Remembering and Returning

“In a street of the blind, a one-eyed man is considered filled with light” (Bereishit Rabba 30:9), (בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא סגי נהור (בראשית רבה ל:ט. Placing myself at the top of this list, I believe that at this late date in our galut, exile, no one fully knows what we should be doing as Jews. Specifically, our world of Halacha is/has crumbling/crumbled and we don’t know the way forward. Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo describes our reality in a brilliant essay on Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre. Even those of us who have not forgotten/repressed that we are Jews have largely forgotten/repressed what it means to be a Jew and how to do it.

A significant part of our challenge is that we’re living in the very vortex of transition. The shift in focus and importance to the Jewish community living in Israel (there has always been a continuous Jewish presence in the Holy Land ever since the days of Joshua, but since the Roman exile two millennia ago, only until recently has that community become even numerically significant) and away from historically (and increasingly formerly) important diaspora communities means that we now have more than survival and preservation in a hostile environment as our primary goal. As mandated by our Prophets and Sages, we are entering the era where we finally put our “spiritual technology”, Torah and Mitzvot, to its intended purpose, bringing the world to it’s highest potential state of complete perfection. Unfortunately, rather than developing/discovering this new modality we need, the vast majority of Torah experience currently observed and taught in Israel today is a direct transplant of those older forms. This “holding pattern” is not only increasingly less relevant to our future, but the strict adherence to not only the forms, but even the clothing and language of exile seems hostile to what we must become. (Witness the current Chief Rabbinate’s opposition to any Jewish presence on Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount).)

I’m not talking about or calling for an assimilation/secularization of Judaism by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a recalibration to achieve the aim described variously as Mashiach, Olam HaAtid (The Future World) and Olam M’Tukan (The Repaired World). This goal, perhaps best called תורת ארץ ישראל (Torat Eretz Yisrael), The Torah of the Land of Israel (in distinction to the diaspora), involves, among other things, the vast majority of the world’s Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, engaged with Torah and Mitzvot (hopefully, with mitzvot re-calibrated away from the goal of separating us from a former non-Jewish majority and towards aligning ourselves, and our world, to receive the שפע עליון (Shefa Elyon) Divine Flow, culminating with the actualization of Bayit Shlishi, the Third Temple, which will reveal into our world the maximum expression of the אור אין סוף (Ohr Eyn Sof) Infinite Light. But because we’re (hopefully and with the help of The Almighty) just now approaching this historical era, not only has this Halachic modality yet to be worked out, most present halachic authority, steeped in the past and, in too many cases, afraid to face the present, let alone the future, is at least mildly (and often much more than that) hostile to the enterprise.

At the same time, we have to understand and respect this reluctance, since these leaders do understand the enormous power and energies that result from Torah and Mitzvot. It’s wise to be cautious when “playing with fire”. On the other hand, we and they need greater אמונה (Emunah) Faith and בטחון (Bitachon) Trust in God, Who created us, understands our fallibility and yet charged us with this ultimate mandate. Even with the purest כוונה (Kavvanah) Intent, we’ll certainly make mistakes along the way, but there is a world of difference between the potential dangers of false starts and the nihilistic chaos of a proverbial “bull in a china shop”.

Because it’s so easy to get lost both in the big picture, with vague generalities of “spirituality”, “universalism” and “holiness”, and in the little picture of generating ever-more detailed ways to become over-strict with mitzvot, we desperately need to nurture a generation of bold, yet cautious, inspired and devout leaders.

Just as the theme for each of us during these Yomim Noraim, Days of Awe, is to remember who we are in the depths of our Neshamot, souls, and to return to our Torah-connected, and thus God-connected, selves, our theme as Am Yisrael is to at least begin to recall who we are, why we were created and what only we, uniquely as Jews, can and must bring to the world. And to then begin walking, first with one eye closed if we must, but soon with both wide open, together, in that direction.

תזכו לשנים רבות Tizku l’Shanim Rabot, May we earn not merely many, but many richly-filled years.

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