These and Those

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

My ניצבים Shabbaton Dvar Torah

Posted on September 16, 2012 by Abayiss

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Shabbat Shalom everyone, I hope you are all enjoying our first Shabbaton, communal weekend, so far, resting from the past week, and gathering energy for the next one.

This week’s Torah Portion opens with the words “אתם ניצבים היום כולכם”, “Ye are standing this day, all of you” (דברים כ”ט, ט’, Deut. 29:9).

All of them.

But not just all of them, but all of US.

The Portion continues: “ולא איתכם לבדכם…כי את אשר ישנו פה עימנו… ואת אשר איננו פה עימנו היום”, “Neither with you only… But with him that standeth here with us this day… And also with him that is not here with us this day” (דברים כ”ט, י”ג-י”ד, Deut. 29:13-14).
Rashi says: “ואת אשר איננו פה – ואף עם דורות העתידים להיות” “And also with him who is not here – also with future generations”.
In other words, the very connection that makes us a people, a community, is a timeless one, stretching constantly from the present to the end of time, at the same time, this connection lives on from the past through us.

Every single one of us, sitting here, in Jerusalem, at the end of a full week of studying various Jewish texts and ideas, is the realization of a 2000-year-old dream. A dream of returning to the Land of Israel and the Holy City of Jerusalem, of rebuilding the Jewish community here, and most importantly, establishing a living, learning society that bases its values on the Jewish tradition and way of life.

But not only that, the very word ניצבים means more than just standing. It means standing strong, proud, in plain sight. We are here as Jews, in the Jewish homeland, studying the sources and concepts that have held us together as a people throughout the diaspora, and we are doing so proudly. We are here, we are living Jewishly, and we do so proudly!

However, I would like to be honest.  We don’t always experience this mythic sense that we are gathered together in our home. …

In fact it took me almost 13 years to experience it deeply.

It happened on a Shabbat evening in my military service.
My unit was returning to Jerusalem on Friday night from an operation that had gone wrong in pretty much every way possible. As we drove up the winding mountain road, we all started calming down, for the first time in days, laughing and even singing. When we finally entered the city, a group of kids crossed the street in front of us, waving and chanting encouraging words to us. At that moment, I had a sense of fulfillment, a sense that I had arrived home, that this is what it is all about. That was the first time I had felt that way, so deeply, and as I found out later, several of my friends experienced that same moment, in the very same way.

For me that was the moment, but everyone who stands, as the Parsha says, as one of “all of us”, eventually has that moment – that moment when we are standing with each other and standing with all the generations past.

I would like to finish by saying that I am truly grateful to be standing here today, with all of you, as part of the Pardes community, heading in to a year of studying and yes – good times.

And yes, on this night – Shabbat – I would like to thank those people who serve to keep this home alive.  In the Haftarah, the Reading from the Prophets, it says “על חומותייך, עיר דוד, הפקדתי שומרים, כל היום וכל הלילה, תמיד לא יחשו”, “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, they shall never hold their peace, day nor night” (ישעיה ס”ב, ו’, Isaiah 62:6).
While several commentators choose to understand this as G-d placing angels as watchmen, or alternatively, that the watchmen are the Prophets who constantly pray for the rehabilitation and welfare of Jerusalem, I’d like to take the words literally, and appreciate the prophetic fulfillment – the fact that we have a country with soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and the operatives of the other Security Branches (of all religions).  And I would like to thank them for risking their very lives, day and night, so that they and we can all continue fulfilling the dream and live in Israel, in Jerusalem, as Jews.

May we each have a Shana Tova of personally experiencing home as we all stand together.

Shabbat shalom.