Friday, May 13, 2016

A Little Note From Rabbi David Fohrman

[For those of you who have never heard a Jew teach scripture...give your bible to someone else]

Hi folks, it's Rabbi Fohrman here. I wanted to take a few minutes to wish you a joyous Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. 

If you’ve been watching some of the Vayikra videos being put out by David and Imu as part of Aleph Beta’s “Parsha Experiment” series, you know that they’ve been working to articulate a vision of kedusha, holiness, as it wends its way throughout Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus. Holiness, of course, is a loaded word; there is perhaps no term more closely associated with spirituality or religion than this – and at the same time, no term that is quite so mysterious, no term that evades definition quite so deftly. Of what is holiness made of? 

My own feeling is that kedusha, as it presents itself in the Torah, seems to suggest a melding of two almost impossibly different worlds: This world and a world beyond. God belongs to another world. His Presence is not a thing we can touch or feel; our senses cannot apprehend Him. He is transcendent, in the sense that He is quite literally “beyond our world”. We relate to Him, even as we live in our world – a concrete world of space and time, of things, animals and people; a world our senses are geared to apprehend; a world far more familiar to us. 

What, then, is kedusha? It is, in a nutshell, “transcendence made imminent”. It is the Venn Diagram that charts the intersection of God, the ultimate transcendent Being, and our very own concrete world. When God shows Himself, as it were, in our world – we call that phenomenon “holiness”. 

Thus: Moses is told to take off his shoes at the Burning Bush because the ground is holy. Israel can’t touch the mountain at Sinai because it is holy. What made these places “holy”? It was the fact that God was intersecting with the world in those places. The bush was burning but not consumed because the fire wasn’t earthly fire. Rather, the fire came from heaven; the wood was just the vehicle upon which the fire rested; it was not the fire’s source, and therefore, it did not burn. The mountain would burn at Sinai but the mountain too would not be consumed. The fire didn’t come from the mountain; the fire came from Heaven. 

Our tradition teaches, us that there are less obvious manifestations of holiness in the world, too. It doesn’t take a burning Sinai or a burning Bush to have holiness in our lives. Sefer Vayikra bids us all to be “holy” – which suggests, perhaps, that we, all of us, can be that little middle sliver of the Venn Diagram that charts the intersection of godliness in our world. We can be vehicles for that in how we lead our lives, both personally, and communally. Sometimes this happens intentionally: we are vehicles for godliness in the world because we intend to bring God into the world. Sometimes it happens despite ourselves: We become vehicles for God’s design unknowingly, whether we like it or not. And sometimes, the reality is somewhere in between: we think we are living our lives all by ourselves, only to discover that God has been alongside us, all along. 

I think that we, as a nation, experienced a moment of holiness -- of transcendence made imminent -- 68 years ago in the Birth of the State of Israel. When I look back at the newsreels of the time, the dancing in the streets, in which old and young, Labor Zionists and chareidim, joined hands to celebrate raucously together – the one palpable feeling I had was that this was a moment when everyone seemed to see God in the world. The ineffable, the “tangent to the curve of our existence”, the Master of the Universe Himself, seemed to actually intersect the circle of our existence, in a moment of dazzling glory. Yes, the Haganah fighters were concrete people. You could touch and feel the arms they bore. The United Nations that voted for partition was an earthly, concrete institution. But all those concrete things and people, somehow, they were all just the vehicles. The day was about transcendence; transcendence made imminent. 

For those of you looking for a little Yom HaAtzma’ut inspiration, I recommend you take a peek at a series we put out this year that addresses these themes pretty powerfully. It is a four video piece that looks at some of the deeper themes of Chanukah. As I suggest in the fourth video in that series, the ideas are relevant not only to how we celebrate Chanukah, but also, to how we look upon the mystery of Divine involvement with our actions more broadly, and particularly, with reference to the modern State of Israel. 

Here is that series, if you’d like to take a look: 

In the meantime, a very joyous Yom Ha’atzma’ut to you!


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