These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Establishi​ng an Enduring State

Posted on May 23, 2011 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

This week’s parsha, Parshat Bechukotai, has prompted me to return to the subject of Israel and explore my relationship and understandings of this place as a reality and an ideal. There is a bizarre word in the parsha, which funnily enough I’ve encountered countless times before reading the parsha this week, as it appears in Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals).

The word is קוֹמְמִיּוּת (komemiyut) and it emerges at the start of the parsha, after a series of blessings God promises the Jewish People if they keep God’s commandments. The Torah says:

יב וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי, בְּתוֹכְכֶם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם, לֵא-לֹהִים; וְאַתֶּם, תִּהְיוּ-לִי לְעָם

12 And I [God] will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be My people.

יג אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מִהְיֹת לָהֶם, עֲבָדִים; וָאֶשְׁבֹּר מֹטֹת עֻלְּכֶם, וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם קוֹמְמִיּוּת

13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bars of your yoke, and made you go upright.  (Leviticus 26:12-13)

This term (komemiyut) does not appear anywhere else in the Bible. (In academic study of the Bible, a word that is written only once in the Bible is called a hapax legomenon.) As such, it is even more difficult to discern the meaning of this word since it does not appear in any other biblical texts. Nevertheless, we shall endeavour to uncover the significance of this term and hopefully gain insight into the contexts in which the word (komemiyut) is employed.

First, let us examine the immediate context of this word. In the parsha, God has just listed a series of blessings God will bestow on the Jewish People as long as they are faithful to the Torah. Moreover, God promises that God will relieve the Jewish People of their burdens and “make them walk/go komemiyut. So what kind of relief is God bringing the nation here? What does God plan to do after the yoke has been lifted off of them? Once the Jewish People have been liberated from physical and spiritual bondage of Egypt, what’s next?

The Torah seems to suggest that the transition from Egypt to a life operating on the principles and practices of the Torah is a difficult one. Therefore, God reassures the people that God will be with them and assist them in tackling the world as they endeavour to live a meaningful Jewish life, and maybe especially establishing that life in the Land of Israel.

Although somewhat of a dense work, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon sheds some light on this subject with numerous definitions of the Hebrew root ק-ו-מ which is found in our hapax legomenon of קוֹמְמִיּוּת.

Possible Definitions of קוֹמְמִיּוּת based on the Hebrew root ק-ו-מ
  1. to become powerful, to revolt/be hostile, impose (v.)
  2. establishment (n.)
  3. to persist (v.)
  4. carry out, give effect to an oath or covenant (v.)
  1. standing up, enduring (adj.)
  2. uprightness – upright, i.e. as freeman (n.)
So, what are we to make of all of this academic unpacking of the word קוֹמְמִיּוּת?

I think קוֹמְמִיּוּת means all of these things listed above. It means endurance and establishment, and maybe even with some hostility and force at times. But it also expresses a desire to persist and to carry out a legacy, a covenant. In order to do so, one must stand firm in one’s beliefs, confident that goodness will surely follow.

I believe that the language of קוֹמְמִיּוּת exemplifies my relationship to and vision of Israel and the founding of a Jewish State. More specifically, Birkat Hamazon also illustrates this objective, as it says:

הרחמן הוא יוליכנו מהרה קוממיות לארצנו

O Merciful One, who will bring us speedily in קוֹמְמִיּוּת to our land.

In this text we ask God to show us mercy and enable us to live out the values and norms laid out in the Torah, and specifically in the Land of Israel. And I suppose in some sense this is how I experience Israel: it is a place that requires tremendous persistence and drive to live up to the standards set forth in the Torah. But it is also a place which enables a life of meaning and consequently elevates my soul. Yet, it is not always easy to experience this elevated spiritual existence personally and/or in the public realm. And so, we strive to endure in this place not for its own sake, but for the sake of what it represents. Every day we aspire to re-establish the State, cultivating our highest values such as compassion, dignity, justice and peace.

As I think about transitioning my life here to North America, I am concerned that I will not be able to recreate the sanctity and spiritual elevation that I experience here. But I suppose this parsha gives me comfort in knowing that this is a struggle that the Torah anticipated. More than that, God offers to support the Jewish People in their venture to live a sanctified life.

I hope and pray that God will bless us all, giving us strength and wisdom to stand upright and firmly realize our vision for Israel, with limited hostility, so that the legacy of the Torah and the Jewish People will endure.

Shabbat Shalom,