Jul 24, 2009

Shabbat Chazon: "Dispatch from a Normal State"

Shabbat Chazon: "Dispatch from a Normal State"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

In memory of Dr. Barbara Wachs

Sitting here in Jerusalem, just waiting for the pre-Shabbat siren, I realize something has changed.  I've been here many times, shared this holy place with my wife, my children, my parents, and now my extended family, some of whom have made Aliyah.  But something is different this time.

The combination of having become so familiar with the streets of Jerusalem and my growing Israel-based family hase transformed a tourist experience into a 'normal' one.  Whereas in the past it was the Kotel and Ben Yehudah Street that captivated me, the highlights of this trip have been playing with my children and my parents in a Jerusalem playground, noticing the diversity of other playing Jerusalemites.  Old and young, black and white, Jewish, Muslim, kippah-wearing and not.

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel once quipped: "We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew."  While these aren't desires I share, they do represent something remarkable.  A world of rapid-fire Hebrew, of Jews cursing the intense traffic, of troubling Jewish politics - a living laboratory of a new Judaism, with all its accompanying problematics.  In other words, "normal."

Another Israeli David, Rabbi David Golinkin, recently presented a talk (in memory of Barbara Wachs z"l, a profound Jewish educator from the States) entitled "Will the real Jerusalem please stand up?" in which he demonstrated two visions of Jerusalem: Heavenly Jerusalem and Worldly Jerusalem.  In the talk, Golinkin suggested that the mystical
yearning for Jerusalem is a Diaspora mentality, that Heavenly Jerusalem (typified by Abraham Joshua Heschel's "Israel: An Echo of Eternity") is precisely not "worldly."  Worldly Jerusalem, Golinkin argued, is full of plumbers and supermarkets and building permits, decidedly non-mystical.

And so I went to a playground with my children in Jerusalem and saw both: the natural experience of a family in a city they visit as often as possible, and the fulfillment of a verse: "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the squares of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age.The city squares will be filled with boys and girls playing there. (Zech. 8:4-5)"

There is something abmornal about reading meaning into every fragment of a place.  It turns the living people and the society they comprise into symbols.  They are not that
.  They aren't even the headlines screaming out from every news-source.  Those are sensational geopolitical posturings by news conglomerates.  Israelis were having coffee and going to work this morning, some getting ready for Shabbat, some not.

And yet it is a crime to not weep at all this normalcy.  We hadn't had the possibility of being normal in 2,000 years.  Yes, the reality of Israel is a tremendous challenge to Judaism - how to keep the edge of being marginal when you are suddenly a country with internal concerns.  But think about the Jewish coffee shop I've visited every morning ince arriving a week ago:  Anglos and Israelis sharing space, time, and experience - with no expectation other than life.  How magical. 

It is not dissimilar from a daily routine.  Get up, eat, have some coffee, go to work, go home, do something else, go to sleep.  But isn't it amazing that we woke up at all?  Isn't it ecstasy to connect with another person?  Heschel taught that radical amazement can be experienced through a grain of sand.  It's just sand.  It's just life.  But it's also so much more.

On the eve of Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision, which always precedes Tisha Be'av, a day of intense Jewish mourning, may we hold Heavenly Jerusalem in one hand and Worldly Jerusalem in the other.  May every crosswalk and every conversation be simply normal.  May there be many moments of awareness of the grandeur of it all.

May life in its fullest be the experience we are blessed to know here in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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