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Where Is Your Promised Land? #744

09/16/2022 05:15:56 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ki Tavo: “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage…” Deuteronomy 26:1

Where Is Your Promised Land?


The relationship between American Jews and Israel has not always been easy.

Some would call it tense.

During the early 1950s, a raw nerve became exposed when Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, delivered a series of speeches in New York.

It had been three years since Israel’s birth, and like many causes that initially capture our imagination, the idea of a Jewish homeland had already begun to fade from the hearts of American Jews.

Incensed, perhaps, by what he perceived as their diminishing commitment to Israel, Ben-Gurion challenged American Jews to begin emigrating to Israel in a speech delivered at the Waldorf Astoria in 1951.

Additionally, in an address to Jewish women, he stressed the importance of sending young Jewish men from America to both fight for and populate Israel.

Needless to say, this did not go over well within a room full of Jewish mothers.

But Ben-Gurion persisted: “A Zionist is a person who settles in Israel,” he told American Jews.

Jewish leaders howled in protest. “Is Ben-Gurion saying, ‘You cannot live a 100-per-cent Jewish life in America?’” asked one leader.

Ben-Gurion eventually dialed back his comments, but in their aftermath, relations between Israel and American Jewry remained cool until the very existence of Israel was threatened in 1967.

There is a question that Jews in Israel and America have wrestled with during the past century: Can there be a “land of heritage” for Jews outside of Israel?

I lived my first 53 years in Canada, another 16 years in the United States, and have visited Israel 15 times.

And I have concluded that within the evolution of Judaism, especially during years where Jews were restricted from entering Israel – a rich Jewish heritage evolved within lands throughout the world..

Whether in Spain or France, the United States, Argentina, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Syria or elsewhere, additional teachings and culture has enriched Jewish identity.

When I lived in the far northern community of Fort McMurray, Alberta, a small group of Jews met monthly to study under the guidance of a rabbi we flew in.

What’s more, planners consulted me as they set aside a portion of the new Fort McMurray cemetery for Jewish burial. It was exhilarating to know that a sacred place would be established for Jewish people 600 miles north of the Montana border.

Like many of you, I have toured current and past Jewish communities in Europe, the Middle East and North America.

In October, a friend will speak to our congregation about the Jewish community of Indonesia.

In the mid-1500s, one of our greatest Kabbalistic teachers, Rabbi Isaac Luria, posited that every Jew possesses the capacity to perform mitzvoth (commandments) wherever they live – liberating sparks of light and returning life’s “broken chards” to God, who will gather them and eventually make the world whole.

That is the actual definition of the Hebrew term Tikun Olam – the repair of a broken world.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with a statement by Moses, as he continues sharing important teachings prior to his death. He begins this week’s parashah with the words, “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage…”

Without exception, commentators over thousands of years, have interpreted that “the land” is the “Land of Israel.” Through the mouth of Moses, God attaches paramount importance to the Jewish presence in Israel.

But is that all?

Wherever Jews have settled, we have created “lands of heritage” as we have contributed to local culture and community structure. Often, the teachings we bring with us have served as a light to others.

Look around and note the names on the boards of directors of most charitable organizations, or groups promoting education, culture, tolerance and understanding.

In spite of our small numbers, Jews around the world have always been active in judicial systems, politics and community development. 

The point is, Jewish people have made an impact wherever we have settled – from the dynamic country of Israel to the halls of local and national government and the judiciary, within the scientific community and in the arts, and wherever personal expression and the quest for truth is valued.

Yes, Mr. Ben-Gurion, Jews around the world continue their unbending relationship with Israel – but outside of the Holy Land, we can also spread Torah, charity, compassion and kindness within the countries and communities where we dwell.

Some of our greatest rabbis have reflected upon this worldwide diffusion of Jewish values. And they view it as a good thing.

This week’s Torah portion also contains a lengthy warning: The future path of the Jewish people will be dotted with blessings and curses, and there will be rewards and punishment along the way.

But overall – says the Torah - if we stick to our values, reject arrogance and the excesses of materialism, we - as Jews - possess the capacity to positively impact the world.

There is, indeed, a healthy tension between being an American and a Jew. There has always been lengthy debate regarding which one should be our priority.

But no matter how you prioritize them, one thing is certain - the two are forever and eternally bound.

Early in the Book of Genesis, the patriarch, Jacob - as he awakens from a nap in the desert - exclaims, “God is in this place and I did not even know it.”

The “land” mentioned in the Torah this week is, of course, Israel, but as the world continues to evolve, we are challenged to consider new places and ways to define lands "as a heritage."

As we evolve our understanding of the world and the Jewish role in it – from big cities to small towns, from the land of Israel to the streets of our own communities - we are provided with an opportunity to expand our understanding of theTorah.

The opening words of this week’s parashah inspire us to consider the relationship between Israel, America and Jews around the world.

Israel is our inspiration, our sacred homeland.

But as the history of Jews in America and outside of Israel have taught us over the centuries, we have established new and dynamic ways to worship God, and to self-identify.

Wherever we travel throughout the world, we will find lands of Jewish heritage.

Perhaps more importantly, as Jews, have demonstrated over the centuries, our Promised Land can exist wherever we choose it to be.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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