signs mark off what lies between them as a separate book of the Torah, so that the Torah has seven books instead of five: Bereishit, Shemot, Vayiqra’, Bemidbar-A, Bemidbar-B, Bemidbar-C, Devarim. Not so catchy, but philosophically intriguing. Another explanation given is that the two pesuqim between the 'brackets' are not in their proper place, but were inserted there to make a break between two tragedies that would otherwise follow one another immediately.
What are those two tragedies?
#2 is the beginning of chapter 11, where the people make up pretexts to complain against God, and he sends a fire that burns against the edges of the encampment. (interestingly enough, immediately following this is the "we want meat!" story i blogged about before, reading God's actions in it as Trickster-like)
#1, though, isn't explicit in the text; the Talmud identifies it with "and they traveled from the Mountain of God..." (10:33), and Ribbi Hhama beribbi Hhanina explains that "they turned away from following God."
The Tosafot comment: like children running away from school.
My teacher training program is ending. In about two weeks, iy"H, i will be taking a plane back home, from home. From my homeland, my land — The Land — to the land of my birth, the home of my family and the vast majority of my friends. It's a strange feeling. Before i came to Israel i had no concept of what it's like to live here, and no intention of making ‘aliyá. Now that i have lived here, i still have no intention of making ‘aliyá — at least not for the foreseeable future — but i could see myself doing it. I could really see myself living here, and i don't know whether that inspires or scares me. When i next come back, Gush Qatif could be gone. There could be a Palestinian state. There could be Peace, or even (God save us from ourselves) a civil war.
From my "Gradumatation (sic) Speech":
I was not allowed, for various reasons, to come to Israel for a year in yeshiva between high school and college. I was told that once I graduated from college, though, I could go learn in Israel or do anything else I wanted. Of course, at the time I had no idea that that is exactly what I would be doing. I came here ki miTziyon teitzei’ Torah udevar Hashem miYrushalayim, as Yesha‘yahu Hanavi’ put it. Torah goes forth from Zion, and God's message from Jerusalem. Or, to broaden the statement, as Ribbi Tanhhum did in Bereishit Rabba, ein Torah keTorat Eretz Yisra’eil, velo’ Hhokhma keHhokhmat Eretz Yisra’eil. There is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel, and there is no Wisdom like the Wisdom of the Land of Israel.
I just spent the last few days driving around the north of the country with my mother, who came in for this graduation. We stood on the ruins of the theaters and palaces of Caesaria, where the first blows of the Great Revolt against Rome fell. We climbed to the top of Muhhraqä on the Karmel, where — at least according to the nuns who live there — Eiliyahu Hanavi’ had his showdown with the false prophets of Ba‘al. We touched Tel Dan, where Yarov‘am ben Nevat, first king of the Northern Kingdom, set up one of his golden calves. And at the end of a long swing through the green Golan, the yellow Jordan Valley, and the brown Judean Desert, we arrived right back here, in Jerusalem.
With my friends and colleagues I've seen where David slew Goliath, where the Mishna was published, and where the Third Jewish Commonwealth — the modern State of Israel — was proclaimed into being.
All these places are not just locations in time and space — geology, history, theology and poetry — they are experiences that etch themselves on your soul. They are also 58 rolls of film and counting of pictures I can bring back to my future students in the States, and give them the barest hint of what it feels like to be here.
This valley here in which we are situated is ‘Eimeq Refa’im — the Valley named after the earliest known inhabitants of this land, of whom barely the memory of their name remains in the Tanakh. And thousands of years later, it's filled with houses with Jerusalem addresses. This is Yerushalayim habenuya ke‘ir shehhubera lah yahhdav (the built-up Jerusalem which is like a city fused to itself); and this is the axis mundi, the place around which our world turns. And although I am by far not the biggest Zionist ever, I feel honored that I have been able for two years to live a Jewish life the way it was meant to be lived — according to the structures built by the Torah on the natural cycles of this land: metar artzekhem be‘ito (rain, logically, during the rainy season), with harvests and the holidays of which they are an essential part, all at their proper times. And I am thankful that I have been able to learn Torat Eretz Yisra’eil here ... and Hhokhmat Eretz Yisra’eil ... .
But the flow goes both ways — I am getting ready now to bring the Torah and Hhokhma of the Land of Israel out to my future students in the Diaspora, and in return, I hope that what I have done, and what they will do, is bring the experience and ideals of the Diaspora back to the Land of Israel. Outside of Israel, the ethic of ki geirim heyitem b’Eretz Mitzrayim — for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt — is no empty theory. It is a palpable fact, that reinforces in us Tolerance for the Other and Sympathy for the Oppressed. And it refines the Torah and Hhokhma of our Homeland, making sure that they do indeed match up with the devar Hashem that goes forth from Yerushalayim.
I may go back to New York.
I may settle in North Carolina, or California.
I don't know yet where exactly i'll be next year, or where life will take me.
But I will always be a Yerushalmi.