Pirke Avot 1:18--“Rabbi Shimon ben (son of) Gamliel said: On three things does the world endure: justice, truth and peace, as the verse states, ‘Truth and [judgments of] peace judge in your gates'” (Zechariah 8:16).
May 26, 2017
1 Sivan 5777
Shabbat B’midbar 1:1-4;20
I have been reading on Facebook and on my listserves about the reunification of Jerusalem 50 years ago. People have posted videos of choirs singing Yerushalayim shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) and of battle footage of the battle for the old city of Jerusalem. Today, an article in the NY Times talked about the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie. And right in the middle of these two events (more or less) I turned 18, registered to vote, registered for the draft and graduated from high school. We all find ways to mark time and do so with huge sign posts that help us remember.
I was 13 years old and in seventh grade in 1967, and sitting in French class when I first heard about the beginning of what was to be called the Six-Day War. I could be wrong as I don’t remember a lot of my junior and senior high school teachers’ names, but I believe my French teacher’s name was Mr. Agare. I can’t tell you why I remember him as I was an unremarkable French student, but maybe it is linked to this particular day which changed my Jewish life. I hadn’t really thought about Israel until this moment, nor do I remember being taught much about Israel in religious school at Washington Hebrew Congregation. All of a sudden though, Israel became important to me, and that week it was at the center of my attention. The Egyptian air force was quickly destroyed. The Golan Heights were captured. The area now known as the West Bank was captured. Jerusalem was reunited. The war was over. The cost was high, with so many Israeli soldiers falling in battle to keep their country from being annihilated and “driven into the sea.”
For me, this was a moment of Jewish pride as David defeated Goliath. Israel was safe, her enemies driven off. We talked about Jewish identity and Israel identity in youth group. Studying about the holocaust was pushed to the forefront in order to remind us about how easily Jews and Judaism can be destroyed. The concept of a Jewish homeland, a safe haven, for so many who had suffered and now face destruction again on this small piece of God’s earth was locked into my soul. During that final year of high school, I made my first trip to Israel.
I was 23 when Star Wars was released. In May of 1977 I was still in Israel finishing up my first year of rabbinical school. I came home and headed to Oconomowoc, WI for my second year at the Reform Jewish camp Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute. I am not sure I had heard about Star Wars yet, but I was immediately driven to a theater to see it and, me—a Star Trek lover—was hooked into a deeper space experience. I remember that midnight showing as if it were yesterday. I’ve seen them all, both the good and the bad, and can’t wait for the next installment. I know the world of the Force and Jedi’s and Storm troopers and droids aren’t real, but you want them to be. You want the good to triumph and the bad to be vanquished and the universe to be whole again.
And half-way between 1967 and 1977 I graduated high school and prepared for my own journey that has led to many different places, camps, congregations, and to the woman I love and married, great children and their awesome partners. Life is a journey. Israel has been part of that journey returning again and again. Star Wars, Star Trek and more have been part of that journey as well, leading me to dream of a universe that is far beyond our galaxy.
As we begin reading the book of Numbers, B’midbar, we begin reading about our people’s epic journey from Sinai to the Promised Land. It won’t be smooth or easy. There will be victories against our enemies who seek to block our path or destroy us. There will be triumphs of good over evil. There will be soul searching by our leader. But through this book we will continue to move forward and learn and grow. “Birth is a beginning and death a destination. And life is a journey…” It is this journey that we remember, placing sign posts of memories along the way. 50 years ago I was awakened to the existence of Israel in my life and soul. 40 years ago I was transported to a place far, far away. In between, I left for college and many, many other stops along the way.
When you light your Shabbat candles this evening, light one for a transformative moment in your life that keeps burning in your soul. Light the other candle and let its flame draw you toward the next moment.
Rabbi Jon Adland