Our view of the Galile

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Gift?-Devarim Tish'a B'Av 2011

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

"Your friend in Karmiel"
August 5th 2011 -Volume I, Issue 37–5th of Av 5771
Parshat Devarim
The Gift?

I was jealous of them. I know it doesn’t make any sense. But they had something I desperately wanted. Something that I have been trying so hard to get…to feel…but they had it. And because of my special gift - our special gift- I can only look back at them and hope and wish I could feel the same way. Let me share with you my thoughts.

I spent the afternoon today in the world famous Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv- Beit Ha’Tefutzot. The museum, the only other one besides Yad Vashem which is a National museum, chronicles 2000 years of Jewish Exile. Whereas most museums show artifacts, artwork and are there to display its articles of history and culture, Beit Hatefutzot is more about the story and our people rather than the displays. How they lived, how they adjusted, how they wandered, how they survived and persevered, yet what spoke to me the most, was how they remembered. From the moment one walks through the broken walls of Jerusalem, as you enter the museum, until you leave and see the picture of the re-conquered Israel, through the image of a menorah, one fees that there was a constant sense of  our people looking back. Each place we were exiled to…each shul we built… every wedding chupah… every prayer we said…every Tisha B’av- for 2000 years no matter what or where- we looked back. We mourned. We cried. We wished we were home.

As I watched footage of the Holocaust, I remembered all of those stories of those who walked to the chambers singing Ani Ma’amin- I believe that Moshiach will come and redeem us. They understood how desperately we needed to be home. The Jews living in England, Spain, Portugal Italy Japan, the Netherlands, China, all places where we were expelled or persecuted knew that we were only meant to be there because we couldn’t return home. We were a displaced people and the world was our DP Camp, and no matter how successful we were and how integrated and assimilated we became- there always came a time when we were reminded of this. When we were forced to remember once again how far we really were from where we needed to be. Berlin was not our New Jerusalem, Poland was not our Po-Lin (the euphemism used by Jews at that time which means -here we will reside) and Mother Russia was a lousy foster parent that nobody should ever suffer.

They knew what we were missing. They didn’t have Eretz Yisrael and in some way, as I have been trying to work on my feeling of mourning for our Temple and our loss, I was jealous of them. For me it is so much harder to feel that loss that I know we are supposed to be mourning now. I live in Eretz Yisrael- the land they all dreamed of stepping foot on… of kissing its earth and of breathing its air. I have the gift and miracle of dwelling once again in our Holy land. It feels so good. It feels too right. But it’s not. Yes, we are home but is it the home we were meant to have? We’re in the right address. There’s even the faint taste and feel of the holiness that once saturated its midst. But it’s not what it was meant to be. And I know I should be feeling it more.

I thought about the Holocaust survivors who went back to their homes after the War and then quickly fled. They knew it was no longer theirs. The memories were there. There may have even been remnants of their past existence. But the thought of living in such a place that once possessed so much life and so much love that was now merely a tragic mausoleum of death, hatred and pain was repugnant to them. It was too painful to even conceive.  So they left-many to Israel. Others to try their fate in a safer or what they thought was a more welcoming environment. I understand their reaction. But do I understand mine?  Do I feel that same pain when I come to the place of the Mikdash- to the Western Wall- today a home empty of the Shechina that once was? Or do I just feel lucky to have this small gift that we have been given and feel so satisfied and blessed that I have forgotten the glory and longing for the Temple and of our Father that were once here.

The Kotel, Jerusalem, our Return, the State of Israel are meant to be reminders to us of how much we are missing. The books of the Prophets tells us that upon the building of the 2nd Temple by Ezra, less than a century after the destruction of the first Temple, there were some amongst the Jewish people that rejoiced and some that cried. The younger generation who had never seen the 1st Temple rejoiced. “Wow the Temple is back- Har Ha’Bayit Bi’Yadeinu”. But the older, wiser generation who had seen the first Temple, who remembered the miracles, who had felt the perfect, delicious harmony of Creation that was experienced when the Divine presence still dwelled in its original home, wept at the site of the cheap imitation. They mourned their generation that seemed satisfied with so little; that didn’t know or understand how much they were missing. Can you imagine what they would have done if they would see how great we feel with just a remainder to the outer wall of the Temple mount? What they would think of us who live in a world where it is so hard to shed a tear that because we feel we are already home.

But we have our gift. We have something our ancestors for millennia wished they could have and in truth we have to feel blessed as well. Yet, on Tisha B’Av and in this entire three week period of mourning we have to remember and focus on what we don’t have. Perhaps this is the reason why on Tisha’a B’Av we spend our day going through our own liturgical Beit Hatefutzot. We read about our exile and we are meant to tap into and feel the longing and pain of all the generations from the time of the destruction. All the horrors, all the communities, all the martyrs, all the pain and all the suffering-it’s meant to awaken us to the consequences of the root of what happens in the imperfect world that we have not yet been successful in restoring. We are closer than we have ever been to finally achieving the final redemption. We are standing here under the place of where the glory and spiritual center of the world once shone forth and we can light the world once again by just shedding those tears and asking our Father to return. Your gift was only the wrapping paper. We are still waiting for the prize. We want You back. We are so close, yet still so very far. Hashiveinu Hashem- Please return us. Vi’Nashuva and we will cry and mourn and then we can rejoice. Chadeish Yameinu Ki’Kedem- renew our days…give us the longing and restore us like the generations of old. May this coming Shabbos Chazon and Tish’a B’Av finally be the day when we truly receive the real gift we are waiting for- the gift of You.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
MUSEUM BEIT HATEFUTZOT—TEL AVIV- see above for more details. The museum located at Tel Aviv university has incredible displays of synagogues from throughout the Diaspora, Jewish lifecycles, community structures, the culture, ideas and the highs and lows of each of our places of sojourn in this past 2000 year exile. It is an incredible museum for all ages. The museum also offers tours geared to groups, bar mitzvahs and it is even a great place for non-jews that are seeking to see and understand what Jewish life and its people are all about.

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