12 Aug 2016

Debarim/Hazon – Ninth of Ab 5776: Coming of Age

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“Israel…Where there will one day be peace but never quiet.” — Natalie Portman

In 2006 Alan Dershowitz published a collection of eighty essays by writers, performers, scholars, journalists and politicians entitled ‘What Israel Means to Me’. It is a remarkable book that I cherish having on my bookshelf because in its simplicity and elegant beauty it showcases an aspect of our nation that has been long forgotten. More than once reading it has brought me to tears.

Jews as diverse as Rabbi Noah Weinberg[1] and Natalie Portman share their perspectives in its pages. But this is not a Jewish book per se and they are not really writing as Jews. They are writing from a perspective that has been dormant in our people for over twenty centuries. They are writing under another, older identity; that of the displaced citizens of the Nation of Israel.

That is an important aspect of Dershowitz’s aim at publishing the book. He took a virtual cross-section of the Jewish people and asked them to write not about the religion or ethnicity that they shared, but what the nation to which they all belonged and its homeland meant to them.

Many of them wrote not only about the people who were populating the modern iteration of the ancient nation, but of the land itself — its topography, climate and even its spiritual energy. The importance of a nation’s homeland is not to be underestimated.

The loss of home is a profound and deep one. It is a loss for which the heart and soul of a nation can never be fully consoled. When one can no longer go home, the pain of not having a place in this world haunts us — even if only in our national unconscious. Over our long and arduous history we have been visitors to almost every country, speakers of virtually every language and we have tried to blend in among the nations with whom we lived. But the soul of Israel has not given up its hope for returning home.

The ninth of Ab has been central in keeping that hope alive. The Jew can essentially celebrate all of his yearly festivals in earnest and devotion without a home. He can speak of freedom on Passover, celebrate the receiving of his Torah on Shabuot and engage in introspection and forgiveness on the Days of Awe. But there is one day of our year that is about home and it can only be truly observed when we identify with the aspect of our being as Jews that is nationalistic. The part of us that believes — even if only in the faint memories of our souls — that there is a wholeness and splendour to the Nation of Israel that still awaits full renewal and rejuvenation.

To speak of ourselves as ‘Jews’ is to focus not on nationhood but on our smaller, portable, ritualistic and ethnic lives that we miraculously maintained throughout our sojourns within the ‘desert of the nations’[2] of the world. It is our greater, national name, ‘Israel’, that has been dormant and has only now resurfaced as we have once again returned to the same land from which we were exiled; fanning the flames of nationhood from the smouldering embers.

The land is once again in our hands and we live as a sovereign nation upon it. Yet, we sleep with one eye open and we know that, while we have wondrously returned to the very same home that we left two-thousand years ago and we find the vessels of our forebears buried in its earth, we still find the need to fortify our doors and know that our neighbours are less than pleased with our return.

Our return says something powerful to them. It says that there is a nation, not just a religion, on this earth who has struggled to survive through the tides of time and has done so with the help of G-d, valiantly. A nation that holds a covenant with Him and that even with the multitudes of calamity that we have suffered we have a past that has lit the world a future that may rival the earlier light in its brilliance.

This is in the collective unconscious of the Jewish people where the name Israel still lies half asleep. Why do we still mourn on the ninth of Ab? Because doing so reminds us that there is much to our identity and presence that still awaits us and that when we rise from our laments at the close of the day we do so with newfound vigour, heads held high and eyes aiming ahead to rebuild and embrace all that we can be.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Founder of Aish HaTorah

[2] Ezekiel, 20:35

Parasha Perspectives


1a                Horev and spies  (1:1-2:1)
Introduction to Moshe’s speeches (1:1-5);
Leaving Horev (1:6-8); Assistants to Moshe (1:9-18)
Spies and the consequences   (1:19-2:1)
1b                Do not fight Esav tribes in Seir  (2:2-8)
1c                 Do not fight Moav, cross brook of Zered  (2:9-16)
1d                Do not fight Ammon; fight Sichon, king of
Cheshbon  (2:17-30)
1e                Victories and allotments  (2:31-3:22)
Victory over Sichon   (2:31-37)
Victory over Og and his cities   (3:1-11)
Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe: land
allotments with conditions   (12-20)
Guidance for Yehoshua (21-22)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS