A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Friday, June 19, 2009

shabbat shalom from Jerusalem

I'm soaking in the beautiful tranquility of Jerusalem before Shabbat. Quiet, the sound of just a few cars below, the streets empty.

Israel is a center of conflict to those in the diaspora. It has become even more clear to me that the simple political categories in America and Europe are insufficient to understand the conflict. On this trip we heard both from a peace activist who spoke convincingly about the real security risks facing Israel if the territories are given to the Palestinian people. This is also a woman with five children in the IDF. A few days later we heard from an analyst positioned firmly on the right who said that Israel must constantly seek peace and return to the negotiating table. He spoke personally about not wanting to send his seven year old son into an IDF facing war. Here political positions often reflect the complexity of real life instead of party or ideological allegiance.

But Israel is not just a place of conflict. It is a nation with a purpose, still, after all these years: to provide a home for the Jewish people. A diverse society to be sure, and an idealistic one - in spite of some of the unhinged charges of its more extreme critics. But a place for the Jewish people to be secure, to learn from its past and to discover its future. It is a place of great beauty and inspiration. We should all have a chance to be here at some point.

There are those among the Jews for whom Israel's future is guaranteed by its very existence - as if our status as Jews is a gaurantee of God's protection. In this week's parshah Korach challenges the priest's special status, affirming that all Israel is holy. We are taught though that Korach's mistake was in thinking that holiness is given rather than achieved. He and his followers felt it was there right to lead simply because of who they were - they did not need to become anything more to have power. Perhaps this is why there is the mysterious object-less verb, "Korach took," at the beginning of the Parshah. Maybe there is no missing word: it is just a statement of Korach's essence, an explanation of why he was punished. He simply wished to take, rather than give. He saw power as something to be given to him, an acquisition. Israel must continue to derive its security from is sense of purpose, its mission, its righteousness. This is not guranteed by the fact of its existence - but it is a promise of our past and a future that we must build.

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