The Wonders of Klal Yisrael, Jewish Peoplehood

December 5, 2012Rabbi Yehudit Werchow

“We kindle these lights to commemorate the miracles and the wonders”
הנרות הללו אנו מדליקין על הניסים והנפלאות

This will be my fourth Hanukkah as an Israeli Shlicha (emissary) in North America. After three years of building relationships, learning, and working with inspiring individuals, communities, and organizations, I feel that this year, the candles in my hanukkiyah will represent the stories of the wonders I’ve experienced during my shlichut (my time as an emissary) and also serve as reminders of the work that lays ahead.

We are placed upon a wedding cake            אנחנו מונחים על העוגה
like two dolls, bride and groom.                  כמו בובות חתן כלה
When the knife strikes,                                גם אם תבוא הסכין 
We’ll try to stay on the same piece.             ננסה להשאר באותה הפרוסה
(“Poem on Bliss” by Roni Someck)

The Israeli poet Roni Someck describes in a vivid way the first miracle I wish to celebrate. We might not agree about the roles we play; who is the groom and who is the bride? But the mere fact that we are still standing together on what seems, at times, like a very thin piece of cake, feels like a miracle worth celebrating.

Yet while we play with this metaphor, and perhaps even argue about the roles, the knife strikes again, and each swing is scary and painful. Our words and actions are simultaneously the knife and the piece of cake. This is the irony of our people. We know how to connect and support each other, we experienced the blessings of these mifgashim (encounters) and how they strengthen Am Yisrael, bringing light into the world. Yet, unfortunately, there are times when we choose to distance ourselves from Klal Israel (the community of Israel), and alienate others from it. In moments like these, we become the knife. Torah warns us from the severe consequences of such actions:

“With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies” (Leviticus 26:37)
.(וְכָשְׁלוּ אִישׁ בְּאָחִיו כְּמִפְּנֵי חֶרֶב וְרֹדֵף אָיִן וְלֹא תִהְיֶה לָכֶם תְּקוּמָה לִפְנֵי אֹיְבֵיכֶם:" (ויקרא כו,לז"

Yehudah Amichai teaches us about the art of connecting in his poem “Tourists,” describing a group of Jews visiting Israel:

Redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."

We are all tourists at some point in our lives, but we should never be tourists in Judaism, Israel, or with each other. My shlichut has been blessed with opportunities for creating personalized journeys with my friends, colleagues, and students in Israel (physically and metaphorically) and with Judaism. Rabbinic scholars taught us that Torah should always be studied in chevruta (friendships), with a partner, and preferably with a partner that will respect and challenge us. Maimonides teaches us that we should always seek to build friendships with people who will challenge us while leading to reciprocal growth, enrichment, and, most importantly, commitment to contribute together to better the world. Hanukkah is a time to celebrate our physical and spiritual resilience as a people, and it is also a time to remember and celebrate the wonders we generate as a people. May we be inspired to enrich our lives with opportunities to experience Israel and Judaism with friends and family. To open our hearts and homes and make sure that we are never tourists in Israel, in Judaism, or with each other.

Rabbi Yehudit Werchow is a shlicha at the Union for Reform Judaism.

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