Raising Torah 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Frankly, what I heard about the man made me think he was crazy.
friends of mine told me that he was speaking in town, so I went to hear him.
Some said he was a prophet or visionary, others said he was just a dreamer. His
name was Ezra the Scribe, and what he had to say that day changed my life
He spoke of renewal and return. That “teshuva” was the only
thing in this world that man was able to do that had repercussions for his past,
as well as his future. That “teshuva” wasn’t just fancy Hebrew for the word
“repentance,” but rather was an all-embracing return to both God and self. He
spoke about the renewed settlement in Judea and how it symbolized teshuva on the
national level. The romance of “an ancient people returning to their ancient
land to both build her and be built by her” captivated me.
By the time he
finished speaking, I had resolved to join him, my people, and my God. The price
was steep. I had a beautiful Babylonian wife and three wonderful children with
her. She, of course, now thought me mad and so a divorce ensued. I gave her and
the children everything I owned. It just felt like the right thing to do, and
penniless, I set forth on the caravan from Babylon to Jerusalem.
arrival the situation was bleak. The economy was in the dumps, and the security
situation was very scary. But little by little, as the years passed, we rebuilt
the walls of Jerusalem and put the economy in order. I set myself up in a shop
as a blacksmith and remarried; this time, she was a Jew. But as the years wore
on, we forgot about why we came and the teshuva we did. That was, of course,
until that historic morning.
It was the first day of the seventh month at
the break of day that a call came through the city of Jerusalem, waking everyone
up. They said that we were to assemble as soon as possible at the Water Gate.
There, we found a huge wooden platform set up; as the crowd of men, women and
children settled in and as the sun was about to rise, a hush fell through the
crowd as an elderly gentleman with a regal appearance made his way up the stairs
onto the wooden platform. I couldn’t believe my eyes: It was Ezra the Scribe!
The years had done him well. He had these enormous eyes, which had both a fire
and kindness in them belying his years.
Suddenly, he pulled out this
gigantic, tattered old scroll and lifted it high above his head, as he
proclaimed with a charisma I have never before seen in a man, “Zot hatorah asher
sam Moshe!” “This is the Torah that Moses had placed before the Children of
Israel by the mouth of God and the hand of Moses!” And as he put the scroll
down, he began to read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the
earth.” He went on to read about a man named Abraham, who was the first to
recognize God, and how he walked with God. He read of the covenant and about
Abraham’s children suffering harsh slavery in Egypt, and how God remembered his
friend Abraham and took his children out of Egypt with great signs and wonders.
The story went on to tell how these former slaves stood at Sinai, and were
promised a land flowing with milk and honey.
It was then that our
stomachs dropped – when we realized how far we had fallen. And as he continued
to read about our special role to be a kingdom of priests, tears started rolling
down our cheeks. The reading continued till noon and then it ended. Ezra lifted
up his head from the scroll with a paternal smile. He told us that today was
Rosh Hashana and we were not to cry, but rejoice. That God loved us very much
and that we were to go out and eat, drink and celebrate, for this would be the
source of our strength.
As the crowd dispersed, we resolved each man in
his heart to make the Torah our way of life once again and that Rosh Hashana
would forever more be known as a day of teshuva. After the holidays, the men
approached Ezra and signed and swore an oath to make the Torah the constitution
of the new state.
The rest, as they say, is history. The writer is a
doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in many
post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot.