Friday, August 22, 2008


Because if you do obey these rules and observe then carefully, God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that God made on oath with your ancestors.

Mutual obligation. Why? Because that’s the deal.

There’s no archeological evidence that any group of Jewish ex-slaves made the Exodus journey, in fact the evidence points to something that should comfort those of you who hate all the invasions and slaughtering in the Torah, because the evidence indicates that in fact the kingdoms of Judah and Israel rose up organically, from Canaan, that Jews were in fact Canaanites . And they differentiated themselves from their neighbors with their God and with their stories, Jews like stories. And this parsha, Ekev, comes near the climax of one of their better ones, with a great hero and a happy ending. Well, happy if you end it before the Tanach continues because lots of people get killed and everybody screws up.

So this parsha, Ekev, this is another one of those Moses standing in front of the Hebrew hordes, giving yet another very long last speech about what happens if you do this, what happens if you do that, blahblah if you’re good, blah blah if you’re bad… it’s a good speech, there’s some very memorable words but it boils down to mutal obligation. Fairly dry, obvious and I gave a dvar torah on this a year or two ago and what more could I say?

Nothing, until Friday morning. I had a dream, this is true, and in my dream Rabbi Ellen Lippmann appeared, and she said,
“I want to hear the desert wind in their hair.”

Whoa. Okay. So inspired by The Dream Rabbi…what was it like to stand there, in the desert, b’midbar, the wind blowing through your hair, poised to cross over and start that new life.

Moses, enough with the speech. We get it and we don’t care about that old stuff, those people you’re yelling at are all dead, talk to us, not them. We’ve signed on to the program, we’re ready, we’re not afraid, but blahdy blah blah, allright already Old Man, we got it…fear God, observe Shabbat, don’t commit adultery…prosperity. Worship idols, disregard Shabbat or fool around..punishment. Yeah, we’ve heard it a thousand times, now let us get on with it., let us get on with the future.

Forty years ago, our parents came to the border, near where we are now, and they were poised to enter Eretz Yisrael, just like we are, so they sent in twelve scouts and two of them came back and told the truth, it was a fantastic country and well within our grasp, we only had to go and take it. And ten were scared and they lied and said the natives were giants and we didn’t stand a chance to get there. And our parents chose to believe the ten, they were frightened and cowardly, slaves to the core, so cause and effect, they have to wander in the desert until the cowards die off. But there are 600, 00 of them, how long is that going to take? Every year, on Tisha B’av, all of them, starting with the 600,000, go out into the desert and dig a grave, each of us digs a grave, our own grave, and each of us lies down in that grave, the desert wind blowing over our open graves and we all fall asleep. And in the morning, the wind wakes us up, hurray, all but 15,000 of us. 15,000 of us are dead, every year, each conveniently already lying in a grave ready to be covered over.

And this goes on for 40 years, 40 times 15,000 equals 600,000, and we never knew if this Tisha B’Av was the year they were going to die, or their mother or their husband, or their sister, until 40 years in, one Tisha B’Av, no one died and they thought they must have the date wrong, so the next night they all went out and dug their graves and slept in them, only that night no one died. They went out again and again, four nights in a row and no one died and on the fifth day, Tu B’av, they realized the punishment was over and it was time to go into Eretz Yisrael. That was last week. We had a party and made Tu B’av the Jewish Valentines Day. But the desert wind, it’ coming from behind us, pushing us away from the wilderness, pointing us to Eretz Yisrael. Which is great, we’re not our parents, we’re not scared. No, we are ready. But Moses, he’s not so ready, he’s putting off the inevitable and he’s an old man, we love him, he’s boring but we love him and so we have listen for the eight millionth time, if you do this, then you get this, if you do that, then God will punish, blah blah blah blah blah. Mutual obligations: Yeah, we get it. But Moses, sweetie…the desert wind is blowing through our hair. It’s time to go home.

Home. A little more than a week ago I was in Israel and now I’m home. But it feels weird to be here. I keep looking around and going, Oh yeah, Brooklyn. I remember. I like Brooklyn, I love Brooklyn but it’s confusing. What’s confusing is that after only five weeks and despite all the mishegas and the pain and the injustice and the racism and the denial, I fell in love with a place where I am not a visitor, not a minority, not in opposition to the culture but an integral part of it, where people look and act like me even when they really piss me off, especially when they piss me off. Because they’re free, from the diaspora anyway. Amazing.

So, without forgetting for a moment all the contradictions and injustices, almost especially because of them, because they are not a light among the nations, but just a nation, at least as flawed as any other, because Israel is not special because it is special, it is special because it is mine and so I love it even when I hate it. As a professor said about the Wailing Wall, the Kotel is the holiest place in Israel until you go there and I loved it. And now, because I love it, I think I’m now obliged to be an activist in its behalf, to make it a better place as best I can which probably isn’t much.

The desert wind is in my hair and I found another home and home means obligation. Which is kind of a drag because obligation a real pain in the ass, obligation is. But I don’t think I hav