Thursday, April 14, 2005

Column: Dark Cloud

Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh Nisan; the day the tabernacle was erected in the desert, one of the four Jewish new years, and the birthday of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

I went to the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron and spent a few hours there. Spring has really arrived and we have probably now seen the last of the cold and rain and the day in Meron was almost festive but not quite. There is something heavy in the air and it rests like a dark cloud in the sky these days.

As over 100 mortars were falling in Gush Katif – something I was to hear about only later – I was sitting with friends in the evening, back in Safed, at a barbeque to celebrate Rabbi Nachman’s birthday and the new month and the birthday of the son of a friend. Again, it was festive and yet not festive. It is hard to celebrate – there is something heavy in the air.

Not knowing that Gush Katif was being barraged and that Sharon and the IDF was doing absolutely nothing about it and that over thirty Jews had been arrested in Jerusalem for wanting to pray on the Temple Mount and that others were claiming to have been beaten by the police for nothing – a story confirmed by a Magen David Adom worker and carried by Arutz 7, we still had trouble succeeding to be unaware of what was going on down south. It’s just become something that permeates the air -- something heavy hanging over the whole country.

I observed as the conversation at the barbeque turned to classic religious understandings of Zionism. One friend is a follower of Rabbi Kook, another and yet another see the approach of the Satmar Rebbe as more instructive in understanding the times we live in and the challenges they present. The common thread is that there is a desire to understand what Hashem is doing – how he is acting in the world to bring the redemption of the Jewish People and seeing who is playing what roles in the acting out of history. Even more fundamentally, there is a desire to renew faith in the face of adversity.

But what is this great adversity and what is this heavy cloud and why did I bring a long list of threats from the Talmud in Sanhedrin last week about the end of days? What is all this doom and gloom? Why do celebrations turn to discussions about the very nature and intrinsic value of Zionism?

I had a thought yesterday morning, preceding the experiences of the day mentioned above, about the significance of Sharon’s expulsion plan in historical and religious context which may help explain my mood and the perception I had of others and their moods and conversations.

The thought was that since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans and the exile of 2,000 years, there has been no greater expulsion of Jews from part of the Land of Israel than what we are standing in front of today. Additionally and importantly, the communities of Gush Katif are religious communities which have been targeted by government that while it dispels all loyalty to Zionist principles, it holds tenaciously it seems to at least the one thing that unifies the Zionists of old and their post-Zionist heirs – a disdain for Torah and an eagerness it seems to punish those that love it and live by it.

It is the awareness, vague as it might yet still be, that more than just Gush Katif is at stake and more than just Gush Katif is under attack that hangs a heavy cloud over the whole country. If this horrible plan goes forward it will be a low point in Jewish history, spirituality and brotherhood that will eclipse anything we have seen in the Land of Israel for 2,000 years. I find it horrifying and threatening and I am only now beginning to feel the judgment of it gathering like a dark cloud above.

And so, everything seems strange and out of kilter. Celebrations don’t quite get off the ground. Holy days and holy places are missing the glow they should have. Conversations gravitate towards discussions of threats, ill will, and evil design and we wait.

We wait in spiritual limbo as a country that was hijacked politically by one man is led in a direction that none of us have chosen – knowing and now seeing clear signs of the fact that the full force of the government is poised to pounce brutally on those who will take to the streets to protest as mortars still rain down.

It’s a dark cloud that these mortars are falling from and it hangs over all of us.


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