Everybody Hurts: 612 dead total so far – two sides=one list.

I know there are too way many words out there already on the situation and I’ve already written a bunch, but its 1am and I’m sleepless in Jerusalem, jasmin scent under the pomegranate tree in the yard, and nonstop news still pouring in like the riots in East Jerusalem just a mile away and all international flights are now stopped – I’m supposed to fly out on Thursday – and  writing helps me  make sense of what’s going on, so here goes another recap of just fragment of my today, in Israel, at war:

This morning at the bomb shelter turned kids’ daycare in a synagogue in Asheklon, I told a group of about 25 kids ages 3-11 a story about the bravest kid in the world. I figured we  could all use a dosage of inspiration about courage – these kids having spent the last two weeks under constant sirens and mostly indoors and underground. My version of the legend of Nahshon, the Hebrew boy who leaped into the Sea of Reeds when Egyptian soldiers were about to attack the fleeing slaves focused on the choice to have trust and take a leap of faith into the unknown future. The kids held a vote whether this was a good or dumb idea, and most agreed that it was better than just sitting around and waiting and praying. Then they sat down to draw what it may have felt like to swim in the sea with Nahshon and came out with lovely versions. One of them, by an 8 year old boy included the scene in the sea (with sharks) and an inserted box containing  a very detailed sketch of the shelter we were sitting in, down to the steel door, hatch and the chair I was sitting on: “This is us looking at them and remembering”, he explained, “so that we will not be afraid.”

photo-9 photo-8

There was a siren right after that but the kids, busy with snacks deep under ground, didn’t notice. I go upstairs, outside, to smoke (it’s war, don’t judge) and meet a few other people who came from all over Israel to help out down South – taking off from work to just do what they can. They tell me that over 500 people showed up at a makeshift volunteer center in Ashkelon this morning – sent to shelters that are taking care of kids, elderly, a mental institution and domestic abuse  shelter. There is somethign to day for the spirit of crisis and unity. We don’t talk politics – we agree to not go there now – but simply pull together and do what can be done. This is the Israel and the Isarelis that I know and missed and love, despite the trauma, in spite of why this is happening, this tragic result of horrific public policy and so much abuse of what’s sacred and worthy by the higher ups.

Another siren at 2pm, just as I left the synagouge, after hugging the kids and promising to return –  to drive back to Jerusalem. I ducked into a doorway of another, empty, synagogue near by, taking the time to read the wall full of posters for religious concerts, classes and events. Fear and faith are big around here these days – not just for kids. Whatever helps? And yet, one wonders at the narratives that are woven and spoken that sometimes inspire courage and sometimes cultivate hate. It has already been noted by many here that there’s a lot of prayers, god-talk and words-in-name-higher-power thrown around by all sides of this war all over the place – perhaps more than in the past. earlier today I read that Rabbi Dov Lior – a known fanatic racist religious leader paid for his post by the government just released a ruling based on his reading of Jewish Law that allows for the killing of civilians in Gaza. All civilians. He is a minority opinion though not alone and this is not the first time he exposes such views that sadly can be found in our books and history. I expect the backlash will follow soon – I hope by senior rabbinic voices not just from the fringe. I hope he is arrested.

Back in the car I turn on the radio. A popular talk show host invited listeners to share what’s on their hearts.  He opens up with a prayer – Oseh Shalom – with a twist – May the One who makes peace above – make peace for us – and for the whole world.

The first caller objects to this version of the prayer: The original prayer is just for Israel – not the whole world. Is this the time to think of others? Interesting, I think, but the man gets disconnected mid-sentence and the host tried to get him back on air, only to explain – he’s calling from the South and there’s another siren.

Then there’s this woman from Haifa, voice choked with tears, who says that she moved here from Argentina three weeks before the Yom Kippur war and is now diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, and is worried for her kids and grandkids and laments her moving here even though this is home, and how she has an Arab boyfriend, both of them divorced, not religious, and they just want to walk down the street and hold hands. And they can’t. And they don’t want to leave their homeland either.

And the young mother of three who just gave birth to the third, a boy, two weeks ago, and his father went off to reserve duty right from the hospital, and she hasn’t heard from him in four days, and, she is not religious but she was told to chant out loud Psalm 20 – which she does on air:

“May God answer you on days of trouble.. some are fallen, yet we rise…”

And by then I have to stop the car by the side of the road because I’m sobbing so damm hard it’s impossible to focus. And I’m aware that by stopping I’ll confuse the other drivers who may think it’s a siren – we are supposed to stop the cars safely on the side of the road if we hear a siren and lay down on the ground with hands on our heads if there is no cover nearby- so I get out of the car and lean on it pretending to be talking on my phone so that nobody thinks its a siren. And I turn my head from the traffic so that I can cry in private, and in peace, phone to my ears, whole body shaking.

My1~ phone vibrates with the message from Shirley that a friend of her son’s is among this morning’s wounded soldiers, and another from a friend about Max Steinberg, a young American who came here to join the IDF and died today, and then another post from Saeed with the name and photo of a mother of four who died with all her kids in the same neighborhood in Gaza as Max.

I finally get back into the car and keep on driving, slowly, radio off, and think about what the man asked on the radio and how he wanted us to only pray for peace for Israel right now, and how I understand him, deeply, but know that this is not my way. Not any more. And I know that I am not alone. It’s isn’t either/or, not anymore. It simply can’t be. It’s got to be and/both. We can’t keep on this way.

I refuse to keep two death tolls lists. The list grows longer by the hour and it isn’t about ours and theirs. As of this evening there are 612 dead. Our casulaties. Our dead.

I’ll be honest. The deaths of Israeli soldiers and civilians is closer to home. The radio I listen to is Israeli and the songs that tear my heart apart these days -and most days – are Hebrew songs – the ones that I grew up on, that speak to my soul.

But these two stories are part of the same book.

The grief I feel transcends all that – though this is not how I grew up. I have been taught, and trained, in recent years, by radical rabbis and shamans and sheikhs and lamas who are nothing like Dov Lior (do I even call him rabbi?) to stretch my mind and heart and ability to go beyond  familiar borders and I don’t care if this makes me a lefty or a softie or a naive dreamer or a fool that refuses to believe that evil is real and enemies are there to get me as they do right now. They do. It’s true. I know it, and my family’s Holocaust scars are there to prove it. And yes, it’s a stretch to mourn the death of a Hamas operator who targets me and my family knowing full well that any rocket or tunnel can lead to my blood. I may not mourn the death of my enemy with the sorrow reserved for my brothers but I will pause to bow my head and add him to the growing list of the dead. Our dead.

I don’t know the name and biography of every single one of the people who died in this recent round of battle. Right now, it’s all a blur.

 From God’s point of view, if there is such a thing as a God or a celestial point of view that cares enough to take it in, it’s all one big pile of bodies and rubble. It’s a blur. Isn’t that the famous story about the Crossing of the Sea of Reeds? The angels want to sing with Nahson, Miriam, Moses, and the Hebrews who are finally free, but God looks down at the drowned Egyptians and prevents angelic singing – ‘they are also my children’ claims this version of a compassionate God, “only mortals get to sing now – angels don’t.”

The point of that rabbinic story is, of course, that humans need to sometimes celebrate triumph over enemies and only angelic perspective transcends the divides.

We are no angels.  Our virtues fall short on so many honest human fragile faults. But can we try to stretch our compassion beyond our usual default of loyal and territorial, extend the care so that we can be not just part of the problem but part of the so badly needed solution to this continued game of blame?

Get real, they tell me, rolling their eyes. This country is awash with hatred and you want to cry for terrorists and their kids?

I don’t know what I want exactly. But I know what I don’t want. And as I keep on driving to Jerusalem the sobs keep coming, but it’s a much faster highway and I can’t   stop on the side of the road. Everyone is driving furious and fast. The radio, back on, is playing REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts‘ and it’s too weird and actually funny because I remember the video clip where everybody just leaves their cars on the highway and walk away.

I wish we could. But we can’t.

So hold on, Mike Stipe sings.

And that, for now, is all we got.

Amichai Lau-Lavie

 

Dynastic Dilemma & my Cousin David, The New Chief Rabbi: Word #42

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.

 

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Officiate
לכהנו

A new prince was born this week, and two new chief rabbis elected
One of them my cousin. 

The common denominator for all three? Dynasty.

Born into the right-tight club, these very different individuals are serving some ancient human code of pedigree and privilege in which some people are worth more than others and assume symbolic roles that do or don’t matter any more, but mean something, still, to many. 

In London, the Windsors secured another heir, who will smile and wave, cut ribbons and make sure the tourist industry continues fueling the long gone empire. 

In Jerusalem 150 people (12 of whom women) and mostly (only orthodox) rabbis voted on the next round of two chief rabbis. And though in theory its about merit and election – this time it was also about bloodlines – and a lot about bloody politics and ugly deals that have done little to celebrate the sacred role of religion or rabbis in the public arena. 

The new Asheknazi chief, Rabbi David Lau, better known to me as  Dudi, is the son of my uncle, the former chief rabbi Israel Lau. Rabbi Isaac Yosef is the new Sefardic leader -son of Ovadia Yosef, the leader of Shas and former chief rabbi as well. 

This has been the most down and dirty race for rabbinic rule in recent history if not ever, exposing this post for what it has become – a political slot, catering to few, with spiritual leadership that cares for the entire people long forgotten, living only in hollow words and gestures that few if any still believe. 

It’s about power – and about dynastic claims. And money.  The call to split up religion and state just got louder. 

I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with dynastic rule – one generation handing the baton to another with the survival of the fittest gene working overtime. 
There is something to say for the genes.  And my cousin is an eloquent speaker and a fine man, just like his father. 
As a fringe member of the Lau clan, with rabbis in our blood going back more than 30 generations, I am open to the idea that somehow qualities are transmitted and leadership is continued, skipped around and maintained, regardless of nepotism. 

But not at all costs – and not just because you happen to be born into this or that entitled tribe and satisfy the whims of politicians.  

A rabbi, not to mention the Chief Rabbi of a country or a nation- needs to be someone who truly stands for, respects, and represents the greater majority  if not all of the people served. And that isn’t happening right now, with all due respect to my cousin and his worthy colleagues. They sure don’t represent me or most of the Jews on the planet. 

I may be pleasantly surprised, and I think he’s smart and gets what ahead – even though the political machine is a complex beast with rough agendas.  I plan to reach out to him and hope for a heartfelt dialogue. I mean, we played basketball together as kids and slept in the same room..

And meanwhile: It’s time to seriously rethink and challenge this formula of rabbinic rule in Israel, and look careful at this dynastic model. And we have alternative role models to work with. 

Historically, at least in theory, Jews were led by two parallel types of spiritual leadership – one based on blood line and one based on qualifications. 
Moses, the first rabbi, hands over the reigns to Joshua – leader elect, and so on for generations of rabbis and leaders chosen based on merit and skills. Aaron, the first High Priest  hands it over to his son, and so on, Cohen and sons. 

In this week’s Torah text, Ekev, this first transfer of power is recalled: 

“..Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son officiated in the priest’s office in his stead. 

The priestly tradition died, and while Cohens still get some respect they are not the ones to lead us. In the Hasidic world, heirs matter. But when it comes to rabbis, we should stick to the Moses model, and carefully avoid dynastic deals. That’s not what it is about. 

We need real rabbis who will touch our souls, inspire us and teach us how to take good care of our tradition for the next 3,000 years – with all required tweaks and changes. Not just those who will keep on holding to what we know works already. Rabbis need to take risks. 

Earlier this week I was reminded of one such great religious leader, who came from the line of great rabbis but forged his own unique rabbinic voice in ways that broke with where he came from, broke many hearts but mended countless others.

I was invited to attend a preview of ‘Soul Doctor’ the musical about Reb Shlomo Carlebach – the singing rabbi, now on Broadway. 
My dear friend and soul-sister Neshama invited me and sat next to me as the story of her father’s life unfolded on the stage. I cried from the first moment and all through (the super long!) first act. 
Why? Because the music is magical, the story hypnotic and the memories flooded me: some of my earliest ones include listening to Reb Shlomo play, and some of the more formative ones of my spiritual evolution have him featured as well. He opened my heart to spirit and to singing in ways that are with me still today. 
Reb Shlomo was a complex figure with a mixed bag of legacy and some regrets. 
But nobody can take away what he had given us – access to the highest high and the deepest deep. He took risks, rose to the challenge of transmitting the sacred story and paid a high price for his relentless truth. 
I hope the play is successful and many more people get to see this vibrant version of what a rabbi is, and should be about. 

To my esteemed cousin, a heartfelt blessing for success and courage and the good will to be God’s messenger for peace in the land and in the hearts of all people. You got a big job ahead. (Happy to help..)

to Diana’s grandson – may your life be dedicated, like hers, to bringing more love and dignity and style to the world. 

And to the rest of us simple folks – here’s to a sabbath of peace. Or as Reb Shlomo used to sing: good shabbes, good shabess..

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

Word to the Wise: Say Less. Word #40.

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.

 

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words

דברים
How many words you read a day? how many words you speak, and hear? how many truly penetrate and reach the core to make a difference in a life?
Thousands, daily, maybe more. Instructions, descriptions, greetings, gossip, shared dreams, occasional pearls of poetry, crude comments, status updates, curt courtesies, white lies, seductions.
We are perhaps the most word- inundated generation in human history.  What’s the price of this verbose inflation? What place of honor do we give the single, simple, spoken word?
I realize the irony of writing this in a blog named ‘word’. I try, as well, to minimize, and focus.
At breakfast in an Upper West Side diner yesterday I catch up with my friend G., an editor of an online news magazine, who keeps scanning his smartphone for urgent txts and laments the state of the indust
ry: ‘It’s not about the content anymore or about nuance – it’s just about what catches people eye and drives them to the site to boost the numbers.’
A talented writer, he yearns to pause and take the time to write, with care, a much awaited novel.
Later that day I lunch with JTS Chancellor Arnie Eisen, in the seminary’s courtyard. We talk about curriculum for rabbinical studies and he tells me of a recent study that shows how most universities are shrinking their humanities departments, favored less than computer science and more practical skills. ‘Harvard, Stanford, Yale’ – he shakes his head – ‘history departments are closing down not to mention literature and philosophy. It’s all about the bottom line, not the soul, not poetry. What can we do to coax students back into the humanities – into what it takes to be fully alive?’
Good to be back in  conversation. Big ideas and questions, old friends, good teachers. Welcome back to NYC.
Got back  on Sunday, pumped a bike (thanks sally) and biked up Riverside Drive Tuesday morning, back to JTS for  3 summer courses, back to back – Jews and Popular Culture in Antiquity, Queer Midrash, and a course with Elie Holzer about dialogue as an educational approach – to the art of life. That’s not the academic description, but I think that is the point of this course, and perhaps the point of all learning: In the ideal learning environment we don’t  learn to (just) gain facts and make connections. We learn to be in dialogue with other – and also to grow within our selves – emotionally, morally, spiritually, and become better beings.  It is not about the bottom line – it’s about the process. One word at a time.
And also: It isn’t just the words that are shared – but how and why we do so. That’s what makes a difference from data to depth.
The non-verbal matters just as much if not more than the text. Words are as good as the intentions with which they are created.
This may seem obvious to anybody who watched more than one TED talk or bat mitzvah speech, but when it comes to the study of sacred stories –  Bible, or Talmud – in fairly traditional study or ritual set
tings, this a big shift in perspective and in approach: the role of the words is different, and the goal of learning is not about accumulating details – it’s about being better at being human.
That’s what Eisen was talking about at lunch, and what my friend G. was lamenting: we’re drowning in meaningless words and something in our lives goes missing. How do we refocus? How do we write and read less so we can gain more, and how can learning not be about training skilled workers to do more doing but to rather pause and be more being?
That’s was Moses tries to do this week, as the fifth and last book opens, with the title, simply, ‘words’.
D’varim is that tricky Hebrew words that means both ‘words’ and ‘objects’. Words are things – a solid mass that melts reality like smoke or water.
Moses, the man whose words did not come easy, delivers his ultimate sermon, and the word ‘diber’ – ‘spoke’ appears over a dozen times in this portion alone. Moses recaps the journey to the people who’ve been on it, as we get to listen in and learn the lessons. He  keeps talking about conversations – the ones he’s had with th
em, and the ones they’ve had with God.
And perhaps that’s the most important lesson: Moses is reminding us how to pay attention to the fragile force of words and the vital role of attentive conversation.
Some words are spoken at you. Others are shared with you. Its a small and giant difference.
Moses  learned this the hard way and became the ultimate role model: He learns to speak with the Divine, face to face, each word black fire on white fire, partners in a careful conversation about what it’s all about.
I want to be more in the type of conversation with the world that is about speaking with others – not at them. As a teacher, co-worker, learner, father, lover, friend. To pay more careful attention to what words I say, and how, and why, and how to really listen when others share theirs.
And maybe that’s why I’m here at JTS. I’m learning how to be a rabbi, like Moses, the first of them all, or in other words, how to use words, wisely, and how to really learn, and how to really listen. One word at a time.
Shabbat Shalom

 

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

Drink Down! No Love for Lapid’s new Liqueur Law. Word 36

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.

 

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drink

לשתות
Did you hear the one about the former media star turned politician who walks into a bar?
And gets thrown out?
It’s about to happen.
Mid summer heatwave, a new financial decree was announced in Israel this week by Yair Lapid, following up on the most recent 1% hike in income tax: the liqueur law. In an attempt to curb teen drinking and equalize the price of spirits, cheaper alcohol like vodka and Arak goes up 50% while the more top shelf whiskeys are reduced by almost 30%. This law, debated for its reason, reasonability and results, was not Lapid’s idea – it was planned long before he took over finances, but he chose to go ahead with it, earlier than planned, with a clear message to the working/lower middle class: You count less and will pay more.
People are pissed. This isn’t a basic human right violation we are talking about it, and we got bigger problems to deal with, but it is a big deal, if only on symbolic levels. Arak is more than a drink.
Dubbed  the national drink of Israel, Arak has crossed over to the general population since the 70’s. A Middle Eastern favorite for centuries, made of grapes and Anise, affordable and perfect for this climate, it has migrated here from Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq and has become quite popular in many social settings but is still in many ways a low-brow brew. I, too, who grew up knowing nothing of it, have became an avid fan. Especially with an ice cube, mint leave, and a bit of grapefruit juice. A big part of its popularity is its reasonable price. The cheaper Arak bottles go for 35 NIS – about $7.  Not anymore.
The new law goes into effect July 1. Liquor stores are already pretty much empty of Arak. Everybody’s stocking up and the distributors are not releasing new stock. Yesterday, at a random liquor store, while waiting for my car to get some work done in a nearby garage, I interviewed the owner about the news. “it isn’t just the Arak or the cheaper Vodka or the income tax’ he tells me, ‘Lapid just doesn’t really care about your average working person. He and Bibi care about the ones who make as much money as they do, and we are all too weak and tired to scream.’
Arak isn’t bread (that’s getting more expensive also, btw) and it really is too hot to protest, but there is a rumble in the air. Lapid’s party is doing some good things in the Knesset – such as the new bill that was just passed this week incorporating women, for the first time, in the committee that nominates religious judges. But on the whole – there is a thirst for more, for change, for more sensitive wisdom that was promised pre elections but does not seem to be delivered.
I don’t think the Israeli public will hit the streets over the price of Arak. But thirst – of all types, for all reasons, legitimate or not, can topple leaders and create chaos and sometimes create real change.  And sometimes it ends badly, with everybody losing tempers and nobody winning at all.
That’s sort of what happens in this week’s Torah text, Chukat, in which the thirst for water ( if not for harder drinking) dominates the day. Miriam dies, and with her dries up the well that fed the people. It’s a gorgeous metaphor that hints at the loss of matriarchal leadership – quenching the soul thirst of the people, not just the needs for security and jobs.
The thirsty people protest and Moses, helpless, hits a rock instead of talking, as instructed. The place is renamed ‘the waters of strife’.
I think about that thirst of Biblical proportions. Theirs is a thirst of days- not the post workout or bike ride or long day in the heat thirst, with a bottle moments away – but the parched, many long days in heat thirst that dulls the senses: that kind of thirst.  It is not unlike the deeper thirst for love, for meaning, for being part of something bigger and for being truly taken care of.
That ancient frustrated meets today’s as bleak reminder but also as a hopeful hint.
It takes 12 men to replace one woman – shortly after Miriam dies the leaders of the tribes create a ritual in which they stand in a circle, sing a song to the well, and raise the water. This circle of leadership, the popular people’s circle is the response to the thirst, to the leadership that’s gone too far.
The Hebrew words for well, באר, is oddly linked to the English word for watering hole – the bar – exact same letters, and very similar needs. Water, or Arak, and all other options, I hope that we find – and create ways in which to come together, circles of care, to sing, and protest, and care of each other, and clamour for changes, and drink, responsibly, together.
I’ll drink to that! With the last of my cheap Arak.
L’chyaim. Shabbat Shalom.

 

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

Are world leaders getting younger or am I getting older? (or both) Word #18

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.

 

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Elders

זקנים

It’s not that I feel old or unaccomplished at 43 but I was startled by how many of the new members of Knesset are younger than me, or just about my age. Whatever happened to “Elders”?  Are leaders getting younger or am I just getting older? Or both?

I watched the official swearing-in of the 19th Knesset on TV with my parents, and was really moved by the ceremony and esp. by the glowing faces of a few friends of mine, standing up to state their commitment to the government and the people and a better future for us all. One by one, each of the 120 members rose in their seats to declare “I commit’ to public service.

48 new members, 27 women, 39 religious Jews, 10 Muslims, 1 Christian, 1 Druze, 13 PhD’s, at least 15 currently single, 1 (out) LGBT rep. I don’t know how many live across the green line, how many are parents, or musicians, or happy. 16 are younger than 40. Or as the official webpage of Israel’s Foreign Ministry puts it:  “The 19th Knesset average age is young.“

When Obama (who at 51 is still on the youngish side) visits Israel this coming spring (Wouldn’t it be awesome if he comes for Seder?) he will meet Lapid – who’s a few months younger than him, Bennett who’s 40 and Stav Shafir – at 28 the youngest women to sit at the Knesset.  Feels like teen spirit? Not exactly, but it sure feels like fresh energy and a leadership that understands the world as is and as will be through a more contemporary lens, more digital than analogue. It’s mostly a good thing and hopefully can help make new realities happen.

But what about the sages of ages? That whole ‘the older you get -the wiser?’ Where, in our youth-obsessed culture, is there room and respect not just for young sexy and restless but also for the real role of elders? For patience, humility and the wisdom that comes with wrinkles?

Elders, back in the Biblical day meant those who had  beards. The word for Elder – Zaken, and the word for beard – Zakan are written the same way in Hebrew, though pronounced a bit differently. It’s a not so subtle statement about gender roles but also, possibly about age and status.  And the very first time in which an official gathering of the Seventy Bearded Elders of Israel is convened happens in this week’s Torah text, Mishpatim:

“Moses climbed, with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel” Ex 24:9

The scene is auspicious: Yet another rendition of the Revelation at Sinai, but in this version Moses does not arrive alone for the Summit Meeting with God.  He has an entourage: The High Priest and his two heirs are followed by the first official public body-politic of the Jewish people – seventy anonymous leaders. No names or stats are available, but we’ll assume no women, and no Ph’ds. Probably beards. Who were these founding fathers? How old were they? How were they chosen? What was their role? And why seventy?

We won’t know the answers to most of these questions. The number of elders, for instance, is a Talmudic debate. During the Second Temple era and right after the destruction there is mention of an assembly of seventy, or seventy two. But there is also talk of 120 members of the Great Assembly – the first Knesset. This was the number that inspired the first Israeli Knesset back in 1948.

There is another direct link between the first gathering of Elders in Exodus and the 19th Knesset. The 120 members, along with family members and guests gathered at the Chagall Lounge after the swearing-in ceremony to raise a glass and enjoy one last friendly moment before the political agenda start stirring the pots. Moses, the Torah, and the Seventy Elders were depicted by Chagall on one of the three tapestries that dominate the room since 1966.

Regardless of age, agenda, gender or faith – let’s hope that this new gathering of state leaders waste no time in making good on the many promises and, like Moses and his elders, bring us one step closer to Divine truth, shared responsibilities, and a better life for all. 

(and no, I’m not going to say a word about Sarah’s dress. )

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

 

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org