Vaetchanen- weekly Torah portion

I am far from being objective about anything that has to do with the celebration of the 15th day of the month of Av. Thirty six years ago my wife, Ahuva, and I got married. An orthodox rabbi officiated in our wedding, he was the military rabbi at the base where I served as an officer. It was a moving day to get married in Netanya while up north the War in Lebanon, little did we know it will be known as the First, was raging. For me the selection of that date was meaningful, even though little known to the Israeli public at the time and certainly a far cry from today’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day. The rabbi was actually surprised that I knew anything about it but kind of accepted the fact that this Reform Jew knew something about Judaism. He certainly knew little if at all about Reform people or Reform Judaism. Today I am so glad that we have in Israel other options to get married outside of the orthodox Rabbanut, even if the State of Israel, for now, finds it appropriate to discriminate against us and not recognize our rabbis as officiating rabbis at weddings.

On this Shabbat, we read once again the Ten Commandments. There is a slight difference between the two versions, the on in Exodus, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” while the one in Deuteronomy states, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy”. To remember and to observe are completely different things. It is no wonder that a popular reasoning for this, also found in Lecha Dodi, states that the words were Godly said at one instance "זכור ושמור בדיבור אחד" not in the way we as humans would say them, because of our own limitations of saying one word at a time. It is only for our benefit, so that we can make some sense of it, that the two versions appear, once “Remember” and the other “Observe”.

This is of course one way of reason this difficulty in text. I would like to suggest another possible explanation which is that there is more than one way to keep the Shabbat. There is the way of remembrance and there is the way of observance. Sometime we shall have the possibility of doing both, sometimes only one of them, sometime we shall observe but not remember in other times we may remember bu not observe. In the other nine commandments we do not really have choices like that. It appears only with the Shabbat. We have three options, but not a fourth, the option of doing neither. Sometimes insisting on both “Remember” and “Observe” may lead that none is kept and Shabbat loses. It is the ability to have some flexibility, mix, match, and change that provides us a better Shabbat then a restrictive view of it.

Our elders provide in the Talmud several reasons for the 15th of the month of Av of being a day to rejoice in the Jewish tradition, “Rabbi Judah says that Shmuel said that on this day the tribes were allowed to intermix…” This refers to a change that prohibited women of one tribe who have inherited their father’s land for marrying into another tribe. This fixed advancement in law due to a case brought by the daughters of the late Zelophehad. The 15th of Av is a happy day because this biblical law was abolished despite the fact that it clearly appears in the bible. Our elders explained that the law applied only to the generation entering the Promised Land but was not applicable thereafter. They could have gone by the letter of the law but this is yet another example why providing a newer and better reasoning provides a more just result. Having a united nation is by far more important then ensuring the a plot of land does not move from one tribe to another.

Our wedding, Ahuva’s and mine, is also a marriage of tribes that have mixed. My wife’s family came from the land of Babylon, today’s Iraq, her father born in Bagdad and her Mother in Basra, while my mother was born in Belgium and my father in Czechoslovakia. Our families mixed, we certainly challenged each other, and loved each other as well as our extended family. On our 15th day of Av what seemed to be borders have been successfully crossed and together we created our own new thing. We remember and observe, not always at once, but at least one of them. It because there is always more than one way to celebrate the Jew that is within us. It is a celebration of love.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 27 July 2018, 15 Av, 5778

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