Between heaven and earth

The holiday of the giving of the Torah serves to remind us that the Torah will only remain relevant if we continue to “receive” it, and only if our actions demonstrate that we are worthy of receiving it.

By ITAI CAPSOUTO
June 6, 2019 21:22
4 minute read.
‘AS A society still in a struggle for existence, we have a moral obligation to do everything in our

‘AS A society still in a struggle for existence, we have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to bring this state of war to an end, to bring security and a future of peace.’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Living in the Land of Israel allows one to experience in a direct and meaningful way, and on many different levels, the holiday of Shavuot as a unique juxtaposition of themes. On the spiritual level, this is the day on which we commemorate the giving of the Torah. While on a more “earthly” agricultural plane, we celebrate our connection to the land and its produce.

The holiday of the giving of the Torah serves to remind us that the Torah will only remain relevant if we continue to “receive” it, and only if our actions demonstrate that we are worthy of receiving it. In order for this to occur, we must be willing to undertake (on both the personal and public/societal levels) a process of tikkun, of repair; of correction or healing.
We can quote verses from the Torah or use the Torah to provide justification for a particular course of action that we choose to take. However, if we wish to truly connect with our spiritual, “other-worldly” heritage, Shavuot reminds us that the path to this connection is through this material world.


In Midrash Vayikra Rabba, we read: “When you enter the Land of Israel, your first efforts shall be devoted to planting.” In other words, the entrance into the land is not with a focus on communal prayer, but rather on working the land. Zionism also stressed the connection between an attachment to the land, and the connection to our fundamental humanity; the connection between a person and his or her personal goals or “mission,” and even the connection between individuals. When we are attuned to the land, we are attuned to others. There is a process, then, which begins on the earthly plane, and from there extends to spiritual dimensions.


Alternatively, there are some who claim that the giving of the Torah involves a certain dissociation from the land and other temporal concerns, citing the words of the Sages: “When Israel fulfills the Divine Will, its productive work will be done by others.” In my view, this dissociation occurs only for those whose faith and whose understanding of Torah is limited to their particular perspective, causing them to lose the ability and even the desire to properly perceive the nature of the objective reality that surrounds them. The holiday of Shavuot comes to remind us that “reaching for the heavens” does not entail losing sight of the needs of others; rather, it is precisely our concern for and involvement with others that creates the possibility of receiving the Torah. The danger inherent in divorcing Torah from material and objective reality goes beyond ignoring that reality. It ultimately leads to callousness and perhaps even cruelty toward others.


Unfortunately, there do exist among us some who view themselves as inherently superior and holier than others, by virtue of their skin color, their religion, their language and culture, or their gender. Some state this openly, others are more subtle, and some even grant this a religious justification and create centers for Torah study, in which such views are openly espoused. But there can be no greater desecration of the Divine Name, no greater chilul hashem, than considering oneself to be holier or better than others.


As a society still in a struggle for existence, in which sons and daughters are still called upon to fight and to defend our borders, and in which citizens are required to be willing to pay a heavy price for their freedom, we have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to bring this state of war to an end, to bring security and a future of peace. Obviously, there are factors beyond our control and the situation is very complicated, but I fear that our diligence and commitment to achieve security and peace have eroded. We must not rest. We must not give in to perennial despair. And we must not support and sanctify ideologies that justify inaction; that obliterate our hope for a better future and lead us to the conclusion that we cannot live peacefully with others. We must not give in to those who say, “the Eternal People is not afraid of the long road ahead,” and mean a path of war rather than a path of peace.


The strength and vitality of a society is not reflected simply by talk of “peace” or “war,” but rather by how that society functions, and how its norms are created and fostered. Perhaps all of us need to think deeply about how we can build a more humane, tolerant, and open society. We need to remember that physical, military strength is only a means to ensure our survival. Our goal must be to reach higher, to become the best that we can be. May the upcoming holiday of Shavuot help us to deepen our connection to adamah and to adam, to the land and to our humanity, that we truly “receive” the Torah once again.


The writer is director of the Hannaton Mechina.


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