I had an amazing experience this past Tuesday evening. Everyone knows it is great having kids, it is fun marking milestones. First grade is a big one. This past Tuesday night, my first grader Nechama Rachel made a siyum, meaning a completion, of the first book of the Torah, Sefer Bereiseit. The Book of Genesis.
That in and of itself is reason to celebrate. In fact it is kind of tradition for first graders in Jewish day schools all over the world, to complete the Book of Genesis during their first grade year.
There were a couple of differences here though. (Besides being my daughter of course).
First was where the siyum happened. While most of these events in North America or England or South Africa are taking place in school auditoriums, we jumped into a car for the short, stunningly beautiful drive through the Hills of Judea to Ma’arat haMachpeila in Hebron, the ancient Canaanite city where Abraham purchased a field to bury his wife Sarah. The purchase marked the beginning of the Jewish peoples national connection in the Land of Israel, somewhere around 4000 years ago. You can still see the Bronze Age city gate where that negotiation and purchase most probably took place.
Tuesday night we stood in that field next to Ma’arot haMachpeila the giant Herodian structure built 2000 years ago that marks the tomb of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.
There are things that we say all the time that are so deep and we do not even realize it. I say, “love you guys!”, while breezing off work without a second thought. We say thank you, by rote, for the most profound kindnesses from our friends and families. “How are you today?” “Baruch Hashem.” We sleepwalk or “sleeptalk” through most of our language everyday. But then sometimes we are so overcome with the beauty of the moment, the profundity of the experience, that we realize that there are no words that can even come close to expressing that which we are experiencing.
This was one of those moments.
As profound as this experience was, it was made all the more so by an event happening in the coming week. This upcoming week we will be marking two events in our home. One personal, and one national.
This coming Sunday night, the 16th of Tammuz, marks the ninth anniversary of our Aliyah. the literal “going up” to dwell in the Land of Israel, like Abraham did 4000 years before.
It was on the Nefesh b’Nefesh flight, when we were about to touch down in the Land of Israel, as the newest citizens of the Jewish State, that the entire plane broke out spontaneously in song, singing the prophecy of Jeremiah comforting our Mother Rachel, v’shavu banim l’gvulam. “Your children WILL return to your borders.” It was in that moment months before she was born, that we decided on the name for my daughter. Nechama Rachel, the comfort of Rachel.
The following day, The 17th of Tammuz, by contrast marks a day of national calamity.
The 17th of Tammuz begins the period of our calender known as the “Three Weeks”. Most of the year a Jew is filled with so much joy, but these three weeks we contrast that joy with reflecting on the sadness of the wasted potential, of the unnoticed greatness of being alive, the unappreciated beauty of being a Jew, the wonder of love never manifest fully.
The story of the 17th of Tammuz starts like this. The day after Shavuot, Moshe goes up to Sinai to receive the tablets. He spent forty days basking in divine transcendence, manifesting into our world the most sublime light, the revelation of the true awareness of the nature of our selves and our world. The reality is there is only One but we do not see it so clearly. The moment was right for the world to make that shift in consciousness, to see the world once and for all as it truly is, a complete and perfect manifestation of the Holy Divine Light. Love. Alas, everybody knows, it was not to be.
The Jews at the foot the mountain growing weary, panicked, and committed the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe saw this and smashed the tablets According to the Midrash, the ocean rose up and threatened to engulf the world, for after all what is a world without Torah worth? The ocean was only kept at bay by Moshe Destroying the Tablets.
A moment so pregnant with opportunity lost, squandered, broken. The date was the 17th of Tammuz. We are still trying to fix that mistake to this day. Sometimes though when the damage has been done it is such an uphill battle. The energy of that day was burned into the world at Sinai and has been coming back to us ever since. It was on that day that the temple sacrifices stopped, it was on that day during siege of the first temple that the walls were breached. It was on that day the a Holy Torah Scroll was burned by the evil Greek Apostomus setting a precedent for thousands of years of burned Torahs and tears to come. It was on the 17th of Tammuz that the evil King Manasseh placed an Idol in the Holy Temple. So much sadness, so much darkness, some much loss of what could have been…
I was thinking about this amidst the incredible joy in Hebron Tuesday night. It is so funny where life takes you. The “sadness” of the time of year coming up in less than a week, just seemed so distant to the joy we were experiencing on the lawn in front of the Ma’arat haMachpeila.
Then it hit me. Maybe the work of this time of year is not to connect to “sadness”? I mean, we have come home. For two thousand years the Jewish people have dreamed a dream, and now I taken my place in that dream in the deepest way. The work of this time of year may not be just to be sad. Sadness unfortunately is something that the world has plenty of. Maybe the work at hand is to fix a little bit what went wrong.
What the Jewish people lacked the foot of Sinai was patience. Moshe told us he would be back, and to wait for him. We didn’t and we are still paying for it.
Two thousand years ago the Master of the World told us we would have to leave our beloved home. He made us a promise though and asked from us one thing. Please wait, and when the time is right, I will bring you home.“Your children will return to their borders.”
It is now time.
As I watched Nechama Rachel finishing Sefer Bereishit in Hebron, surrounded by these l children born here in the Land, who feel so at home here, and know no other home. (By the way home is another one of those words we just blow by with out thinking of what it truly, truly means.) The Jewish people have come home. These children, all of us that have had the incredible merit to be brought to this place, at this time.
Watching the joy of these children and their parents Tuesday night in Hebron, I felt I was watching a small stone placed back into the walls of our city, the walls that were breached on the 17 of Tammuz. A city that has waited patiently for so long.
Maybe most of the sadness is behind us and the 17th of Tammuz, the Three Weeks, Tisha bAv is starting little by little to change. It doesn’t just go from night to day in an instance, it slowly almost imperceptibly changes until once where there was only darkness, now there is the most unbelievable light..
Maybe just maybe, so many Jews coming home so fast “ka-afikim banegev“, maybe just maybe Israel rising up from the ashes and an ocean of darkness that threatened to swallow the world, we are seeing the day dawn. As Moshe Rabenu fixed the sin in his generation by burning the golden calf and throwing its ashes upon the water, maybe what we experienced this week is a little fixing, turning back the tide just a little bit, adding just a little more light to the world.