Friday, March 18, 2011

Wild flowers, spring and hopes for better times

Wild flowers
Yesterday we fasted the 'Fast of Esther' commemorating the fast Esther and the Jews kept before she risked her life to go to the king and get Haman's decree revoked. Tonight we will be lighting Shabbat candles and tomorrow we will read the 'Zachor' describing the attack by Amalek on the weakest of the travelling Israelites during the travels in the Sinai after leaving Egypt. The tradition is that Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was descended from Amalek and so we read this portion which includes a commandment to remember (zachor זכור means remember) the attack by Amalek and wipe out Amalek.  This public reading is done on the Shabbat before Purim and both men and women are required to hear the reading. Then on Saturday night we will be reading the Purim story and celebrating yet another deliverance. 
In the Megilat Esther (the Purim story is read from a scroll named after Esther) there is not one mention of the name of God. How could that be? How could there have been deliverance without God's intervention. There have been many many interpretations given through years but the one that rings especially true this year is that God is not mentioned in order to show us that the evil decree is an example of hester panim (when God figuratively hides his face) as the word hester is alluded to in the name of the queen Esther. The deliverance came not by supernatural miracle - as in the parting of the Red Sea - but through Esther's brave deed along with the moral support of Mordechai all the Jewish people. This teaches us to look at all of life as a miracle through which God manifests his presence in the world. Sometimes his plans for the world are in tune with our expectations and we consider that state 'natural' and other times it is harder for us to accept events because we fail to see their meaning. This week has been one of those weeks when it is difficult for us to understand God's presence in our world. 

This week began with the funeral of the Fogel family of Itamar.Over 20,000 people accompanied them to their graves. It was difficult even to watch the broadcast and I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be there in person. All the eulogies were emotional and raw reflecting the shock of the brutality. The former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, who was the youngest survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp (7 years old at the liberation) said
"it appeared as though the cycle of terror closed 66 years ago, when the blood of infants was spilled like water, when a million an a half children were trampled at the hands of beastly people.  "Sixty-six years have passed. We announced a State, we achieved independence. We established the magnificent Israel Defense Forces. And still, this cycle of terror and the river of blood flows, and we stand here helplessly." 
In addition he addressed remarks to twelve year old Tamar Fogel saying that she will now take on a role of 'little mother' to her surviving brothers (8 and 2 years old) who will have to be the 'kaddish' for their parents' memory in the years to come.  I noticed many well-meaning folks, mostly women, who felt that this thought was out of place. Let the little girl remain a child. Don't burden her with this responsibility. Would that we could! But Rav Lau knows different. His life is a testimony to to just how resilient a child can be. But no matter how much everyone wants to help, and will help, those children will ultimately share with each other an emotional tie that is like no other. .
(If you haven't read his autobiography אל תשלח ידך בנער in Hebrew you will apparently be able to read it soon in English and everyone should read it!) 
And in another one of those weird 'only in Israel' ironies an IDF army medic saved a new born Arab baby girl in the Neve Zuf settlement where the Fogel's parents are sitting shiva

It's been a sad week for us in Israel and around the world. The earthquake in Japan and the bad to worse condition of the nuclear power plants have yet to be fully understood. When we empathize we usually call upon a similar emotion or reaction in our memory to help us feel the pain of others. But the horror that is happening in Japan, I have no parallel experience to call upon. I can only imagine. Japan is the only country to have experienced nuclear fall-out and that was in wartime. I always imagine that what Japanese must feel towards nuclear destruction is similar to the horror which we feel about the Holocaust. I am trying to imagine an earthquake killing thousands followed by a Holocaust and no end in sight.

And so it goes. Life is made of cycles, grief and danger, joy and deliverance. Through all of it certain things stay the same. The winter is drawing to a close and next week is spring solstice. There are wild flowers blooming in Rehovot and as the seasons change the flowers bring hope of nature's renewal.
And now we can only pray that God bring order back into our lives and give us strength to go forward. 
עושה שלום במרומיו 
He who keeps the peace in his world 
הוא יעשה שלום עלינו
He will bring peace (and order) upon all of us 
ועל כל ישראל
And on all Israel 
ונאמר אמן
And we will say amen!


Batya said...

Risa, thanks so much for this post. It says so much.
Miss you

Risa said...

Thanks Batya, I hope we make it to get together soon. Maybe now that the days are getting later.

Anonymous said...


Leora said...

You give us so much to ponder.

Love the beautiful flowers.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim.

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