I wrote this while flying from Israel to New York a few weeks ago. It will most likely be my last post on this blog, which I started in order to reflect on my own experiences living in Jerusalem for two years, and to share them with all of you. Chag Shavuot Sameach!
May 20, 2011
El Al #1, TLV-JFK
Somewhere over Newfoundland…
For the past year and a half, I have had the blessing of learning gemara with my dear chevruta, Sarah W. We started together as chumash chevrutas during our first semester at Pardes, and then began learning gemara during second semester, and continued studying together once a week this past year. This is dedicated to all of the Torah learning, laughs, and David Berman muffins when they were much needed that we shared together.
This year we have been studying Masechet Shabbat. At our final meeting as chevruta (for now), we studied a sugya, Shabbat 119a, that brought aggadot (stories) about how different rabbis celebrated Shabbat. It continued by bringing many of the well-known midrashim that are often heard and shared about Shabbat in lots of different settings. (For example, the story that two angels, a good angel and a bad angel, accompany a person home from services on Friday night to see if his house is cheerfully ready for Shabbat or not – if it is, the good angel says “May it be this way every week,” and the bad angel has to say “amen,” and vice versa).
The piece that has stuck with me all week – we studied on Sunday, 5 days before I left Israel, immediately after my final Shabbat in Jerusalem – asks how people merit or earn their riches.
רבי מר' ישמעאל ברבי יוסי עשירים שבא"י במה הן זוכין א"ל בשביל שמעשרין שנאמר (דברים יד) עשר תעשר עשר בשביל שתתעשר שבבבל במה הן זוכין א"ל בשביל שמכבדין את התורה ושבשאר ארצות במה הן זוכין א"ל בשביל שמכבדין את השבת
Rabbi asked R. Ishmael son of R. Jose: The wealthy in Eretz Yisrael, how do they merit wealth? --Because they give tithes, he replied, as it is written, "עשר תעשר" - give tithes so that you may become wealthy.
(an agricultural mitzvah that can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel)
Those in Babylon, how do they merit riches? --Because they honor the Torah.
(Babylon was the site of a great deal of Torah learning starting in the 5th century CE, where most of the material of the Babylonian Talmud was produced).
And those in other countries, how do they merit riches? Because they honor Shabbat.
Sarah and I, while discussing this sugya, talked about why it was these particular mitzvot, in these particular places, that make a person merit riches. In the case of Shabbat, Sarah pointed out, it is a very hard mitzvah to keep fully (whatever fully might mean for you) outside of Israel. In Israel, it IS Shabbat from Friday night-Saturday. It is impossible to forget about it, especially in Jerusalem, and for me, it was very easy to cultivate a Shabbat culture for myself in Jerusalem. I didn’t have to think about whether or not to drive or take public transportation, I just walked everywhere. No plans were made for Shabbat, and no one expected me to want to go out to dinner, go shopping, see a movie, etc. the air of Shabbat permeates everything.
One of the hardest moments for me this past week was when I ran a final errand on Thursday afternoon, and the cashier said, “Shabbat shalom,” as I walked out of the store. That’s how much Shabbat permeates Israeli consciousness, that we start greeting each other with Shabbat Shalom on Thursday or even earlier. But this time, I wouldn’t be in Israel to experience that all-encompassing Shabbat atmosphere of Jerusalem that I’ve grown to love so much these past two years.
I will miss that feeling. It will be hard to cultivate a Shabbat-centered week in the US, even though I will be spending the summer with my family, where Shabbat dinner is always of the utmost importance, and even though I am continuing my rabbinical studies, and will be immersed in Jewish communities, most likely for the rest of my life. But outside of Israel, no matter one’s intentions, other distractions slip in during those 25 hours. The mail comes; the farmer’s market is only open on Saturdays.
Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, is a place that inspires and challenges me religiously and spiritually. That may be the best way to sum up these past two years – everything I did was part of that: my beit midrash learning at Pardes, my academic studies at HUC, my involvement with Encounter, simply living in the crazy, throbbing, vibrant city of Jerusalem, where everyone seems to be wrestling with God and with their religious community every minute of every day. That in-your-face struggle won’t be there anymore, to inspire me to continue to commit myself to growing spiritually and to striving to be a better Jew and a better person.
About a year ago, I sat in an apartment of another chevruta, Ilan, singing songs at a seudah shlishit as Shabbat departed. One of the songs we sang was the familiar phrase, “לכול מקום שאני הולך, אני הולך, אני הולך לירושלים. לכול מקום שאני כהולך, אני הולך לציון" L’chol makom she’ani holech, ani holech l’Yrushalayim. L’chol makom she’ani holech, ani holech l’Zion.” Everywhere I go, I go towards Jerusalem. Everywhere I go, I go towards Zion. I decided that Shabbat afternoon, that before I left Israel “for good,” that I was going to have my own version of those words engraved on a ring. My version reads "לכול מקום שאני הולכת, אני הולכת לירושלים של מעלה l’chol makom she’ani holechet, ani holechet l’Yrushalayim shel ma’alah.” Everywhere I go, I go towards Y’rushalayim shel ma’alah – the heavenly Jerusalem. There is a teaching that there are two Jerusalems – shel matah (below, or earthly), and shel ma’alah (upper, or heavenly). There is the real, on the ground Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that sometimes smells like pee and has lots of traffic and suddenly gets quiet on Friday afternoon, and the heavenly Jerusalem we all hold in our hearts, the Jerusalem of our religious imagination and our highest aspirations for her. Jerusalem as-it-is and Jerusalem as-it-should-be.
Wearing these words on my finger reminds me of that constant struggle and growth in Jerusalem, that I take it with me as I sit on this El Al plane, soon to disembark in cloudy and rainy New York, to jump into celebrating my brother’s college graduation (I’m so proud of you kiddo!) I don’t need to leave that behind. I can continue to grow, to continue to try and be the best person, and the best Jew I can be, to continue to work for not only Jerusalem as it should be, but for the world as it should be.