This Shabbat we read two portions of the Torah together, we read about a variety of issues dealing with personal cleanliness and purification. Personal cleanliness and purification from various diseases, ailments and sins is a corner stone of the process of building the Israelites into a People. In principle it is meant to ensure that there will be no outbreak of contagious diseases under non-satisfactory hygiene conditions. Here we learn what needs to be done to secure better hygiene, what is the proper treatment to ensure individual and public health. This will ensure proper conditions not only while dwelling in the desert, moving from one place to another, but also when reaching the Promised Land. The ailments will certainly change their nature but the need to retain a decent level of purity shall remain.
Nowadays personal hygiene is a given and almost second to our nature. However it seems that the cleanliness we need these days is by far wider than the simple hygiene concepts and should have a much broader expression. Keeping our hand clean is not merely washing of our hands before meals but also ensuring that we keep to higher moral standards, which these days we see at times as falling apart. There is much more that needs to be done if we aspire to become a just and pure society.
The Israel Reform Movement has enacted the Shabbat between Holocaust Day and Memorial Day and Independence Day as Shabbat Tekuma, Shabbat of rebirth, as taught in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, that proclaims “…the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.” It is a Shabbat that symbolizes the historical mayhems that have been experienced by the Jews over generations. A couple of weeks ago we celebrated personal freedom of every man and woman at Seder night; a week later we were silence once more witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust; next week we will remember the heavy toll of fighting and protecting our freedom and then, in a knee jerking motion, will celebrate Israel’s 69th Independence Day. The Declaration of Independence reminds us that “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.” In it is that very Book of Books, the primary source for our right to this land that is also the primary source for the unequivocal demand to keep our camp pure.
For sure it is not an easy task – building, protecting, training, educating and many other tasks must be performed in order to achieve the rebirth of a nation on its land. They are complex and, unfortunately, also full of errors and mistakes. Some of those are minor, others are morally flawed, with a large black flag fluttering above them. Regardless of it these are murders of innocent people or the kidnapping of babies from their parents, it is essential to cleanse from these injustices, admit them, and when mendable fixing the wrong. It is impossible to build a camp which is pure on unstable moral foundations, where even one unstable base can bring the entire building down.
The national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934) wrote, among others, in his poem “Blessing the People” the following versus (my free translation):
Be strengthened the hands of all of our brothers
Who work the earth of our land;
Do not despair – be joyful, rejoice
Come as one to help our People!...
If not the rafters – just founding a foundation –
It is very much my brothers; your effort is not in vain!
Come next – and build, and plaster, and cultivate,
Now it is much when the line has been drawn.
These words are true today as they were then. We strengthen the hands of the builders and understand that there is still much more to be done. The building has to be built from its foundations and generations to come will part take in this effort. One should never despair, we must comprehend that this is part of a complex and great effort, that its sum is much greater than the parts it is made of. When the poet wrote his words the State of Israel was but a far dream, now we are at a different place. And still, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “we appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream - the redemption of Israel.” For those of you in North America who one to take part in this effort you are welcome to engage with ARZA (click the link) and see how you can support a strong Reform Movement in Israel. The Shabbat of Rebirth we have one foot exiting the furnaces of Holocaust while our other foot begins our ascent towards full Independence. It is my hope that we will know how to do this in both personal and national purity.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Happy Independence Day.
Reuven Marko, 3 Iyar 5777, 28 April 2017