Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Between the Two:  The Liminal Present of Vayechi and Israel


For those of us who Love Israel and thrive as Americans, we may often feel the pull between the two.  This week in Torah, as Jacob approaches the end of his life, he charges his son Joseph to commit to burying Israel (Jacob) in the land of his ancestors - in Israel.  In the opening verses, Torah employs both Jacob and Israel to name our patriarch.  This key moment in our Torah story speaks to the emotional and historical connection many of us feel to the Land of Israel.  Throughout our history, we have been criticized and sometimes praised for this dual allegiance.  One to the place and countries in which we have lived and even thrived and second to the place and space of our history and our modern redemption Am Yisrael - The Land and People of Israel.

I arrived in Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel) yesterday afternoon and ascended to Jerusalem.  In the last thirty six hours I have toured the Old City, embraced the sights and scents of the Machane Yehudah market, dined on Israeli treats of shwaarma and hummus, felt the emotional tide of Yad VaShem (The Holocaust Memorial) and sifted Temple Mount artifacts…and it has only been thirty six hours.  As this current adventure unfolds, I am once again lovestruck with the Land and People of Israel.  While many of you have heard me share the trials and challenges facing the State and its character over recent years, and yet my love for this place only grows.  This pull that we, as those who live Ahavat Yisrael, Love of Israel, is our reality.

As this week’s portion continues, we encounter the moment when Jacob begins to bless his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48) and creates change.  Israel changes the tradition of the Torah story of blessing the older child first and embraces the reality of the lives’ of his progeny.  He is living a balance between responsibility to his descendants and his ancestors, he is embracing the reality of his moment on this Earth - simultaneously.  The change of the blessing moment is one in which we learn to take hold of the reality before us - knowing that change is always present.  The pull he felt was to ensure the health and even the ability to thrive for his family by dwelling in Egypt and the roots drawing him to be buried back in Israel.  It is this that I am learning from Torah this week.  We are constantly and eternally in the liminal space between past and future and we call it the present.

Being present in this moment and in this place feels so powerful and I yearn to one day share this with you!  Israel is not the only place to thrive as Jews, though, for our Jewish, and secular, lives in America is invaluable to our Jewish story.  Yet, Israel existing is and must be our future.  It must always provide for us that pull for the reality of our story doesn’t just come alive here, it lives…in the present.  The name of this week’s Torah portion Vayechi - “And he lived” (Gen. 47:28) is a reminder of this present.  It is a prompt to allow ourselves to be enveloped between these two, our shared and cherished past, and our bright and promising future.  It is an inspiration to ensure that the present we create allows us to embrace the pull between our love of Israel and to flourish where we are…now.  Vayechi serves to enable us to own that responsibility to chart our steps from the present into the future we respect for what came before and where we are going. 

Vayechi - May we live in the image of Jacob who knew the power of the present, honoring the past and ensuring the future.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Evon

PS  I am grateful to the Kramer and Sudman families for sharing their journey to Israel with me and to Sam and Sally, the B’nai Mitzvah students we are celebrating, for teaching me much about this week’s Torah portion.