Jerusalem old city 88.
(photo credit: )
They call the Jews the "People of the Book." Now, the assumption is that the book referred to is the Holy Bible, and that we are both the protagonists as well as the prize students of said work. But I suggest to you that there are two other books - perhaps less celebrated, but no less important - that Jewishly define who and what we are. They are the checkbook and the date book.
A quick glance at one's checkbook will reveal a pretty fair idea about where our priorities lie: Do we give ample amounts of charity, helping our fellow Jews and improving the world? Do we spend a goodly amount of our paycheck on our children, particularly on their curricular and extracurricular education? Are all the entries devoted to our own pastimes and pursuits, or there is any mention of community organizations to which we belong and support?
And then there is the date book. On a micro level, how we spend our time each and every day is a powerful statement as to the kind of person we are. A date book that is a sea of blue ink, with numerous bits of information jammed into the daily squares, testifies that we are busily committed to utilizing each precious hour of our lives and filling it with purpose, meaning and movement. An uncluttered, all-too-neat daily planner may hint to a life that is mired in routine, one that is unchallenging and even boring.
On a macro level, the date book highlights the rhythm of our lives.
When do we work, and when do we play? When do we run, and when do we relax? To what calendar events do we look forward, so as to add spice and spirit to the seasons? For the world at large, weekends, birthdays and anniversaries are the primary opportunities to escape the hum-drum progression of time, and inject much needed excitement into our lives. For people of faith, especially Jews, it is the holidays of the year which focus and direct us.
BEYOND EACH individual festival or holy day, the rabbis saw a "bigger picture" which grouped the holidays into thematic clusters. For example, the Hebrew months of Elul, Tishrei and Heshvan are all about repentance, respect and renewal. During this quarter of the year, we ask God and our fellow man for forgiveness by intensifying prayer both before and during the 10 Days of Repentance; we celebrate the land and God's guardianship of humanity by moving out of our homes into little succot; and we greet the first drops of rain with sincere gratitude for the opportunity of new growth in both the soil and the soul.
The spring quarter, comprising the months of Adar, Nisan and Iyar, revolve around man's responsibility to take an active, involved role in the workings of history, and the amazing miracles which such involvement can generate. Adar brings us Purim and the stirring saga of how devoted Jewish leadership - with a helping hand from above - can save a nation from destruction. Pessah demonstrates the willingness of God to alter nature and change history for us - if we swear divine allegiance and have the courage to follow Him into uncharted desert territory. And Yom Ha'atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim follow suit by vividly reminding us that God is not consigned to age-old legends, but is very much a part of the here and now.
The dramatic resurrection of the Jewish state in 1948, and the miraculous victory over our enemies in 1967 - resulting in the unification of Jerusalem and Jewish control over our holiest sites - are enduring reminders that God is alive, and not abstract.
And herein lays the great challenge which these newest holidays bring to Israel and the entire Jewish people. Will we recognize the hand of God at work in these stunning events? Will we celebrate them no less joyously than the exodus or the escape from Haman's clutches? Or will we adamantly refuse to acknowledge that Jewish history is not static, not fossilized, but dynamic and ever-advancing. To recite Hallel's praises to the Almighty on Jerusalem Day is to affirm belief in a benevolent God who "neither slumbers nor sleeps"; to ignore God's blessing, or worse - to outright deny that God is the prime mover in history, particularly as it affects the Jewish people - is not just cynical, it is downright heretical.
Thus Yom Yerushalayim presents a daunting, dual challenge: To replace the blase apathy of the secular public - half of whom have never spent any significant time in our capital city - and the conscious, even strident noninvolvement of some elements of the religious community, with a sublime appreciation that we - God and His nation Israel - have at long last reclaimed the eternal city that is the heart of civilization and the jewel of the universe.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana. [email protected]