Torah from around the world #64

“The Wedding of Kate and Will, the Killing of Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring” on Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1–24:23)

by Rabbi Mark L. Winer, Ph.D., D.D., Senior Scholar, West London Synagogue of British Jews; Chairman, International Interfaith Task Force of the WUPJ; and President, FAITH: the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony.



Spring is the season of hope. Nature restores its shining light and revives the glorious colors of its blossoms. Both Pesach and Easter rejoice in nature’s emergence from dreary winter and promise renewed life and love in the future.

Shortly after Easter and the end of Pesach, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton last week galvanized the hopeful spirit of Spring. The troubled marriage and tragic death of the Prince’s mother Princess Diana clouded the joyous exuberance. Remembering Diana reminds us that as much as we may rejoice at a wedding, building a marriage over a lifetime is a challenging endeavor and tragedy is an ever-possible complication in even the most charmed life.

It was on Yom HaShoa – Holocaust Remembrance Day – that we learned of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The day dedicated to vigilance against the evil of which humans are capable renewed our hope that our world’s hate-mongers can be defeated. Despite widespread euphoria at the news, Bin Laden’s death does not comprise Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world. His killing is the removal of a cancer in the body of humanity. But it is the careful building of positive relations among the children of Abraham, and among all of God’s children, that will make the world a better place in the long run.

This week’s Torah portion Emor proclaims the cycle of Jewish holidays, and prescribes the counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot. “From the day on which you bring the sheaf of wave offering...you shall count off seven weeks...” (Leviticus 23:15)  In our tradition, Jews avoid scheduling weddings during the seven week period. Although counting the Omer is rooted in an agricultural society, Jewish sages long ago gave it a spiritual twist, and made it a time to concentrate on growing our marriages, reflected in the marital Covenant between God and the Jewish People, whose Ketubah is the Torah, and whose wedding is Shavuot.

Vestigial it may be, but counting the Omer teaches a crucial lesson. On weddings and holidays we rejoice, but it is on the days in-between that we construct our marriages and participate in Tikkun Olam – repair the world. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah cannot come on the Sabbath or on the holidays, but only on a weekday. It is the days in-between, the days of counting the Omer, the work-a-days, when we human beings become God’s partners in completing creation.

Workdays can be tedious, painful, and demanding. But it is those ordinary days that earn holidays and celebrations. Counting the Omer transforms our liberation at Pesach into the towering commitment of Shavuot. Freedom from Egyptian bondage blossoms to full flower in our Covenant with God.

In the “Arab Spring,” Israel’s neighbours celebrate the up-shoots of their fledgling liberation from the tyranny of dictators. The “Arab Spring” puts the lie to Osama Bin Laden’s Islamist narrative that only fundamentalist Islam can defeat the region’s tyrants. The birth of freedom has never been easy, not for our ancestors in Egypt and not in the recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. Thousands have died to secure an often tenuous freedom and to launch soaring hope for the future. As supporters of Israel we Progressive Jews feel anxiety about the impact of the Arab Spring on the Middle East peace process in the short run, even as we trust in the lurching progress toward constitutional democracy in the long run.

In the course of counting the Omer, we not only commemorate Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Day, but also Yom HaZikaron - Remembrance Day, and Yom HaAtzmaut - Israeli Independence Day. We Jews know the essential drudgery and roller-coaster complexity of moving from freedom to commitment, from Pesach to Shavuot, from overthrowing despots to securing constitutional democracy. Just as we wish Prince William and his bride “Mazal Tov,” we pray for the success of Israel’s Arab neighbours in transforming their glimmers of freedom into constitutional democracy. It really has not served Israel’s interest to be the only constitutional democracy in the Middle East. A neighbourhood which cherishes democracy and pluralism will eventually become more hospitable to a Jewish State in its midst.

As Progressive Jews throughout the world, we can play a positive role in the Arab Spring. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh B’Zeh - all Jews are inextricably intertwined. Similarly, all of the Arabs, and all of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world feel a sense of kinship. Wherever we live, in the State of Israel or in the Diaspora, we can reach out to support the glimmerings of democratic pluralism within the Muslim world. When, within our local communities, we stand up to oppose Islamaphobia, or to build positive community relationships with local mosques, or to partner in dialogue with mosques and churches, we “repair the world.”  The ripples of our Jewish friendship with our Muslim neighbours flow throughout the Muslim world. They foster an atmosphere more conducive to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and strengthen peace in every local community. As Tractate Sanhedrin teaches, “one who makes peace in a local neighbourhood is viewed as having made peace in the entire world.”

In the spirit of this Spring season between Pesach and Shavuot, may we count the Omer carefully, number our days, make every hour count, repair the world in every minute, express love in every second. The blossoms of peace and freedom and fellowship will then pollinate every soul and flower in every land.

Amen

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