This week, just like in the last week, we read two portions of the Torah rather than just one. This week’s Haftarah seems most suitable to start with during these coronavirus times. The words for the prophet Amos echo from the distances of times, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, And they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them,’ Says the Lord your God.” These very days when Israel’s economy begins to slowly reopen into a new and different the words of Amos are inspiring and uplifting.
The prophet speaks in times where everything seems to be hopeless, times where the past seems to better than the bleak future. It communicates to the people suffering from the toils of the day a vision for a brighter future. That vision certainly seemed unreal and unrealistic in real-time, completely detached from the everyday experiences. The life of a person listening to the prophecy where quite different from what was spoken, but the prophet understands that in order to motivate people it is not enough to scare the listeners. Rather, there is a need to aim to an horizon where things are completely different, that lead to a place worth pursuing, and that the opportunity is real and attainable.
The transition from a bubbly and bustling country, to a quarantined community, that keeps its social distance, and has over one million unemployed happened in a blink of the eye. Anxiety is experienced in many and diverse forms of families. A tiny virus, too small t be seen by the naked eye, had spread rapidly throughout the world. The number of deaths rose quickly and at times it seemed that we have lost control in our attempt to fight the disease, at least the kind of control we got used to have in the fast decades.
The reading from the portion of Kdoshim, the second portion read this Shabbat, begins like this, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” How is this holiness to manifest itself? “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths… Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God… You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another… You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning… You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” And also, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.”
It is therefore so disturbing that in these tense days that lay between the coronavirus and government, that elected officials find the audacity to use foul language when addressing Israel’s supreme court judgements. Slowly but surely, they undermine the authority of a pillar of democracy. This institution does not have hoards of voters standing behind it, it does not have an army to protect it, nor police to enforce its decisions. These coward and reckless persons rather than working on valuable legislation they attempt to drive bulldozers and operate catapults in an attempt to threaten the courts. How easy, how treacherous. It should be said loud and clear, it is fine to critique court decisions, any court, however it must be done in a respectful manner and from an understanding that demolishing the courts will not eradicate the judges. It will destroy us.
Politicians come and go. We may elect them or dethrone them. So do justices. They are appointed, the judge and they retire. On the other hand, justice remains. When injustices are performed then the continue to impact long after the deed has been done, long after the perpetrators are gone. When someone deceives even a little, it may not be even felt but it continues its deadly motion, and eventual brings chaos in its wings. The call, “קדושים תהיו - You shall be holy” is actually an outright cry, much more than its few words. It demands from us to look out towards a point of reference, one of high standard, “for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Each of us will therefore take aim to a point of reference that will make us a better person. Aim to bring us to a better place tomorrow than we are at today. It is by walking this path that the words of the prophet will then be true for us too, “the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved.”
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 1 May 2020, 8 Iyar, 5780