My friend and colleague, Rabbi Jan Salzman, said shortly after October 7th 2023 that there are both a Hawk and Dove residing within her head and heart in equal measure. I believe many of us can relate. We are living through a challenging time in which previously set assumptions about life in Israel and about the conflict with our Palestinian cousins are crumbling. The confusion we are experiencing is what crumbling feels like.
There is an aspect of the conflict, especially when attempting to understand the Palestinian motivation for it, that is usually missing from public discourse, that is religion and culture. It has become more evident, especially after October 7th, that understanding the religious aspects of our enemy’s narrative clarifies a number of perplexing questions about the conflict.
In the Talmud (Bavli Shabbat) we read that the reason for lighting Hanukkah candles is Pirsumah D’Nisa, פרסומא דניסה, “advertising the miracle” (of Hanukkah). We light the Menorah on a window sill in order to make it visible to the world. The lights are meant as a reminder that the Jewish people suffered oppression by the Greeks, dared to rebel against the superior Greek fighting forces, and with HaShem’s help prevailed.
On this year’s Hanukkah it is hard to ignore that 1200 victims of the massacre have not prevailed but perished instead. Over a hundred hostages are still at risk, which distresses us to no end. The Hebrew word Nes, נס, miracle, shares a root with the word Nisayon, נסיון, testing-experience. For sixty days and counting the horrendous experiences of the Dark Shabbat’s innocent victims along with the heroic experiences of the defenders are being constantly advertised on all media channels, electronic window sills of sorts. The fighting in Gaza to wipeout the Hamas is still raging and broadcast as well.
This Hanukkah seems to be up-side-down, tragedy advertised for all to see, and miracles, if any, insufficient to blunt the magnitude of the trauma. When tragedies are being advertised, where is the light? The victims. This year we hold our murdered and captured ones as shining lights, each a bright candle in sharp relief to the shear darkness of their tormentors. We are inspired by the lights of their souls and the stories of their lives, and have vowed to never forget.
However, miracles are not all lost. One miracle remains, which is the phenomenon of enduring Jewish hope. We are indeed a stiff-necked nation who have clung onto hope come hell to high water for about 4000 years. Jewish hopefulness can be seen as the constant miracle of miracles. תקווה, hope, shares a root with מקווה, Mikvah, ritual bath. We purify ourselves with the waters of our hope and move on stronger. This is who we, Jews, are and will always be.
May the tragic experience of October 7, that has affected us all, turn into greater miracles and more hope for a long time to come. We pray that the one who ordains peace in the heavens ordain peace amongst us, and all of Israel. Wishing you a Hanukkah of light and joy despite all or to spite it all.
Rabbi Reuben modek
בתלמוד הבבלי אנו קוראים שהסיבה להדלקת נרות חנוכה הוא פרסומא דניסה, או פרסום הנס. אנו מדליקים את החנוכיה על אדן החלון כדי שכל העולם יראה. אור הנרות משמש כתזכורת שהיהודים דוכאו על ידי היוונים, העיזו למרוד בכוח הצבאי העצום שלהם, ובעזרת השם נצחו.
השנה הזאת קשה להתעלם מהעובדה ש1200 קורבנות הטבח הנוראי לא נצחו אלא נרצחו. יותר מ100 בני ערובה עודם בסכנה, מצב הגורם לנו דאגה אין סופית. המילה נס והמילה נסיון הם בעלי אותו השורש. מזה 60 יום הנסיונות המרים של קורבנות השבת השחורה ביחד עם הנסיונות של הלוחמים שבאו לעזרתם מדֻווחים ללא הפסק בערוצי הרשתות למינהם, כמעין אדן חלון אלקטרוני. הלוחמה בעזה לחיסול החמס ממשיך בעוצמה ומשודרת ברשתות גם כן.
חנוכה, הבאה עלינו לטובה, נראית כהפוכה על פיה, האסון מפורסם לעיני כל, וכמות הניסים, אם קיימים, קצרי יד מלהקל על גודל הטראומה. כאשר אסונות מפורסמים, היכן האור? הקורבנות הם האור. השנה אנו נושאים את קורבנותינו וחטופינו כאורות זוהרים, כל אחד ואחת נר מאיר בחוזקה כנגד החושך המוחלט של רוצחיהם. אנו שואבים השראה מאור נשמתם וסיפורי חייהם, ונודרים לעולם לא לשכוח.
למרות זאת לא נעלמו הניסים מהעולם. נס אחד נשאר על כנו, והוא התקווה היהודית הנצחית. אכן, אנו עם קשה עורף אשר נאחז בתקווה לנוכח כל תלאותינו במשך 4000 השנים האחרונות. אפשר לתאר את התקווה היהודית כנס כל הניסים. תקווה ומקווה הם בעלי אותו השורש. אנחנו מטהרים את עצמינו במימי התקווה וממשיכים הלאה בחזקה. כך אנחנו וכך נהיה לעד.
אנו תפילה שהנסיון הנורא של ה7 באוקטובר, שטלטל את כולנו, יהפך לניסים עוד יותר גדולים ותקווה עוד יותר חזקה לעתיד לבוא ולאורך ימים. אנו תפילה שהעושה שלום במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל. מאחל לך חנוכה של אור וחנוכה של שימחה למרות הכל וכנגד הכל.
חג חנוכה שמח,
הרב ראובן מודק
Friday November 24, 2023 יב כסלו תשפ״ד פרשת ויצא
Caring About The Enemy
A facebook slogan that has been somewhat viral goes, “I can feel heartbroken for two peoples at the same time”. Among friends and colleagues, especially those of us who are politically progressive, spiritually and emotionally sensitive, and morally conscientious there has been this debate of late: “Is it ok to care about your own people more than you care about your enemy”? Many have said that we can and should care about the other side as much as we do for ours, if not more. Not unlike Jesus’ teaching, when slapped on one cheek turn around and offer the other cheek. Or Gandhi’s approach of nonviolent resistance. Parenthetically, this approach is rooted in the Torah “…love your fellow as yourself, I am BEING” (Leviticus 19:18).
I must admit that personally, I am not at an emotional place where I care about the other side equal to my own. Generally speaking, I always care for the other side, as I care for all humanity. I am a humanist, a sensitive soul, and filled with love for all human beings as well as for all animals. But right now it is different for me. Why? Because on a daily basis, here in Israel, we are hearing more and more stories of what had happened to the residents of the south of Israel on the Dark Shabbat of October 7th.
1200 people murdered in one day, many in their bedrooms as they were waking up in the morning. Many burned, many raped, many mutilated. Not pretty. They weren’t bombed from a distance. They weren’t hit by mistake. They weren’t tried in court and executed. They were surprised by young Muslim Arab men heavily armed who came into their neighborhoods and invaded their homes. Many of these Israelis were tortured and slaughtered. Whole families. Sometimes killing children in front of parents or visa versa. Many horrific details were recorded in plain sight by home security cameras.
I am not reacting to the number of people murdered, though, but to the number of stories told. For many weeks now, since the Dark Shabbat we are still hearing in the media and off media live interviews with survivors, with relatives of the murdered, and with families of the kidnapped. New stories of the horrors of that day are continually being revealed. The stories occupy much of my consciousness as well as the collective consciousness here in Israel all the time. I turn on the radio in the car, I hear interviews. I watch news at night, I hear interviews. I speak to people as I go about my day, and hear related stories. In addition we continually witness funerals of fallen soldiers and hear stories about their lost lives. A lot to digest.
My cousin Avraham and his wife Monika, are from Kibbutz Nir Itzhak by the Gaza strip. Their Kibbutz too was attacked by Hamas terrorists. They hid in their safe room for a whole day, hearing the sounds of shots and shouts in Arabic as the attack progressed. Luckily the terrorists passed over their home and they were eventually evacuated to safety unharmed when the army arrived and killed or pushed back the terrorists. I was in contact with Avraham by WhatsApp as things were happening. I was very relieved when they were finally evacuated.
I am not in the mood these days to personally nor authentically care for the Arab Palestinians being killed on the other side, while the Israeli military pursues the murderers and their infrastructure. Call me limited, heartless, un-saintly. Yet this is my emotional and mental truth at this moment. Moreover, I support the military’s invasion of Gaza and its two stated goals: 1. Eliminating the Hamas military and government capabilities. 2. Finding and bringing back the kidnapped hostages. I feel and think that what the military is doing is the right thing right now.
I have given much thought to the question of “is it ok to care more about your own relatives than for others, especially your enemy”? At this point I am very clear that for me the answer is yes, it is ok.
In my estimation, my colleagues who say they care equally about the Palestinian tragedy are speaking like Saints, but are they? To my ear at this time their talk sounds like moral grandstanding more than anything else. I know a Saint when I see one, and thus far I haven’t heard any in this debate. In my opinion my colleagues are simply hurting like all of us and defaulting to a position of deep denial. Their “Saintly” siding is their way of handling their very justified pain, but in my view, lacking any sound merit.
No one should ever be tested, God forbid a million times, but if there would be imminent danger to both my/your child and the child of someone else, and I/you could save only one, which one would I/you save? My child would be my priority, not the other’s. I am not confused about that. Again, we should never be tested ever with such a horrible choice. I am offering this just to illustrate that it is ok, it is natural, to care for your own more than you care for others. Right now, in this situation, I am caring fundamentally for my people, and have very little tolerance for those who in my opinion play “holier than the Pope”.
Yet what is the solution to the conflict? The Horrible Shabbat did not happen in a vacuum. It is one more terrible expression of a conflict that has been going on between Arab-Muslims and Jews in Palestine/Israel for about a hundred years. Will it ever end? How does one promote non-violence and peace in this situation? I would love to offer a solution but being in my sixth decade of life I no longer have a simple answer. When I was younger I was idealistic and thought that if we, the Jews, just treated the Palestinian Muslims correctly, with compassion and understanding, and returned the 1967 occupied lands so they can have their own country, there would be peace and all would be ok. I am not convinced about that anymore.
It seems to me that we are dealing with an Arab Muslim culture that right now has a powerful evil streak. There are a lot of fanatics amongst them that believe in a violent takeover of the world (not all Muslims do but many, enough to cause terrible mayhem). Hamas is unabashed about its fanatical religious and murderous ideology. Do read their Manifesto carefully, it is available online. That is why they did what they did in the way they did it. Most of their fighters are brainwashed young men who are willing to die for Allah and their cause. Their philosophy is not unlike that of the Natzis, although spiced with Muslim instead of Christian flavor. How do we manage that? I believe that at this point we respond by defending ourselves forcefully.
When the Natzis were trying to conquer the world and eliminate the Jews and other undesirables, they would not have stopped if treated only with compassion and generosity. It was the mega military force applied by the allies that saved some Jews from death, albeit not enough. That is why many of us are alive today. Compassionately caring for others is the right thing up to a point. It stops to be right when the other’s stated goal is to kill you, according to Jewish tradition. Then we are obligated to defend ourselves.
Right now we, Israeli Jews, need to kill those Arab Muslims who are brainwashed to murder us. They are not only brainwashed to kill Jews but also the rest of the “Infidels" (especially Westerners) in order to create a grand Muslim world Caliphate. According to Torah it is our obligation to preserve our lives. Each his or her life is a gift which we are responsible to treat with care and preservation. It is a spiritual imperative. My prayer and vision is that with God’s help after this terrible war and after sufficiently damaging Hamas, there will be a new space created for peace and the possibility of a new start between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in this area. Not unlike the space created after world war II in Europe. I pray that at that point there will also be a new space within me to care for my Palestinian cousins once again, fully and whole heartedly.
Sermon, Rosh HaShana 2nd Day 5784
Bet Israel Masorti Synagogue, Natanya Israel
Rabbi Reuben Modek
וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃ (בראשית כב״ א פרשת וירא)
Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test, saying to him, “Abraham.” He answered, ”Hineni”, Here I am.
What was the test?…. The binding of Isaac. God instructs Abraham to go up to mount Moria to sacrifice his son Isaac. Furthermore, Isaac is the son that God had promised would continue Abraham’s lineage and legacy when his progeny become the Jewish people. Abraham agrees to carrying out the sacrifice. But at the last moment God stops Abraham from actually executing, literally and figuratively, and Isaac’s life is spared. God then pronounces:
...כִּ֣י ׀ עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּֽי־יְרֵ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אַ֔תָּה וְלֹ֥א חָשַׂ֛כְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ֥ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ֖ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃ (בראשית כ״ב, יב)
“now I know that you fear Elohim”, (your obedience has been proven).
If there ever was a test, this one tops them all, doesn’t it?
Why does God test Abraham? Why does God test any of us? What is the purpose of the test, the desired outcome? Is this simply a test of faith as the narrative suggests, or is there more? What can it teach us about the tests we are experiencing right now in Israeli society and politics? What can it teach us about our own personal tests and travails?
Rashi offers two possible explanations to why God decided to test Abraham: … “Of all the banquets (to celebrate the weaning of Isaac) which Abraham had prepared, not a single bull nor a single ram did he bring as a sacrifice to You (says Satan). God replied to him: Does he do anything at all except for his son (Isaac’s) sake? Yet if I were to ask him: Sacrifice him (Isaac) to Me, he would not refuse’’ (Tractate Sanhedrin 89b). Second explanation, “... Ishmael... boasted to Isaac that he had been circumcised when he was thirteen years old without resisting. Isaac replied to him: You think to intimidate me by mentioning the loss of one (small) part of the body! If the Holy One, blessed be He, were to tell me, ‘Sacrifice yourself to Me’ I would not refuse” (Tractate Sanhedrin 89b).
אחר הדברים האלה. יֵשׁ מֵרַבּוֹתֵינוּ אוֹמְרִים (סנהדרין פ"ט) אַחַר דְּבָרָיו שֶׁל שָׂטָן, שֶׁהָיָה מְקַטְרֵג וְאוֹמֵר מִכָּל סְעוּדָה שֶׁעָשָׂה אַבְרָהָם לֹא הִקְרִיב לְפָנֶיךָ פַּר אֶחָד אוֹ אַיִל אֶחָד; אָמַר לוֹ כְּלוּם עָשָׂה אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל בְּנוֹ, אִלּוּ הָיִיתִי אוֹמֵר לוֹ זְבַח אוֹתוֹ לְפָנַי לֹא הָיָה מְעַכֵּב; וְיֵ"אֹ אַחַר דְּבָרָיו שֶׁל יִשְׁמָעֵאל, שֶׁהָיָה מִתְפָּאֵר עַל יִצְחָק שֶׁמָּל בֶּן י"ג שָׁנָה וְלֹא מִחָה, אָמַר לוֹ יִצְחָק בְּאֵבֶר א' אַתָּה מְיָרְאֵנִי? אִלּוּ אָמַר לִי הַקָּבָּ"ה זְבַח עַצְמְךָ לְפָנַי, לֹא הָיִיתִי מְעַכֵּב.
A Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah (55:1) offers another explanation:
“… It is written (in the Psalms [60:6]), ‘You have given a Nes (flag, banner) to those who fear You, that it may be displayed [lehithnoses] because of truth [koshet]…’. (What does the Psalm mean?) This means, trial after trial, greatness after greatness, in order to test (Nisa) them... and exalt them in the world like a ship’s flag. And why all this? … so that the attribute of (courage to do) justice [din] may be... (established)... in the world…. If you ask…: ‘Can you do what Avraham did?’… (as) it was said to him: ‘Take, please, your son, your only son’ (22:2), yet he did not refuse. This is (the meaning of) ‘You have given a flag to those who Fear You (or have courage to follow Your ways of justice), that it may be displayed’.
בראשית רבה נ״ה:א׳
וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם (בראשית כב, א), כְּתִיב (תהלים ס, ו): נָתַתָּה לִּירֵאֶיךָ נֵס לְהִתְנוֹסֵס מִפְּנֵי קשֶׁט סֶלָּה, נִסָּיוֹן אַחַר נִסָּיוֹן, וְגִדּוּלִין אַחַר גִּדּוּלִין, בִּשְׁבִיל לְנַסּוֹתָן בָּעוֹלָם, בִּשְׁבִיל לְגַדְּלָן בָּעוֹלָם, כַּנֵּס הַזֶּה שֶׁל סְפִינָה. וְכָל כָּךְ לָמָּה, מִפְּנֵי קשֶׁט, בִּשְׁבִיל שֶׁתִּתְקַשֵּׁט מִדַּת הַדִּין בָּעוֹלָם, שֶׁאִם יֹאמַר לְךָ אָדָם לְמִי שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה לְהַעֲשִׁיר מַעֲשִׁיר, לְמִי שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה מַעֲנִי, וּלְמִי שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה הוּא עוֹשֶׂה מֶלֶךְ, אַבְרָהָם כְּשֶׁרָצָה עֲשָׂאוֹ מֶלֶךְ, כְּשֶׁרָצָה עֲשָׂאוֹ עָשִׁיר, יָכוֹל אַתְּ לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ וְלוֹמַר לוֹ יָכוֹל אַתְּ לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמוֹ שֶׁעָשָׂה אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, וְהוּא אוֹמֵר מֶה עָשָׂה, וְאַתְּ אוֹמֵר לוֹ (בראשית כא, ה): וְאַבְרָהָם בֶּן מְאַת שָׁנָה בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, וְאַחַר כָּל הַצַּעַר הַזֶּה נֶאֱמַר לוֹ (בראשית כב, ב): קַח נָא אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידְךָ וְלֹא עִכֵּב, הֲרֵי נָתַתָּה לִּירֵאֶיךָ נֵס לְהִתְנוֹסֵס.
This Rabbi doubts that Abraham’s test was about Satan’s challenge, nor due to a teenage argument between Isaac and Ishmael about who is braver. Was the test about promoting courage to follow justice? Perhaps. But most likely, more than anything else, it was about Abraham’s unyielding hope against all odds. Let me explain. Throughout this ordeal Abraham never forgets or ceases to believe in his original purpose, which is to “be a blessing”…. He never ceases believing the original and formative message he received early on, that God’s ultimate nature is blessing. As we read in Parashat Lekh Lekha:
ב וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.
ג וַאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃ (פרשת לך לך בראשית יב: 2,3)
I will bless those who bless you, and curse the one who curses you; And all the families of the earth, shall bless themselves by you.”
What a powerful and hopeful message?! The core of Abraham’s covenant with God has entirely to do with “being a blessing”, as is God. Thus, Abraham is conscious of the original truth about God, even though it seems hidden behind the veneer of an awful test. The truth that God is “Blessing” and the source of hope. He remembers at every moment that God’s overarching essence is Blessing… blessing for Isaac… blessing for Abraham… blessing for all of humanity. Abraham knew that inside a mind-boggling, soul torturing test, there was concealed a God of hope.
Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izhbitz author of Mei HaShiloah illustrates this idea very beautifully. He asks, who exactly is Abraham demonstrating faith in? He points to God’s response at the end of the test: “...now I know that you fear Elohim”. Abraham is obedient specifically to Elohim, not to Adonai... in other words, Abraham may have demonstrated obedience to Elohim, but was ultimately faithful only to Adonai. Elohim and Adonai are not the same according to the sages. Elohim is the challenging and testing aspect of God. The aspect to be feared. But Adonai is the God aspect of compassion, blessing, and hope, which according to the sages, supersedes everything else. The stubborn adherence to this principle, that compassion, blessing, and hope supersede all challenges was Abraham’s greatness. He believed in hope above all, even when called to obey from fear. And so do we.
As a Jewish people, we have endured many tests over the centuries, from without and from within, yet we clung to hope. That is why we are still here to tell the story. These days of political and social turmoil we are being tested again, primarily from within. Our systems of governance, our very democracy are facing an unprecedented crisis. As a society we are disagreeing about the fundamental rules of the game. We are dangerously divided. We need to take decisive actions in order to resolve the crisis, there is no choice. The process is stressful and frightening. Yet, especially today on Rosh HaShanna, we remember that we are ultimately here, in this test, in order to tell Abraham’s story, a story of unyielding hope against all odds. It is not even an option, telling the story of resilience through hope is in our DNA… it defines our Jewish mission. There will be a hopeful ending to this test as well.
In our private lives too, health challenges, family challenges, work challenges, spiritual challenges, we need to seek help and find solutions but also, like Abraham, we must cling to hope. Hope is Adonai’s essence … and Adonai’s expectation of us.
This is why today’s Haforah ends with the famous verse from Jeremiah:
הֲבֵן֩ יַקִּ֨יר לִ֜י אֶפְרַ֗יִם, אִ֚ם יֶ֣לֶד שַׁעֲשֻׁעִ֔ים, כִּֽי־מִדֵּ֤י דַבְּרִי֙ בּ֔וֹ זָכֹ֥ר אֶזְכְּרֶ֖נּוּ ע֑וֹד, עַל־כֵּ֗ן הָמ֤וּ מֵעַי֙ ל֔וֹ, רַחֵ֥ם אֲֽרַחֲמֶ֖נּוּ, נְאֻם־יְהֹוָֽה׃ (הפטרה ליום ב’ ראש השנה ירמיהו ל״א כ)
“Truly, Ephraim (a euphemism for Israel) is a dear son to Me (Adonai). A child that is dandled! Whenever I have turned against him, My thoughts (Adonai’s thoughts) would dwell on him still. That is why My heart yearns for him; I will receive him back in love, declares Adonai.”
I started my comments with the verse from today’s Torah reading:
וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃(בראשית כ״ב, יב)
“God put Abraham to the test, saying to him, “Abraham.” He answered, “Hineni”, I am ready, because I am full of hope. Are we?
Shanah Tovah U’Metukah
1+ 80 + 200 + 10 + 40 = 331 אפרים 7
60 + 30 + 10 + 8 + 5 = 133 סליחה 7
300 + 6 + 2 + 5 = 313 שובה 7
400 + 100 + 6 + 5 = 511 תקוה 7
על הניכור החילוני דתי והדמוקרטיה הישראלית
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החברה הישראלית יהודית מאפשרת לדתיים הקיצוניים שליטה בנכס הלאומי המשותף לכולנו - תורת ישראל. שמעתי בהפגנת מחאה דובר מסורתי אומר: ״הדתיים הקיצוניים גנבו לנו את התורה ועלינו לגנוב אותה מהם בחזרה״. איך זה קרה? ראש הממשלה דוד בן גוריון מסר את ניהולם של נישואים, גירושים, קבורה, גיור, וכדומה בידי הרבנות הראשית המנוהלת על ידי המיעוט האורתודוקסי. הדרישות הפרקטיות של בנית מדינה היו בראש סדר העדיפויות של המנהיגים דאז ולכן הבטחת נציגות הולמת לכל זרמי היהדות בעניני ״דת״ נדחתה למועד מאוחר יותר. כך קובעה השפעתם של האורתודוקסים על עיצוב הזהות היהודית של הפרט ושל המדינה והחל תהליך של ניכור בין חילוניים ודתיים. ניכור חברתי ופסיכולוגי זה הוא לדעתינו גורם מרכזי המניע את מאות אלפי הישראלים למחאה סוערת כבר שבועות רבים.
שלושה אופנים לניכור. האופן הבולט ביותר הוא הניכור בין חרדים לחילוניים היוצר שפוטיות, וכעס הדדיים. שנית ישנו ניכור פנים-חילוני. זהו כשל חילוני במיזוג משמעותי של ערכי היהדות והדמוקרטיה. אלה שוחים בנוחות בדמוקרטיה האוניברסלית, אך בורים ונבוכים בנושא זהותם היהודית. חילוניים קיצוניים לעיתים אפילו קוראים בשאט נפש למחיקה מוחלטת של הזהות היהודית. השלישי הוא ניכור פנים-דתי. הכשל החרדי הוא לראות את הזימון ההיסטורי עם הקמת מדינת ישראל לשינוי וצמיחה בעולמה של היהדות. הם מנוכרים מהמדינה המודרנית תוך אחיזה בעבר הגלותי. הם החליפו מעשיות וגמישות יהודית בהזיות אמונוית. החרדים שוכחים שהבורא ״מחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית״ (זוהר פקודי נב) ונכשלים באהבת (כל) ישראל ובענווה הנדרשת לכך.
פיתויי הרווחה החומרית, החופש, והנאורות של העולם המערבי גורמים לאדם החילוני לדחות על הסף את התורה ומגבלותיה-לכאורה. כתוצאה החילוניים מזניחים את תפקידם בעיצוב זהותה היהודי של המדינה. הפחד מפני המודרניות גורמים לאדם הדתי להשקיע את מלוא משאביו בהגנה מפני ההשפעות השליליות-לכאורה של החילוניות. כתוצאה, הוא שואף למדינה במתכונת תנכית. חילוניות לבדה מתכחשת לשורשיה היהודיים של ישראל. דתיות לבדה מיצרת הזיות תלושות ומסוכנות. גם הדתיים וגם החילוניים מנוכרים מהמציאות של תלותם ההדדית כאשר כל צד זקוק לשני להשלים ישראליות ראויה.
הרמבם כותב: ״וְאָמְנָם יְשֻׁבַּח בֶּאֱמֶת הַמְמֻצָּע, וְאֵלָיו צָרִיךְ לָאָדָם שֶׁיְּכַוֵּן וְיִשְׁקֹל פְּעֻלּוֹתָיו כֻּלָּם תָּמִיד עַד שֶׁיִּתְמַצְעוּ.״ (שמונה פרקים). הוא מלמד שהגות והתנהגות נכונים נמצאים במרכז שבין הקצוות. במרכזה של הפוליטיקה הישראלית מתמזגים בנוחות דמוקרטיה ותורה - זהות יהודית שורשית עם שיטת ממשל מסודרת וישרה. נראה שהמחאה יצרה בין השאר קרקע דשנה בה צומחת משנה של מרכז ישראלי יהודי בונה. לכן הסופר יוסי קליין הלוי אמר לאחרונה ש״ישראל היום מצויה במאבק כוחות בין המרכז והימין על הגדרת המשמעות של המונחים מדינה יהודית ומדינה דמוקרטית.״ (מכון הרטמן)
בלילה קייצי לח בעיר פילדלפיה בשנות ה90 המוקדמות ניהלתי שיחה עם שכני דאז הרב דר. ארטור גרין, פרופסור ללמודי יהדות ומחבר של סידרת ספרי תאולוגיה. בזמנו הייתי ישראלי חילוני צעיר שירד מהארץ עם חור בהשכלה היהודית ורגשי עוינות כלפי הדת היהודית ונציגיה. הרב גרין הסביר ש״עתידה של היהדות תעוצב בעיקר בידי הקהילה החילונית הישראלית ולא בידי המסורות הגלותיות הישנות. ושהמסורות הישנות יתמוססו במשך הזמן בעוד מסורות חדשות הנמשכות מחווית חיינו העכשוית, תצמחנה ותעצבנה את חיי עם ישראל אל תוך העתיד.״ רעיונתיו של הרב גרין בזמנו היו מעל ומעבר לתפיסתי. לא יכולתי לדמיין לעצמי יהודים השונים מחובשי הכיפות השחורות וחובשות השייטלס שהיו מוכרים.ות לי היטב מן המולדת. ״ישראלים חילוניים מנוכרים, מבולבלי זהות השונאים את הממסד הדתי יעצבו את העתיד היהודי? בלתי אפשרי!״ סיכמתי לעצמי. כשלושים שנה מאוחר יותר, בעיצומה של המחאה הדמוקרטית, החזון של הרב גרין מתחיל להסתמן כממשות. נראה היום שהמחאה מאותתת לקהל החילוני והמסורתי במרכז לקחת אחריות על היהדות והישראליות תוך מציאת האמצע בין הקצוות.
שתי הנחות יסוד רדיקליות מניעות את המרכז הישראלי המתגבש. האחת, שהמודרניות והחילוניות אינן עומדות בסתירה לתורת ישראל, הליבה ההיסטורית של הזהות היהודית והישראלית. דרך מסורת הפרשנות היהודית, התורה ממשיכה להיות רלוונטית בדורנו ובמצבינו כפי שהיא הייתה בכל דור ודור. ההנחה הרדיקלית השניה היא שהשליטה האורתודוקסית על פרשנות התורה ועל התוויית החיים היהודיים בישראל היא שגויה בעליל. נכון לעכשיו השליטה האורתודוקסית והכפיה הדתית גרמו לניכור בלתי נסבל ונזק עמוק לעם ישראל. אורתודוקסים וחילוניים, מסורתיים והומניסטים, רפורמים ואחרים יכולים וצריכים לעצב את הזהות היהודית והדמוקרטית של המדינה בשותפות שוויונית והדדית.
במגילת העצמאות כתוב: “זו זכותו הטבעית של העם היהודי להיות ככל עם ועם עומד ברשות עצמו במדינתו הריבונית.״ האם משמעות האימרה ״להיות ככל עם ועם״ היא לחקות את דנמרק, למשל, והדמוקרטיה הנאורה שלה? או לחלופין האם ״ככל עם״ פרושו לבטא את זהותנו היחודית כמו שכל עם מבטא את זהותו ויחודיותו. לדעתנו ריבונותו של העם היהודי, מהגדרתו ומטבעו ,הוא שילטון דמוקרטי המושתת על הערכים והחכמה המעוגנים בתורה ובמסורת ישראל. עקרונות היסוד של הדמוקרטיות המערביות, צדק והגינות, דיון ושכנוע, שימור זכויות המיעוט, מיגבלות על הרשות המבצעת, והכרעה על פי רוב, מעוגנות במילא בתורת ישראל ומסורת הפרשנות.
אנו קוראים בספר דברים: שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ ... וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק׃ (16:18) לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים (16:19) צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ (16:20) וְאָמַרְתָּ֗ אָשִׂ֤ימָה עָלַי֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ כְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבֹתָֽי׃ (17:14) רַק֮ לֹא־יַרְבֶּה־לּ֣וֹ סוּסִים֒... (17:16) וְלֹ֤א יַרְבֶּה־לּוֹ֙ נָשִׁ֔ים... וְכֶ֣סֶף וְזָהָ֔ב לֹ֥א יַרְבֶּה־לּ֖וֹ מְאֹֽד׃ (17:17) וְהָיָ֣ה כְשִׁבְתּ֔וֹ עַ֖ל כִּסֵּ֣א מַמְלַכְתּ֑וֹ וְכָ֨תַב ל֜וֹ אֶת־מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ עַל־סֵ֔פֶר… (17:18) ...וְקָ֥רָא ב֖וֹ... לִ֠שְׁמֹר אֶֽת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֞י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּ֛את וְאֶת־הַחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לַעֲשֹׂתָֽם׃ (17:19) לְבִלְתִּ֤י רוּם־לְבָבוֹ֙ מֵֽאֶחָ֔יו וּלְבִלְתִּ֛י ס֥וּר מִן־הַמִּצְוָ֖ה יָמִ֣ין וּשְׂמֹ֑אול… (17:20)
אנחנו קוראים בספר ויקרא: לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ… ׃(19:18) וְכִֽי־יָג֧וּר אִתְּךָ֛ גֵּ֖ר בְּאַרְצְכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תוֹנ֖וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ (19:33) כְּאֶזְרָ֣ח מִכֶּם֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם הַגֵּ֣ר הַגָּ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֗ם וְאָהַבְתָּ֥ לוֹ֙ כָּמ֔וֹךָ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם (19:34)
התורה מורה לנו לבסס מערכת משפטית המתפקדת תחת כללי צדק מפורטים. להגביל את המערכת המבצעת על ידי חוקה. ולתת לגרים בתוכינו זכויות, שוויון, ואהבה.
על פי מסורת ישראל שיטת המימשל היא ציווי אלוהי. אבל המשילה ניתנה לבני אדם. אנו קוראים בספר דברים: כִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את… לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹ֥א רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא׃ לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֙יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה׃ כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד… לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ׃ (30:11,12,14)
התלמוד הבבלי ממשיך ומפתח את העקרונות הדמוקרטיים של דיון, שיכנוע, והכרעה על פי הרוב. התלמוד מספר על מליאה של רבנים הדנים בכשרותו של תנור. פסיקתו של הרב אליעזר הייתה לחיוב, אך הרוב ובראשם רבי יהושע פסקו לשלילה. הרב אליעזר ביקש שמין השמיים יוכיחו את צדקת פסיקתו ואכן בת קול יצאה מין השמיים והכריזה שהלכה כדברי רבי אליעזר. אך למרות הסיוע ״עמד רבי יהושע על רגליו... (וציטט) ’לא בשמים היא’ (דברים ל, יב)…. (למה) לא בשמים היא? אמר רבי ירמיה, (מכיוון) שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני אין אנו… (שומעים) בבת קול, שכבר כתבת (אלוהים)... בתורה ’אחרי רבים להטות’ (מכריעים על פי רוב)(שמות כג:ב). ...(שאל) רבי נתן לאליהו (הנביא)... (מה עשה הקדוש ברוך הוא באותה שעה)? אמר לו (אליהו הנביא),... (אלוהים) חייך ואמר ’נצחוני בני נצחוני בני’.״ (בבא מציעא נ״ט: )
כשחורזים את הפסוקים מספר דברים, ויקרא, ופרשנות התלמוד אנו לומדים על שיטת מימשל הכוללת שלוש רשויות: שופטת, מבצעת, ומחוקקת. על הרשות השופטת לשפוט על פי חוקי הצדק. על הרשות המבצעת לפעול אך ורק בתוך מגבלות החוקה. על הרשות המחוקקת לדון על פי שיקולים אנושיים, לא להטות אחר ניסים ונפלאות, ולהכריע על פי דעת הרוב.
העקרונות של מימשל תקין ודמוקרטי נכללו בתורה ונדונו במסורת הפרשנות לפני שאתונה ורומא חידשו את חידושיהם. צדק וסדר חברתי לא היו חדשים לאבותינו ולאמהותינו, נהפוך הוא. באמתחתינו, מסורת מתוחכמת המתאימה יחודית לריבונתה ואופיה של ישראל המודרנית.
בכדי לממש בהצלחה מלאה את ההבטחה של מגילת העצמאות, ובכדי שהמימשל בישראל יתקבל באהבה על ידי רוב העם, על השיטה המשטרית לינוק ממהותה הרוחנית של עם ישראל. עלינו, דתיים וחילוניים, שמאלנים וימניים לנצל במלואם את נכסינו התרבותיים וההיסטוריים לבניית דמוקרטיה תקינה וראויה ולשם כך עלינו לפורר את דפוסי הניכור הזהותי אשר אפיינו אותנו עד הלום.
הוערנו בטלטלה על ידי ההפיכה המשטרית והוטלנו אל תוך מלחמת עצמאות שניה על נשמתה של המדינה. לכן על המרכז הישראלי להטות שכם ביחד ובחוזקה למען התכלית והעתיד של עם ישראל. תכלית זו כוללת בתוכה בניית דמוקרטיה לדוגמא. מגילת העצמאות מבטיחה חופש וצדק לכל אזרחי ישראל ״דתיים וחילוניים, ימנים ושמאלנים, יהודים וערבים, ועוד״. אך היא לא מגילת העצמאות הראשונה של עם ישראל, אלא השניה. המגילה הראשונה, התורה, ציינה את היציאה מעבדות לחרות ואת המשימה הלאומית להיות עם חופשי בארץ האבות והאמהות. כשאנו מפגינים כל שבוע בכדי למגר את ההפיכה השילטונית אנחנו מקדשים את ערכי היסוד המשותפים של עם ישראל הרשומים בשתי המגילות, העתיקה והחדשה. השלום והביטחון, הרווחה, והצביון של מדינת ישראל תלויים במלחמתנו למען שתיהן בחוסן ובאהבה.
The First Scroll, Israeli Democracy and the Secular Religious Impasse
To read the Hebrew version click here.
Early on when the modern state of Israel was founded, Israeli society has enabled the extreme Jewish religious right to assume legal and cultural control over our people’s most cherished collective possession, the Torah. Recently I heard a moderate religious speaker at a pro-democracy rally express the sentiment, “they (the religious right) stole our Torah and we need to steal it back from them.”
How did it happen? Then prime minister, David Ben Gurion, entrusted matters of legal Jewish status and law, such as marriage, divorce, burial, conversion, sacred text study, and more, into the hands of an Orthodox state rabbinate. The practical urgencies of building and protecting the new state dominated the leaders’ agenda. As a result, ensuring equal representation for the entire range of Jewish faith styles, and ideological world views where put on the back burner thus solidifying the Orthodox minority’s power over shaping Jewish identity and the Jewish character of the state. This created deep alienation among the religious and secular extremes. We believe that this social and psychological alienation are a core factor energizing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to fiercely protest week after week.
Let’s take a close look at the religious/secular alienation dynamics. The first and most conspicuous is the alienation between the Orthodox and secularists in the form of mutual judgments and animosity. The second is inter-secular. Secular persons are alienated from their very own Jewish identities. They have failed to fully and coherently blend their Jewish and democratic values. In the secularist camp people are typically more fluent within the universalist democracy space but are too often ignorant about the Jewish identity space. Extreme secularists in Israel often call for abandoning Jewish identity altogether. The third is inter-traditionalist. Stuck in defending the Jewish traditions of the past, ultra-traditionalists are alienated from this historical moment’s demand for change. They seem alienated from modern Israel while cleaving to a diaspora past. Traditionalists have forgotten that Adonai is “The One who renews the act of creation... everyday and forever ” הַמְחַדֵּשׁ בְּטוּבוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית (Zohar Pedukei 52). Often the Israeli rabbinate is divorced from genuine “Love of (all of) Israel” and the basic humility that it requires.
Most secularists, seduced by the material as well as intellectual temptations of modernity, fend off the seemingly restricting influences of Torah as they neglect to fully take responsibility for their own as well as their country’s Jewish identity. Most traditionalists, critical of, and scared by, modernity invest much of their energies in fending off the seemingly negative influences of secularism attempting to shape Israel into a biblical fantasyland. To date the Orthodox hegemony along with its religious coercion has caused enormous alienation and untold damage to the Jews of modern Israel as well as to Jews abroad.
Secularism alone denies Israel’s Jewish roots and raison d'être. Tradition alone can produce dangerously fanatical fantasies. Both traditionalists and secularists are alienated from their inevitable interdependency. Each side needs the other, as together we are parts of a greater Israeli whole.
Rambam (Maimonides) coined the terms “The Golden Mean”. He writes וְאָמְנָם יְשֻׁבַּח בֶּאֱמֶת הַמְמֻצָּע,וְאֵלָיו צָרִיךְ לָאָדָם שֶׁיְּכַוֵּן וְיִשְׁקֹל פְּעֻלּוֹתָיו כֻּלָּם תָּמִיד עַד שֶׁיִּתְמַצְעוּ. “And indeed the middle way is best, towards which a person should aim in his/her conduct always until it reaches the middle.” (Eight Chapters). He teaches that correct ideation and conduct is found in the center between the extremes.
The Center of Israeli politics and Israel’s society is where Torah and democracy - rooted Jewish identity and best governing practices - are merging. The pro-democracy protests have become the petri dish in which a strong center is finding its voice. As the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi said at a recent speech “Israel today is living through a dispute between the center and the right over what a Jewish state and a democratic state mean…” (Hartman Institute, Jerusalem).
On a warm and humid summer night back in Philadelphia in the early 1990s I had a long conversion with my neighbor, Rabbi Dr. Arthur Green. He, a published author, Jewish theologian, and professor of Jewish studies. I, a young secular Israeli and recent Yored (immigrant from Israel) with an enormous gap in Jewish knowledge and intense negative feelings toward Jewish religion and its Orthodox emissaries.
Rabbi Green, who used to spend a good portion of each year immersing in the Israeli zeitgeist, explained that “The future of Judaism is being shaped primarily by the secular community in Israel, not by the diaspora religious traditions. The old-time traditions are going to wither-on-the-vine while a new form of Judaism, authentic to our times, emerges”. To me, Rabbi Green’s ideas were beyond comprehension at the time. I could not imagine a Judaism looking much different than the yarmulka bearing, black suited men and Sheitel (religious head covering) wearing women I knew from back home. “Alienated secular Israelis with their wrenching identity conundrums and intense hate of the religious establishment, having a constructive role in Judaism’s future? Impossible!”, I thought.
Now, thirty years hence, with energetic democracy protests all over Israel, Rabbi Green’s vision is manifesting, bridging the Israeli alienation gap and reviving the Israeli center. Two radical assumptions are animating this center. The first assumption is that Torah is not antithetical to modernism and secularism. To the contrary it is undeniably the core of our Jewish and Israeli identity. The second radical assumption is that the long entrenched hegemony of Orthodoxy over Torah interpretation and over shaping Jewish lifestyles in Israel is categorically wrong. In a healthy center, Orthodox, Secular, Conservative, Humanist, Reform, and Other will collaboratively draw the contours of Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity.
“The Jewish people possess a natural right to be a nation like all nations who control their own destiny in their own sovereign state” (Israel’s Scroll of Independence). “זו זכותו הטבעית של העם היהודי להיות ככל עם ועם עומד ברשות עצמו במדינתו הריבונית. What is the meaning of “to be a nation like all nations”? Does it mean being like Denmark with her enlightened democracy? Or does it mean expressing our own unique identity and governing solutions just like other nations express theirs? In our opinion, the Jewish sovereign state, by definition, governs itself through an exemplary democracy based on the values and wisdom of Torah and Jewish tradition. Furthermore, the guiding principles of most modern democracies: Justice and fairness, protection for the rights of the minority, legal limitations upon the executive branch, debate and persuasion leading to a vote by majority are instructed in the Torah.
The first two chapters of Parashat Shoftim, in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) read:
שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לִשְׁבָטֶ֑יךָ וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק׃
Deut. 16:18 - You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes,... and they shall govern the people with due justice.
לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים וְלֹא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד כִּ֣י הַשֹּׁ֗חַד יְעַוֵּר֙ עֵינֵ֣י חֲכָמִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽם׃
Deut. 16:19 - You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.
צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃
Deut. 16:20 - Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive....
כִּֽי־תָבֹ֣א אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ נֹתֵ֣ן לָ֔ךְ וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֖הּ וְיָשַׁ֣בְתָּה בָּ֑הּ וְאָמַרְתָּ֗ אָשִׂ֤ימָה עָלַי֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ כְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבֹתָֽי׃
Deut. 17:14 - If, … you decide, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,”
רַק֮ לֹא־יַרְבֶּה־לּ֣וֹ סוּסִים֒ וְלֹֽא־יָשִׁ֤יב אֶת־הָעָם֙ מִצְרַ֔יְמָה לְמַ֖עַן הַרְבּ֣וֹת ס֑וּס וַֽיהוָה֙ אָמַ֣ר לָכֶ֔ם לֹ֣א תֹסִפ֗וּן לָשׁ֛וּב בַּדֶּ֥רֶךְ הַזֶּ֖ה עֽוֹד׃
Deut. 17:16 - Moreover, he shall not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses,...”
וְלֹ֤א יַרְבֶּה־לּוֹ֙ נָשִׁ֔ים וְלֹ֥א יָס֖וּר לְבָב֑וֹ וְכֶ֣סֶף וְזָהָ֔ב לֹ֥א יַרְבֶּה־לּ֖וֹ מְאֹֽד׃
Deut. 17:17 - And he shall not have many wives, lest his heart go astray; nor shall he amass silver and gold to excess.
וְהָיָ֣ה כְשִׁבְתּ֔וֹ עַ֖ל כִּסֵּ֣א מַמְלַכְתּ֑וֹ וְכָ֨תַב ל֜וֹ אֶת־מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ עַל־סֵ֔פֶר מִלִּפְנֵ֥י הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים הַלְוִיִּֽם׃
Deut. 17:18 - When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching (Torah) written for him....
וְהָיְתָ֣ה עִמּ֔וֹ וְקָ֥רָא ב֖וֹ כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑יו לְמַ֣עַן יִלְמַ֗ד לְיִרְאָה֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔יו לִ֠שְׁמֹר אֶֽת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֞י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּ֛את וְאֶת־הַחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לַעֲשֹׂתָֽם׃
Deut. 17:19 - Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, ..., to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching (Torah) as well as these laws.
לְבִלְתִּ֤י רוּם־לְבָבוֹ֙ מֵֽאֶחָ֔יו וּלְבִלְתִּ֛י ס֥וּר מִן־הַמִּצְוָ֖ה יָמִ֣ין וּשְׂמֹ֑אול לְמַעַן֩ יַאֲרִ֨יךְ יָמִ֧ים עַל־מַמְלַכְתּ֛וֹ ה֥וּא וּבָנָ֖יו בְּקֶ֥רֶב יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Deut. 17:20 - Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left,....
The Torah is setting limits on both the judiciary and executive branches. These limits are guided by justice, moderation, and a commitment to the people’s common good.
Parashat Kedoshim, in the book of VaYikra (Leviticus), offers additional guardrails and foundational principles for just conduct:
לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃
Leviticus 19:18 - You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow as yourself ….
וְכִֽי־יָג֧וּר אִתְּךָ֛ גֵּ֖ר בְּאַרְצְכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תוֹנ֖וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃
Leviticus 19: 33 - When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them.
כְּאֶזְרָ֣ח מִכֶּם֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם הַגֵּ֣ר ׀ הַגָּ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֗ם וְאָהַבְתָּ֥ לוֹ֙ כָּמ֔וֹךָ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
Leviticus 19: 34 - The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt ....
In other words, the system of government instructed by Torah serves all the inhabitants of the land applying justice equally to the Jewish majority, the Jewish minority, and to the non-Jew.
According to the Torah and to Jewish tradition the Israelite system of government was divinely ordained. However it was not to be divinely executed. Implementation is entirely up to us humans here on earth.
כִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹ֥א רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא׃
Deut. 30:11 - Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.
לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֙יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה׃
Deut. 30:12 - It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?”
כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִֽלְבָבְךָ֖ לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ׃
Deut. 30:14 - No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth (ordinary language) and in your heart (mind), to observe it.
The Talmud offers an interpertaion of “It is not in the heavens… the thing is very close to you…” that expresses the political principle of ‘deliberative process’ leading to a binding ruling of the legislative majority.
In the following Talmudic episode an assembly of rabbis are debating a matter of Kosher law. Rabbi Eliezer, ruled that an object was Kosher, while the majority of the attending rabbis ruled it not Kosher. Rabbi Eliezer uses his spiritual powers to request Heaven’s intervention. Indeed, a Heavenly voice rumbles from on-high declaring Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling correct. At this dramatic moment the speaker for the majority...
עמד רבי יהושע על רגליו ואמר (דברים ל, יב) לא בשמים היא מאי לא בשמים היא אמר רבי ירמיה שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני אין אנו משגיחין בבת קול שכבר כתבת בהר סיני בתורה (שמות כג, ב) אחרי רבים להטות אשכחיה רבי נתן לאליהו א"ל מאי עביד קוב"ה בההיא שעתא א"ל קא חייך ואמר נצחוני בני נצחוני בני
..."Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written (in the Torah): “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah has already been given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You (God) already wrote... in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the Halakha (law) is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara adds: Years later, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed Be, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed Be, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.” (Baba Metzia 59:b)
Stringing together these verses from Parashat Shoftim, Parashat Kedoshim, and the Talmud, a teaching emerges instructing us to form a system of government that includes a Judiciary, an executive, and a legislator. The Judiciary shall strictly follow the principles of justice, impartiality and fairness. The executive branch shall function under strict limitations guided by a constitution, the Torah. The legislative body shall use the best of its human deliberative capacity, not spiritual signs and portents, as the majority decides the law. The democratic process has been spelled out in the Torah and her interpretations long before ancient Athens and ancient Rome had experimented with theirs. We, Jewish Israelis, indeed have a sophisticated, wise, and time-honored heritage to draw on.
We, Israel’s secular and moderate religious center have been politically awakened by the judicial coup and thrust into a second “war of independence” for the soul if not the body of Israel. For Israeli democracy to be truly sovereign, as the Scroll Of Independence calls for, and for our system to be widely adopted by our people it must be rooted in the soul and deep purpose of the modern state of Israel. The ideological and conceptual framework for Israeli democracy needs to draw on the best assets of our rich Jewish heritage. To that end we must unravel the holding pattern of Israeli alienation and embrace the center where religious and secular alienation dissolves allowing for a renewed Jewish future.
It is now time to rally around a new shared mission for modern Israel, which includes modeling for the world an exemplary democracy that extends from the Torah values of diversity, justice, and decency.
Megilat HaAtzma’ut, Israel’s Scroll Of Independence commits us to ensuring freedom and justice for all of Israel’s inhabitants, “religious and secular, rightists and leftists, Jewish and Arab, and more.” However, Megilat HaAtzna’ut is the second Scroll Of Independence. The first scroll of independence, the Torah, marked Israel’s liberation from slavery and stated the people’s mission to build a society based on justice and freedom in our ancestral homeland. As we demonstrate weekly in order to quash an extreme rightwing religious takeover we are reclaiming Israel’s core common values that are articulated in both of our Scrolls Of Independence, the ancient one and the recent one. Our nation’s peace and security, our prosperity, and our future depends on reclaiming both with vigor and with love.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
A TALE OF MULTIPLE PANDEMICS
In an interview I listened to on WGBH’s Innovation Hub with Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Doctor shared that according to a study (from April 2020) of COVID hospitalizations in New York City, obesity was statistically more important in determining hospitalization for COVID patients than high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease. In fact, after old age, it was the biggest factor leading to hospitalizations, according to Dr. Mozaffarian. Why was this finding so groundbreaking? Because it exposed the fact that America was uniquely vulnerable to the spread of COVID. “About half of all American adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes,” Mozaffarian said, “and three in four American adults are overweight or obese. So very few of us are actually healthy and a COVID epidemic can be likened to pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.”
Dr. Mozaffarian described COVID as a fast-moving pandemic stacked on top of a slow moving one, Obesity. For contrast, he suggested looking at COVID in Japan. Japan has weathered the COVID pandemic significantly better than the United States. One of the main reasons Japan has coped with the Corona virus more successfully is their obesity rate. “America has one of the highest rates of obesity in the developed world and Japan has one of the lowest. It’s this gap that is making America’s response to COVID much more difficult,” said Mozaffarian.
COVID was but the tip of an iceberg of a larger public health crisis. We wonder then what has allowed obesity? What conditions further up the food-chain, literally and figuratively, have enabled an obese and sick population? And how has American exceptionalism degraded into the most obese nation in the world? And furthermore, what lessons-learned can turn the COVID crisis into opportunity?
LOST OUR WAY
The root cause for these American, and increasingly global public health crises seems to be our cultural devolution - as an advanced and prosperous Western culture we have lost our way. America, at its core a global beacon for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is also currently the greatest destroyer of the natural environment (Hyper-industrialism), the greatest denier of the sanctity of the human body (The puritanism/nihilism axis), a leader in denying humanity’s interdependency (Libertarianism), and a denier and disrupter of our body’s natural capacity for healing and wellness (Medical and pharmaceutical opportunism).
American and other Western societies exhibit some of the worst attitudes toward health and wellness, widely commercializing and marketing lifestyles, foods, medicines, and products that have been proven linked to multiple public-health crises from obesity to depression to opioids-abuse to cancer to heart disease to the alarming rise in children’s mental and physical ailments, to a gun violence epidemic and so on. According to Dr. Mozaffarian, voluminous research indicates that America has been becoming a sick nation particularly over the past four decades reaching an apex with the COVID pandemic. We live in a culture that despite its prosperity and abundant conveniences has devolved into propagating widespread ill health that has been accepted and normalized. However, not all is lost. The exciting news is that, in America and other developed societies culture is fluid, and it can evolve.
FIRST PRINCIPLES OF TRUE HEALTH
Dr. Zach Bush MD, a physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care and an internationally recognized educator and thought-leader on health, disease, and food systems, is one of the most prolific visionaries relating COVID to the environment (click for interview). Dr. Bush is also one of the experts who points out the correlations between the macro and the micro levels of disease processes. The imbalance dynamics observed in the climate and in the natural environment are also observed in the inner ecology of individual persons. Furthermore, we are beginning to recognize, according to Dr. Bush, the complex multi-level causality of disease as opposed to the prevailing uni-causality (i.e. a virus, a germ, a toxin). For example, when a singular physical health symptom prompts us to see our physician, we often learn that our complaint is but a mere indicator for a larger systemic problem in our body/spirit and its environment. For example, remember when you or someone you know had back pain and, in consultation with a physician, you (they) discovered that the reason was rooted in multiple conditions all neatly stacked up to bring you down. Your spine suffered from structural stress as your (their) weight was many pounds too many, and your (their) lifestyle included high stress levels that were manifested as muscle tightness in the lower back, and your (their) mattress was not optimally supporting you (them), and so on and so forth. Your symptoms may have manifested in one organ - your back, your cancerous cells, your ulcers, your pancreas, but the causes were simultaneously located elsewhere in the body/spirit, and/or your lifestyle, and/or in the environment. Dr. Bush discusses cases of multi-level causalities and macro/micro correlations in the cancer process (his research speciality) as well as other diseases. He points to a new paradigm that embraces the hyper complexity of disease and its linkage to a variety of dimensions across human life, paradoxically allowing for simpler, more grounded, and more holistic remedies.
Additionally, we find that the same multi-causal and hyper complex understanding of individual disease applies on a societal scale as well. We wonder then, what are the multi-level causes and systemic originators of leading diseases in the developed world, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, coronary vascular disease, asthma and more? And how did these create the conditions for the COVID virus to burn through like a firestorm in a dry woodland?
Comprehending and adapting the following four foundational principles will help us successfully strengthen each his and her own personal resiliency and innate wellness as well as address the growing public health crises around the globe.
1. A respect for Mother Nature, which of we humans are a humble and integral part.
2. A firm scientific and philosophical understanding of the ecological web of life that interlinks all organisms within the body and all around it.
3. A Subjective knowledge of each his/her own particular body/spirit characteristics and needs. Caring for her specific needs cares for us.
4. An Individual and collective grasp of the human body/spirit’s innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury.
SCIENCE AND SCIENTISM
Let us put all of the above in a bit of historical and cultural context. What is failing and what is thriving in our modern technology-based way of life? “It can’t be all bad, can it” you may wonder? Let’s explain, and it has to do with science. We are a scientific culture. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries in particular have given rise to amazing scientific and technological explorations in all fields, from space travel to the miniaturization of computing devices, to robotics and AI, but most especially in the research of disease. We are the beneficiaries of unprecedented development in medical science and technology that allows us new freedoms and longer lives. However, along with the rise of scientific progress, a rigid approach has evolved in the science community. Philosophers call it “Scientism” or Reductionism. The foundation of science and its awesome power lies in the scientific method - hypothesis, experimentation, refinement, replicability. But gradually over time the findings of science have been narrowly and reductively interpreted through the following cultural/philosophical biases:
1. the bias of Reductionism
2. the bias of Materialism
3. the bias of Isolationism
These three cultural/philosophical perspectives have been dominant in the scientific community and Western culture throughout the twentieth century, at times to great benefit. But they also form blinders that can limit the true understanding of scientific findings as well as the full breadth and depth of the healing process. An elaboration will help us appreciate the significant pros and cons of each.
The Reductionism bias claims that the best way to know things is to reduce a thing to its component parts. It asserts that the best way to know about disease and heal it is to understand smaller and smaller material components of an organ or a pathogen and learn their operational mechanisms. In other words, the more I can take a disease apart the better chances I have for understanding and controlling it.
This attitude has its roots in the Industrial Revolution that ushered enormous innovation, particularly in assembling large arrays of intricately engineered parts into a working whole, The Machine. During this period, we also learned to frame our lives and culture through the lens of the mechanics and the efficiencies of burgeoning early technologies. The human body was perceived by our industrial revolution ancestors as a cluster of attached moving parts. Thus, disease has been interpreted by researchers as the adverse presence of tiny malicious parts or foreign parts or missing parts or damaged parts within the body. Disease can be summed up as a “parts disorder.” “I can manage a disease by manipulating its parts back to their original state,” goes the reductionist’s thinking. The keen Information Age observer, however, rightfully questions whether this “particles” view of reality sufficiently explains disease and whether it is sufficient for true remediation.
Materialism holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are byproducts of material processes, such as the biochemistry of the human brain and nervous system. In this worldview, the “abstract” notion of “human spirit” is a superstition or, at best, a poetic notion that is irrelevant to healing disease. But is it not? Contemporary medical research of psychosomatic symptomatology, the placebo effect, and evolving cultural trends affirm a strong link between spirit, healing, and wellness.
The bias of Isolationism is an aspect, and sometimes an extreme form, of modern Western Individualism. To be clear, I am not objecting to Individualism per se, but critiquing its isolationist manifestations. According to the dictionary: “Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires, and value independence and self-reliance, and advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the social group” (Wikipedia). Individualism at its worst becomes isolationism. This industrial revolution inspired attitude views the individual as an isolated part amongst a random collection of other parts, an individual as a value-free object, nothing but a rational entity.
Increasing isolationist individualism though inevitably results in system unraveling and collapse that harms all involved individuals. In the lexicon of disease, a cancer cell is an overly individualistic cell. Isolationism as a worldview also separates us from the ecology that sustains our very lives and wellness, as the isolationist tends to view nature as overtly dangerous, unforgiving, and inherently separate from the individual inhabiting it. Thus, we shelter in airtight dwellings, sanitized environments, sheltered from “pathogens”, and ultimately isolated from one another and from aliveness.
This attitude has resulted in weaker communities and weaker immunity. Isolationism in a patient is much more likely to exacerbate disease than to heal it. Isolationism in the medical researcher is much more likely to narrow his/her perspective than to illuminate it. Isolation of the human body/spirit is a likely cause of declining health and death.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
GREATER THAN OUR PARTS
Scientism, or Reductionism, which currently frames our reaction to disease has been a strong motivator for civilization’s progress during the past century. Reductionism, Materialism, and Isolationism, at the time of their emergence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, offered refreshing alternatives to the prevailing superstitions and religious beliefs typical of the medieval age. And indeed, the scientific method at the heart of the reductionist paradigm has solved many problems and improved the quality of life for humanity for a time.
But it appears as if the reductionist paradigm and especially its technological innovations have also created an alarming measure of environmental, social, and health threats, setting the stage for a COVID pandemic to run rampant. Reductionism, with its hyper-rational and value-free position, inherently neglects to honor the natural environment, the genius construct and power of our own body/spirit, the ecological and relational webs we inhabit, and our innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury.
Dr. Jacob Israel (a pseudonym to protect privacy), a member of my community, lost his mother a while ago to a multi-disease condition. Dr. Israel has been a beloved and deeply respected pediatrician in our town. His mother, like many of our aging parents, had been geographically distant (isolated), which prevented him from being at her side frequently enough during her last months of hospitalization.
When Dr. Israel was sharing his grief with me at his home in the days following the funeral, he told me the following story. During his last visit to the hospital, shortly before mom’s passing, he took a close look at her medical charts. Dr. Israel noticed that nine different specialists had been visiting his mother’s hospital bed to attend to nine separate diseased organs or systems, each prescribing a separate medication regimen. He described his shock and dismay at the sheer number of isolated interventions, uncoordinated as far as he knew. He suspected that the massive uncoordinated medication cocktail she was receiving may have hastened his mother’s death.
There was something extremely inhumane in the assembly-line health care process Dr. Israel’s mom had undergone at the hospital, though it seemed as if each individual specialist at the “assembly line” was doing exactly the “right” thing. Dr. Israel, thus, felt through the realization that the same medical paradigm he was devotedly and proudly practicing had failed his mother at a time of need. Thus her treatment reduced her to component parts, treating her as a sum of her chemistry, each practitioner isolated in the bubble of his/her expertise. Mom’s treatment looked more like a mismanaged lab experiment than a compassionate and caring effort to tend to a precious living soul. This was deeply disturbing to Dr. Israel. In retrospect, it seems as if his insights were an uncomfortable gaze at some of the fault lines of the Reductionist medical approach.
A PATIENT’S REAL NEEDS
In my early midlife, due to uncomfortable bladder related symptoms, I sought out the advice of a urologist, Dr. P. Over the course of three visits, a variety of urinary statistics were measured and noted. Urine samples were sent to the lab for analysis a couple of times, to be returned with encouraging results. The most fascinating test, though, was the cystoscopy. Dr. P. had reached into my bladder with a probe that was equipped with a micro-camera. As I had received only partial anesthesia, Dr. P. was able to share and discuss the images on the screen before us. He seemed to express genuine pleasure with what he was seeing as nothing looked “grossly out of the ordinary”, certainly not to my untrained eye, with the exception of a red spot “that could have been an infection,” he said.
During my next visit, Dr. P. initiated a conversation that presumed my compliance with more aggressive testing, at which point I balked. “I thought everything was looking good,” I reminded him. He reasoned that “it is incumbent upon us to explore all avenues” and eliminate any possibility of “foreign cells,” a euphemism for cancer. He proceeded to inquire whether I would elect to have my biopsy at the hospital or at his office, with a nudge towards doing it at his office.
Red flags popped up in my mind. My relationship with my doctor began to feel like a visit to the mechanic’s shop for a protocol of standard maintenance tests. It had all been made worse by the gentle push to accommodate Dr. P.’s convenience and/or profit-making interests. A conversation that I had expected to be about a patient’s real needs and concerns took a wrong turn. Visits with Dr. P. had been typically in-and-out. At best I had spent 15 minutes in conversation with my “caregiver” during any given visit. Something about this dynamic was gnawingly disturbing, but I knew it to be “normal”. Having lost trust in my physician, I decided to leave, even though Dr. P. came highly recommended because of his excellent reputation in the community. I still do not doubt Dr. P.’s personal integrity. As I see it today, he was an innocent actor in a quite normative Reductionist, Materialist, and Isolationist medical paradigm.
While we are experiencing systemic challenges in medicine and elsewhere, there is also good news. A new twenty-first century scientific and cultural paradigm, “Holism,” is currently emerging in the scientific and medical communities. The dictionary defines Holism in the following ways:
In the field of PHILOSOPHY:
The theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independent of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts. Holism is often applied to mental states, language, and ecology.
In the field of MEDICINE: The treating of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.
Holism is a scientific perspective that informs theory and research in fields such as ecology, systems theory, information technology, neural networks, quantum computing, microbiome, microvirome, climate, and sea changes in our understanding of human behavior and, yes, the human spirit. The exciting news is that within this emerging perspective we are more likely to find new and effective solutions to the multiple epidemics in the developed world as well as each strengthen our personal resiliency and wellness.
What happens when a new paradigm like Holism gradually evolves to replace an old paradigm such as Reductionism? Why would something that had worked well for so long need to be replaced? How do we know whether the “new paradigm” is truly new or whether it is any good? What if the new is risky? What happens to the old, tossed away, banned, censored? Let’s learn from the past.
In the early 1600s, Galileo Galilei had challenged the old paradigm in the field of astronomy, that of Geocentrism, or the belief that the sun orbits the earth. Galileo proposed a daring new observation: Heliocentrism, or that the earth was in fact orbiting the sun. Galileo was harshly opposed by both the scientific community of his time and by the Catholic Church, which considered his views dangerously heretical. The science of astronomy then and now is fundamental to the craft of navigation and world travel. How then did Galileo’s findings impact navigation and world travel? As we know Galileo’s findings were ultimately accepted, albeit posthumously, and indeed did not destroy navigation nor travel. His insights helped advance navigation, opening up travel to greater possibilities. Galileo’s insights in fact expanded sea navigation capabilities, ultimately enabling current deep space exploration.
An emerging new paradigm by definition solves problems that had remained unsolvable within the old framework. This emerging new paradigm, Holism, does not negate Reductionism, but builds upon it. It teases out the full potential of the old, just like salt teases out the full flavor of food. With a more accurate and higher bird’s-eye-view of reality, new possibilities and proficiencies are enabled, especially at present time in the fields of private and public health. Viewing the body/spirit as a complex entity constantly and organically inter-coursing within a multi layered ecology rather than a machine allows for a solid and wholesome path to health and wellness.
HEALTHIER THAN EVER
A friend had recommended that I see David Kramer, a seasoned Classical Homeopath with a thriving practice out of his home in Upstate New York. Sitting in David’s office, with a wide-open view of his manicured garden and the rolling farmland beyond, I had described my experience with the urologist, and my terror about even the slightest probability of having bladder cancer. I was also frank with him about my reluctance to put my fate in his hands, a healer without a post-nominal MD. David smiled and began an educational process that over time had opened my eyes to a new way of viewing health and wellness, a holistic one.
“Your urologist is trained to address your symptoms through a variety of recommendations and interventions. His goal is to relieve you of your bladder symptoms,” David explained. “Sounds good to me” I replied, “Why else would I go to the urologist?” “The contract with me is an entirely different one,” David continued. “In my practice, you will visit me every six weeks on a regular basis and in ten years you will be, head to toes, healthier than you have ever been in your life.” We proceeded to spend the next two hours reviewing my entire health profile, during which David took copious notes of my “symptomatic picture” -- physical, social, emotional, mental, career, relationships, past, present, all of it. The healing plan for everything, including the bladder, started from there. It felt grounded, real, thorough, connected, and coherent. It had a flavor I had never before experienced in a health care context. In fact, I was all of a sudden realizing that past experiences with conventional medicine had been merely sick care compared to this newly found genuine health care.
My symptomatic picture revealed that I was a normal, hard-working, though exhausted, man in midlife. Besides bladder irritation, I had considered myself to be fairly vital and healthy. I had been functioning quite well with the help of three psychiatric performance-enhancing drugs. But that was okay because lots of people did. I was an insomniac who could hardly ever sleep through the night. But that was okay, a lot of people were. I was a workaholic attempting a second career, exhausted but proud of my dedication and my willingness to work hard. My asthma wasn’t too bad, it just came up occasionally, but I really couldn’t complain because others I knew had it much worse, including my mother. And finally, my relationship with my significant other was mentally and emotionally challenging on a good day, but I chose it and was committed. Egged on by prevailing reductionist cultural influences, I had accepted as just “normal” what holistically would be considered a system under crisis-level stress.
With a good dose of initial skepticism, I had decided to give this holistic system a try. Every six weeks I showed up for my health maintenance checkup, which always lasted for at least a full hour. David continued to take copious notes during each visit as the file kept growing thicker and thicker over time. In a year and a half, I was off all psychiatric performance-enhancing drugs. Dr. M, my psychiatrist blessed my engagement with a holistic practitioner and cooperated with the experiment I had taken on. She was a grounded practitioner of Reductionist Medicine with a kind heart and an open mind. I was cured when I finally left her practice and she acknowledged that it wasn’t her prescriptions that cured my “performance lapses.” They weren’t designed for “curing but for maintenance”, she admitted.
EATING FOR HEALING
Now, fifteen years later, in my late midlife, I am a testament to a holistic health practitioner’s promise kept. I am healthier than I have ever been. With holistic guidance, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and an actual healthcare plan that continues to be hopeful and proactive, I have been solving old health problems with new tools and vision. I was fortunate to discover a “Galileo”, a daring Holism practitioner on the fringes of the healthcare field. The bladder issues were only the tip of my iceberg. Fifteen years ago, I was fortunate to have mustered the nerve to resist a Reductionist treatment path that at best would have “reorganized the furniture on the deck of my sinking Titanic.” Instead, I chose to melt the iceberg.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, stated in his “Innovation Hub'' radio interview that one of the easy and quick ways to increase the resilience of COVID patients (or any patient for that matter), is to improve their metabolic health through diet. “People think that if you’re obese, it takes years and years to deal with that and get healthy,” he said. “But many well-controlled trials have shown that if you have poor metabolic health, and you just change what you eat… within four to six weeks, [there are] dramatic improvements in many metabolic parameters.” Food as medicine and eating for healing is a yet-to-be appreciated path to wellbeing, that Western science is just beginning to recognize and quantify. Perhaps it was the government’s Department of Agriculture, not the CDC, that held the keys to a robust COVID response and still holds core solutions for the various other epidemics that plague our societies. Can we think outside the box?
According to Dr. Zach Bush, toxins in the air, water, soil, and ultimately in our food system are, in the aggregate, a critical determinant of our vulnerability to disease. Additionally, the body/spirit considers certain toxic pharmaceutical medications in and of themselves as intruding foreign bodies that need to be resisted. In fact, many pharmaceuticals for common diseases literally act as toxins, providing short term local relief while instigating and increasing long term vulnerabilities throughout the body. Sometimes those processes are listed in plain view by the manufacturers themselves as “side effects.” Why not simply label those holistically for what they are, “harmful effects?”
Extreme caution and wisdom are required for effective chemical healing interventions, which must be left as a very last resort. From a holistic perspective the smart first response to health crisis, personal or public, usually involves critical nutritional reassessment and lifestyle tweaks. When a car’s engine goes dead, the smart first response is to check the gauge of the gas tank before booking an appointment for an engine replacement, to borrow an industrial revolution analogy.
TRUST YOUR GUT
Gastrointestinal health and its role in immunity is a current emerging field of scientific research that is uncovering the critical significance of the microbial and viral environments, both internally and externally. From a holistic perspective, we are beginning to understand that disease is not necessarily caused by a “malicious” microbe or “nasty” virus. Rather the ecological diversity and health of the microbiome and microvirome, especially that of the gastrointestinal track, are the critical elements that sustain and protect the body/spirit’s health. The richness of the microbiome and microvirome communities not the presence of any isolated “pathogen” determines levels of disease or levels of immunity and resilience.
As Dr. Bush sees it, when you view the body/spirit as its own ecology, you find that no one part can be changed without affecting the entire system, for better or for worse. Thus the significance of running profound risk benefit analyses before initiating any artificial interventions in the body/spirit. With the emerging discoveries about the microbiome and microvirome, a whole new strategic path for addressing disease is revealing itself, highlighting the central role of nutritional and lifestyle interventions in health and healing. With new holistic insights about the inner matrix of a healthy body/spirit a superior approach to disease resiliency, both personally and publicly, is becoming evident, gut health central to it. This new medical approach focuses on metabolic health improvements, natural immunity-building, and vitality-enhancing lifestyle adjustments in order to save lives, and ensure lasting quality of life.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
RETURNING TO HEALTHY LIVING
According to the emerging holistic sciences, returning to first principles of healthy living is not overly complicated, but it does require the courage to think outside of the box. COVID has encouraged a growing number of healthcare practitioners as well as patients to rethink the foundational assumptions about wellness and healing. A fresh look at our options for disease-responsiveness prioritizes the creative embrace of:
1. A humble respect for Mother Nature. Harmony with nature’s patterns and rhythms sustains our health and wellness. Our immunity and wellness thus depend on a balanced climate, and food, air, and water that are naturally sourced and toxin free. Without a well-functioning ecology, both around us and within us, our current attempts to control disease, epidemics including COVID are woefully insufficient. Our response to COVID, while perhaps successful in reducing symptom severity for a time, never met originally stated expectations for controlling transmissibility and protecting against contraction. Perhaps it is so because interventions haven’t been addressing COVID’s root cause in the degraded natural environments as well as the toxic human-made environments we now inhabit? Studies have shown, for example, that the proliferation of zoonotic diseases (passed from animals to humans), COVID believed to be among them, are caused by modern agricultural practices, such as large scale mono-crop operations. Control of modern epidemics will improve when we design solutions that are grounded in an understanding of the fragility and complexity of the natural world (the macro picture), not only the pathogen world (the micro details).
2. A firm scientific and philosophical grasp of the ecological web that interlinks all organisms within the body and all around it. According to general systems theory, all is dynamically interconnected, including microbes and viruses, affecting our health and wellbeing at all times. Developing practical strategies for living in harmony with(in) a viral-rich environment, enhancing immunity instead of attempting to eradicate or suppress pathogens, may simply yield more bang for our private and public-health buck.
By neglecting sound ecological stewardship we have created our own self inflicted vulnerabilities to a host of diseases resulting in hyper vulnerability to COVID across the population. Can we refocus where we truly have control, which are our own individual and collective actions, norms, and policies? Who is our own worst enemy, systemically speaking? We are, not a pathogen. Let’s be real. An ecological approach enables us to accept the purposeful functionality of the virus, the microbe, and the germ, and learn how to work with them, instead of only waging war against them. The ecological approach is proving itself useful in regenerative agriculture, in sustainable energy production, and in bio-mimicry technologies. Why not apply the same wisdom to disease management as well?
3. A subjective knowledge of each his/her own particular body/spirit dynamics. Practically nurturing her nurtures us, truly boosting her will boost us. Engaging in daily physical, emotional, and contemplative practices to enhance personal hygiene in all dimensions, secures true immunity. Each one of us possesses unique body/spirit characteristics that require a designer approach to immune enhancement at any given time. How can this insight translate into public policy and a national (and international) educational campaign theme? Can we create an antismoking-style, or a dental-hygiene-style campaign to promote subjective health awareness that will prevent the next pandemic as well as control the current ones?
4. Individual and collective trust in our innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury. Outside interventions, including chemical ones, merely assist the body/spirit’s natural healing capacity, they do not cause healing. Holistically, a doctor does not heal but rather serves as a “doula” for the individual’s innate healing impulse. Medical clinicians and healers observe and know this truth just too well. At times outside interventions, including chemical ones, assist with the natural healing process. Conversely, they can harm or kill the patient.
Chemical interventions, especially when applied on a large scale need to be exercised with extreme caution as an option of last resort. We need to take seriously the data that proves long-term harm caused by frivolous chemical inputs into our bodies. We need to apply the same extreme caution when introducing toxic substances into our life support systems, such as agriculture, body care, home care, drinking water, and air. The current threats to public and individual health caused by frivolous use of antibiotics, cholesterol management drugs, and even innocent Aspirin, to name just a few, have been well documented. Secondary overmedication through the routine medical treatment of animals-grown-for-food are well documented as well. Prevailing reductionist technologies, and medical practices have been weakening our immunity for decades according to numerous studies. The most sustainable healing interventions both individually and publicly are those that respect and gently enhance our natural and powerful capacity to self-heal.
Not enough was known about how to handle the COVID pandemic in spite of a century long history of reductionist medical successes, including past vaccination campaigns. We have been caught by surprise by a new magnitude of health crisis. The pandemic has exposed critical fault lines in the reductionist sciences that have been shaping our lifestyles. COVID’s ferocity helped to highlight already existing, albeit slow-moving, public health threats, such as obesity and diabetes, a toxin-saturated agricultural system, prevalent abuse of medical drugs, climate and environmental degradation, to mention just a few.
A quote attributed to Albert Einstein goes as follows: "The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation." A new scientific paradigm, Holism, that acknowledges reality’s interconnectedness, especially the interconnectedness of health factors as well as disease factors, is the new language that will articulate wholesome and sustainable solutions to current health and wellness challenges. COVID began to open our eyes forcing us to reassess how we manage human life on the planet. You may be familiar with the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” A new breed of resolute medical and public health visionaries as well as practitioners have been rising to this occasion. Let’s embrace and join these leaders, such as Dr. Mozaffarian, Dr. Bush and many others as we too each do our part to collectively assure a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.
A CALL TO ACTION
What’s required of us?
1. Engage with a holistic health practitioner to improve your natural resiliency. Set up a regular schedule for periodic meetings. Adopt a proactive holistic health maintenance regimen for you and your family. Begin the process of generating an actual plan for family lifestyle improvement and natural immunity fortifying. An expert holistic advisor is absolutely foundational. We cannot do it on our own. Browsing the shelves at your local health-food store, or the internet, for the latest fad in herbal remedies and nutritional supplements is NOT sound holistic health care. Engage with a classical homeopath or an acupuncturist or a naturopath or a medical doctor practicing complimentary medicine, and so on. As long as you trust the referral and sense a good relational flow with the practitioner, you are good to go. Measurable health and immunity improvements will follow very shortly.
Additionally, support politicians and policies that prioritize integral and complementary medicine. Share your holistic views about health and wellness, and climate change, and everything in between in writing with your representatives. Do not settle for compartmentalized responses. There is no time for addressing one issue at a time. Holistically, all the crises are one, an interconnected continuum, and need to be addressed as such.
2. Commit to spending time outdoors in nature, daily, with family and friends as much as possible. Contact with nature is essential to boosting your immunity. Support policies and politicians that prioritize the preservation and protection of both urban and wilderness parks. Nature bathing is not a leisure activity for the outdoorsy crowd but a basic evolutionary need of the entire human species. Our health depends on it.
3. Exercise generosity, give to and/or help others, either in cash or in kind, regularly. Increased generosity and decreased fear and concern will very shortly ramp up your life force and immune system.
Support policies and politicians that courageously promote holism and sustainability. Ask your leaders to raise your taxes in order to pay for services, regulations, and government infrastructure that ensure healthy natural resources for your entire community. Specifically demand that your taxes fund the transition from destructive industries to clean and regenerative ones in a Circular Economy, and most especially the transition to a true “health care” system.
Generously “pay forward as much as you can in order to fortify both your personal immunity as well as the resilience of your community. Be active in holistically minded civic groups. Live your life in an expansive mindset, being/feeling part of the solution instead of the contractive mindset of fearing the problem. Invest in the “common good” on all levels, local, national and beyond.
4. Walk, run, dance daily to energize your body/spirit. Support policies and politicians that consider life/work balance a labor right, a child right, and basic common sense.
5. Actively cultivate respect for Life’s Mystery. You may choose to take daily contemplative time for reading and/or prayer and/or meditation alone and/or with community. Make it a daily practice to retreat from your busyness. Attach yourself to the strength and love provided by the spiritual community of your choice. Practice falling in love with the valuable soul that you are. This will help your body/spirit manage disease episodes in stride according to most experts.
Support policies and politicians that demonstrate humility and wisdom, as both are required to steer us as a society out of harms way. Computer-modeling analyses published over the past decades predict more adversities. New and worse pandemics, extreme weather events, food supply disruptions, coastal community destruction, species collapse, and climate related migration and war are some of the challenges experts have been warning about. Wisdom and vision are required more than ever.
From the perspective of Life’s Mystery we are called to assess a greater meaning and begin to discern significant personal and collective lessons. What has COVID taught us? How is it changing our attitudes and priorities? If we step back for a moment, can we recognize patterns directed by the “invisible hand of... (select the higher-order-term of your choice)”. Is a redemptive potential peaking at us from behind a chaotic yet poetic curtain? How can these reflections empower us to save lives and improve the quality of life for ourselves, our families, and our communities?
Our capacity to assess wisely and empower visionary leaders that take the longest and broadest perspectives is more crucial now than ever. This is the time for contemplation that generates fresh and emergent ideas, a new paradigm. As terribly lethal as COVID was, we must stay calm, open minded, and wisely focused on the entire field of challenges and opportunities before us. How do we access Life’s Mystery in service of emergent true wellness for ourselves and others?
Begin now! Do all or some of the above five suggestions, regularly. These are not luxuries for the “Latte” crowd. These are essentials for us all. Your life and wellbeing depend on your proactive lifestyle choices and the principled stances you hold. The actions listed above are within reach. They are doable, affordable, and their efficacy is backed by an abundance of emerging research on holistic practice and theory. Natural health disciplines, nature bathing, exercising generosity, physical exercise, spiritual practice, and political discernment have been the foundations of wellbeing since the dawn of civilization, and as such are evolutionarily adaptive. Our body/spirits are conditioned to respond favorably to all these measures. Our social instincts and social structures are conditioned to respond favorably as well. The holistic approach is the emerging next step for humanity and for you.
Thinking out of the Reductionist box is required for us to create a world in which our generation as well as upcoming generations can live well. The emerging holistic sciences that are redefining wellness, when broadly applied, will deliver a robust response to western epidemic level diseases, environmental degradation, climate change, global economical instability, and much more. How fast can we shift?
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE, A LEARNING CURVE
COVID disrupted and devastated the lives of millions becoming a massive tragedy. But nonetheless it was a blessing in disguise too. It has forced us to reconsider our lives on a multitude of levels. Many long held assumptions were and still are up for reassessment both individually and collectively. COVID particularly taught us a lesson about health and wellness. We discovered that the immune-compromised amongst us where the most vulnerable to severe symptoms and death. We were visited by a disease that struck and ravaged much quicker than our labs’ ability to design its medicine. COVID has removed the veil from over the multiple slow moving epidemics that we have been putting up with for the past four decades. Our institutions’ and experts’ efforts to apply the well familiar reductionist, materialist, and isolationist approaches to pandemic mitigation fell woefully short of expectations, as did our political system. Thus we were exposed to the fault lines of our current Reductionist culture. It has become clear to many including this author that, as Einstein said: “we will not solve the problem at hand by using the same thinking that created it”. The ongoing epidemics of the developed world, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, lung diseases, depression, medicine abuse, and gun violence have been incrementally-growing public health disasters, which have failed to sufficiently alarm us. COVID, however, fast and furious, knocked us out and woke us up.
The need for a fresh approach that compliments and exceeds the strengths of the conventional Reductionist model has become apparent. A growing body of evidence suggests that holistic practitioners and visionaries on the fringes of the medical field had a better grasp of the disease phenomenon and were better prepared to assist patients through the pandemic’s perils. History is the story of paradigmatic leaps, when new approaches supplant old ones as they fail to adequately match newly emerging challenges. Such it was with Galileo Galilei to cite a commonly known example. A new paradigm in culture, science, and lifestyle is presenting itself, the holistic one. Holism is charting the path toward mitigation and correction of the Reductionist paradigm’s adverse effects on human life and on the natural environment. A holistic approach on a societal or global level is advantageous in addressing the complex set of risks to human survival on our climate-challenged, toxicity-saturated, and ecologically-collapsing planet. On an individual level, wholesome living and proactive holistic healthcare practices are the key to resiliency and wellbeing. COVID has brought these lessons into stark relief. Where are we on the learning curve?
As a secular Israeli child, my training in prayer was none. I had no reason to step into a synagogue and less so to pray. Loyal to the political and ideological indoctrination of my youth, I had consciously attempted to keep myself “untainted“ by exposure to Jewish classical text and most especially to liturgy. Therefore, when I chose to explore my Jewish religious roots in adulthood I assumed that I was coming to it with a liturgical blank slate.
But to my surprise I found that there was one prayer that had infiltrated my subconscious and had firmly imbedded itself therein. El Maleh Rakhamim, the dramatic and deeply heart-stirring prayer I had heard so often on television broadcasts of military or state funerals. I found that upon recall, the melody would ring loud and clear, the words would avail themselves, and the existential sorrow would rise up to become palpable. El Maleh Rakhamim was my early link to our people’s shared tragedy as well as liturgy.
The melody and words seemed to comfort and offer a repose for grief and reflection. However, one phrase in the liturgy repeatedly left me bewildered. I often tried to make sense of the concept and image described in the prayer as Tzror Hakhayyim, “the bundle of life”. “God, (please) bind up the soul of the deceased in the bundle of life, and may he/she rest in peace at their resting place“, says the prayer. “What kind of bundle; how can a soul be bundled; where is the bundle of life; what does this all mean?”, I wondered.
Dear Rabbi Evan J. Krame,
Thank you for sharing your critical reflections on handling aspects of the interfaith wedding. I appreciate your search for a coherent framework for interfaith weddings that goes beyond “just accommodating”. As you mentioned, many a Jewish partner in an interfaith couple present the need to satisfy their relatives’ or their own desire for a token Jewish presence, and token Jewish symbols, at the ceremony. This presentation seems hardly consistent with, nor honoring of, a Rabbi’s core training and mission.
I am not sure there is a good practical solution to the specific conundrum you described regarding standards for the interfaith Ketubah signing. And perhaps there is no simple solution to the range of questions that emerge as we attempt to be inclusive and welcoming of interfaith couples.
As you said, indeed Reb Zalman was the master of compassionate creativity, and a role-model on how to handle some of these thorny questions. Reb Zalman did teach us how not to fear experimentation. I consider myself eternally blessed by the Rebbe’s example and permission to soar with creativity. But I am also remembering his teaching that experimentation is just that, experimentation. Experiments by their nature may fail, and I wonder to what degree our Renewal community’s experimentation with interfaith marriages has succeeded? Also, Reb Zalman’s creativity had its limits, of which examples abound. And furthermore, Reb Zalman was uniquely qualified to be creative and experimental given his vast knowledge-base, and unusually far-reaching vision.
In the past few years I have been gaining new meta-clarity about some of the deeper issues related to interfaith weddings. This clarity has helped me find greater coherence, some of which I will attempt to share in this letter.
The emerging realization is that interfaith-wedding incoherences, such as you shared, stem from a common misunderstanding or forgetfulness of the essential meaning of Jewishness. How can we establish a true and enduring interfaith pact when the definition of faith itself is murky? Most interfaith couples that reach out, and at times we ourselves, forget the greater context of wedding in our desire to say yes, to be inclusive, and to make a ceremony happen for folks we care about. It is very difficult to coherently negotiate the union between a Jew and a non-Jew when the involved parties have not taken the steps necessary toward maximizing clarity and intentionality around Jewish identity, as well as around Jewish ambiguities.
More often than not both the Jewish and other-faith partner have not had the inclination, nor opportunity to explore the Jewish partner’s Judaism in depth. Usually they view Judaism through the majority-culture lens, that of “religion”, which Judaism is not. Judaism is not a religion but a peoplehood, which Christianity is not. There are other paradigmatic differences between Judaism and other faiths, but let us focus for now on the more common Jewish/Christian case. The difference between being a peoplehood and being a religion is essential for the purposes of negotiating a wedding, and is utterly confusing for most of the couples I work with. I attempt to explain that Judaism is not a religion, but a people with a collective spiritual and practical purpose, which is to be a Mamlekhet Cohanim V’Goy Kadosh, a kingdom of priests and a holy people (Exodus 19: 6).
Most interfaith couples (and for that matter Jewish couples too) in my judgement engage with the Jewish identity question superficially. They, erroneously view the Jewish identity question as a religious one. Since most of the couples who reach out to me identify as non-religious, they often underrate the “religious” components of the ceremony, while expecting this liberal Rabbi to provide quick, and feel-good “fixes”. Perhaps they believe that I can ease their own sense of identity ignorance and inadequacy, most especially by accommodating their desire to so remain.
While these assertions may sound judgmental of, or demeaning to interfaith couples, they are not meant to be. I am clear that the typical interfaith couple’s expectations absolutely make sense in the context of their own lives. When a couple shows up for a meeting they are not seeking to catch up on Jewish studies but are looking for a caring and understanding officiant. They typically want a master of ceremony not a teacher and certainly not a preacher. The question is how do we accommodate, and flexibly embrace without compromising the integrity of our greater rabbinic mission. Furthermore, what is our greater rabbinic mission and where and when do we set boundaries?
The instinct to set boundaries is triggered for me when the couple’s single-most focus is on their personal needs and desires for emotional and spiritual gratification absent a sense of the Jewish collective sphere and their marriage’s place within it, and potential contribution to it. Isn’t the collective Jewish space the core of the Jewish partner’s identity to begin with? More often than not the couple shows up with a superficial agenda colored by Jewish alienation along with a seemingly contradictory soul yearning, a deep quests for a connection to The Jewish mission. It is this disconnect between soul yearning and superficial selfish-interest that leaves us Rabbis dissatisfied, as I see it.
Isn’t it our job to engage at a level that is an order of magnitude higher than merely producing a momentary “religious” experience for a couple and their Jewish side of the family? There are wonderful interfaith ministers who can do an equally excellent job at producing the ceremonial “moment”. Our higher purpose, as rabbis, in my view, is to facilitate a sacred union in the context of our people’s spiritual mission - to serve the world as a priestly nation. Personally, when I am unsuccessful at engaging a couple at that level of conversation, and the expectation is that I accommodate self-centered social, esthetic, or spiritual desires, then I experience a dissonance in my own Neshama (soul). Accommodating for its own sake pains my rabbinic soul, I have come to understand.
Lately I have been studying with Rabbah Saphir Noiman of Israel, a profound teacher of Zohar, and the literature of the Ari Z”l, and Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al HaSulam). Rabbah Noiman offers a Jewish renewalist world view deeply rooted in The Sources while springing forth from a secular Israeli cultural zeitgeist. Her version of renewal is distinct from that of American Jewish Renewal with its roots in the 1960s social and spiritual tremors. I find Reb Noiman’s vision largely consistent with Reb Zalman’s, though she strongly emphasizes the core mission of "Israel” (as opposed to “Judaism”) and questions many of the old Jewish diaspora assumptions that Reb Zalman actually flowed with (perhaps accommodated). Each an authentic renewalist in his and her own cultural context.
Most of us, US Jews, as I see it now, are confused about our Jewish identity as we struggle to reconcile our historical Jewish experience with the powerful influences of an open and welcoming Christian-majority culture. As welcoming as America has been to the Jewish community, it also draws us, ever so subtly, into becoming a “religion” in our own eyes, which we are not. According to Rabbi Ashlag, an early 20th century Israeli prodigy and mystic, the emerging new paradigm is one of a spiritual “Israel” rooted in the collective mission of Mamlekhet Cohanim, a people dedicated to modeling holiness and justice.
Perhaps then a truly coherent interfaith wedding that justifies rabbinic presence and assistance is a union consciously devoted to the Mamlekhet Cohanim mission of the Jewish partner. Accommodating a couple for this purpose allows a Rabbi to remain in integrity and experience deep coherence. In this context negotiating the union of two souls, one of Israel and one not, takes on an entirely new level of integrity and creative possibilities.
Dear Rabbi Krame, I would like then to help frame the critical reflections you so aptly offered in the following way. Is it my role as a Rabbi to perpetuate an anachronistic Jewish identity, distorted by years of diaspora influence, that in essence dilutes the collective mission of “Israel"? Or is it rather my role to facilitate weddings of souls who are called to perpetuate “Mamlekhet Cohanim” toward the Tikkun of the world? (Structural creativity rooted in traditional continuity can emerge from there). I always have the option to refer the couple who is not interested in these more principled considerations of the Jewish transpersonal landscape to interfaith ministers whose sole blessed calling is the delivery of spiritually rich ceremonies. Are we tasked with offering a warm embrace to our “lost” Jewish brethren so they can feel a momentary sense of belonging? Or perhaps we are called to redefine the parameters of belonging?
What is a prophesy? A story about the future. And a self-fulfilling prophecy? By definition, it is a story that generates a future. This common wisdom about the self-fulfilling potential of articulated predictions, is especially apt on Passover, the holiday of “Telling”.
“Haggada”, the booklet we read during the Seder dinner, literally means “The Telling”. The instruction, clearly spelled out for us in the Torah, “...you shall tell to your child on that day (Passover)… (the story beginning with) I left Egypt” (Exodus 13: 8), teaches us that one of the core practices of the Passover seder is telling our story of origin. The Seder tradition is in essence an exercise in passing on “The Story” to our children.
Even though on Passover we tell a story about our past, yet, the way we approach the telling may indeed be self-fulfilling. As we know, a positive tone draws positive outcomes, and to the contrary a negative texture attracts and perpetuates negativity.
This is illustrated by the hidden meanings of two key Passover terms, Pesah פסח, Hebrew for Passover, and Pharaoh פרעה the name of our ancient oppressor. These Hebrew words, Pesah and Pharaoh respectively, include the phonetics and letter construct that translate as “mouth”, “Peh, פ or פה”.
The name of the festival (Pesah), when divided into its two syllables, Peh and Sah, takes on a whole new meaning. “Peh”, as we already know, means mouth and Sah means “conversation”. In other words, Pesah, a “speaking mouth”. In the context of commemorating our people’s sacred origins and cherished values, this means a mouth that speaks sacred words and meaningful speech. The term Pesah, then, joins the word “Haggada” in illustrating the centrality of storytelling on the Seder night.
The Hebrew word Pharaoh, on the other hand, when scrambled and divided into two syllables, spells the words Peh פה, mouth, and Rah רע, evil - evil mouth or evil speech.
We learn that speech, in both its positive and negative aspects, is central to the observance of Passover, as well as to how we live our lives. The former generates freedom, and the latter generates oppression and ultimately self-destruction, “The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the riders, Pharaoh’s entire army… not one of them remained” (Exodus 14: 28).
I am writing these reflections as the news-cycle continues to challenge. This morning a shooting in the Brooklyn subway system, preceded by a weekend of mass shootings around the country, in addition to the ongoing tragic war in Ukraine. A heavy cloud of escalating violence is overshadowing the holiday. The news can easily diminish our appetite for festivities or for telling stories about freedom gained, or a long journey to a promised land, a long time ago.
It is hard though to ignore the parallels between ancient and current events, a Russian Pharaoh insisting on oppressing and murdering freedom-loving Ukrainians, who are led by non other than a descendant of Moses. Our storytelling at this year’s Seder, whether in the form of reading from the Haggada held in our hands or spontaneous conversations around the Seder table, is bound to be colored by the stresses and weightiness of the news-cycle environment. Can we mitigate that? Can we consciously choose to tell stories that generate a path to a “promised land” of peace, justice, and tranquility, in addition to, if not instead of, bemoaning a complicated and distressing present?
At our Seder, can we share words that calm the fears, ease the pain and alleviate the worries? Can we Peh-Sah, converse from a place of positive vision, a place of sacred and generative consciousness? The wise author of the book of Proverbs says “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro. 18: 21). Can we beat the Pharaoh, Peh-Rah, evil mouth, with a defiance of a higher order, weaving a prophecy, our own perhaps, a prophecy that is worthy of its fulfillment?
Yes, we can. Let us dream big about a “promised world”. As a result we will eventually pass-over these challenges as we Jews have done for over three millennia. We have been, and continue to be, the carriers, throughout time, of a vision for peace שלום.
In fact, we have lived “to tell the story”, or rather remain alive as a nation and culture because we stubbornly never ceased the telling. This is due to our intuitive knowledge, held deep down in our collective consciousness, that today’s intentional speech does become tomorrow’s better story.
Each Passover, as we ritually read and tell our story, we draw a bit closer to the fulfillment of a prophecy. Each Passover when we conclude the seder with the words, “next year in Jerusalem” we place another brick in the wall of the utopian “Holy City”, where, according to the prophet Isaiah, all peoples of the world will mingle in peace (Isaiah 56: 7). This is certainly a prophecy worth its fulfillment, let us continue to perpetuate its storyline.
Pesah Same’ah שמח, happy Passover,
Rabbi Reuben Modek