Having just returned from almost a month in the land of Israel, I can say there are things that happen there that are unique. It is a place of wonder, mystery, history and confusion at time. It is a complex place filled with contradictions. Even as ancient Biblical landmarks are discovered through archaeology, young people are preparing in universities for careers in science and technology. You can have all the conveniences of 21st century life, cars and cell phones, high-speed internet and Facebook, malls and milkshakes and yet be confronted by thinking from the dark ages. That is how a woman who wants to read from the Torah can be arrested near the Western Wall.
And yet Israel is so much more than that moment. It is a thriving breathing country filled with poetry and history and our people. Jewish people who renewed a 2000 year old promise of Zion’s return. Open our prayer books and read of our people’s longing for our land. This wasn’t something just made up out of the horrors of the Holocaust. But we Jews had a vibrant and loving memory of our homeland etched into our very fiber. Next year in Jerusalem we all prayed each Passover. With good reason-because we never lost the dream of our place.
This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh in the book of Deuteronomy, reminds us that there are unique mitzvot related to living in the land of Israel. The Promised Land of our covenant requires special treatment and a special relationship. That is why this week’s parasha reiterates the need for a sabbatical year. To give the land a rest and to renew and replenish its nutrients. We are reminded too of the need to take care of the needy in our midst. The promise of our land requires us to care for all those around us. Ultimately the land is only lent to us by God it is not something that we own. But the land is something that we share in.
Sometimes that ideal is lost. Israel is a place that we share in too. It is not just for God. Not just for modern Israelis but it a place for all of the Jewish community whether we move there or not. We each have a stake in its successes and pain in its failures. Israel is not just a place on the map–but if you are Jewish it is part of you. Part of your promise. Part of your fiber and being even if you haven’t figured that out yet.
While I am glad to be home. Each time I spend in Israel, even with its contradictions and complexities I know I have a stake in Israel’s success. Each time I spend time there I see our people’s past and present and future in the experiments of life. I want to encourage you to explore your relationship to Israel and engage. Israel needs you too.
The Torah portion ends with a reminder to go up to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage Festivals. Three times a year one traditionally went to the Temple in Jerusalem, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Even if you didn’t live there the duty to visit was part of our DNA. Israel still is part of our DNA. I hope you will visit.