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“I Am in Israel: A Land of Great Promise,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way to Shabbat.

It began along the fertile crescent from Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris that forms an arc swinging up and over toward a land that bridged Asia with Africa. It was there, close to those rivers, in the city of Ur and then Haran where Abraham and Sarah resided. They heard the call from God to go forth לך לך Lech Lecha and to journey westward over and into the land of Canaan. Once there, the Torah informs us of the promise God made them.

I will maintain My covenant between Me and you, and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, to be God to you and to your offspring to come.
וַהֲקִמֹתִ֨י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֜י בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֗ךָ וּבֵ֨ין זַרְעֲךָ֧ אַחֲרֶ֛יךָ לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם לִבְרִ֣ית עוֹלָ֑ם לִהְי֤וֹת לְךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים וּֽלְזַרְעֲךָ֖ אַחֲרֶֽיךָ׃

I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding. I will be their God.
וְנָתַתִּ֣י לְ֠ךָ֠ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֨ אַחֲרֶ֜יךָ אֵ֣ת | אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֗יךָ אֵ֚ת כׇּל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן לַאֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים׃

(Genesis 17: 7-8)

And thus the idea of a “promised land” took hold as the name for that precious land bridge that connected Asia with Africa. It is not possible to say “and the rest is history.” Because history would reveal that the land changed hands, hosted great strife, and also possibility. It is for this reason that I choose to call this place next to the Mediterranean Sea on a relatively small parcel of earth, the land of great promise. I prefer this because the promise has to be the result of those who inhabit this space and place. They are the ones who must realize its full potential. And we know many reside there.

Israel is on full display for me right now. I am in Israel for the culminating summer of my studies with the Hartman Institute where I am part of the Rabbinic Leadership Institute. (The program was extended because of lost time due to Covid.) I am acutely aware of the internal strife within the borders and beyond. I also watch and participate in the daily routines of life. All of it is here.

At the end of Moses’ life, after having sojourned for forty years to reach this land of great promise, he could not enter, he ascended a mountain that looked over the land so that he could catch a glimpse of what was and could be there.

We too still only catch a glimpse of the possibility of the promise of this land. I know there is much to see of the breach, of the torn parts, of the brokenness of people’s lives. And yet, Jews, Muslims, Christian, Druze, Bahai, and many other faiths have created enriching lives here, filled with the practice of their traditions. Israeli Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews move with one another and also against each other as well. I am moved by the organizations and individuals efforts to overcome the strife. I am inspired by the protests that allow many voices, some in the same location and some in separate ones to challenge decisions and behaviors of the government and for those who support it, too.

From across the ocean, the glimpses we see are fashioned in particular ways, some negative and some positive depending on your sources. Here, to enter into conversation with others who reside here and to witness the work that strives for a piece of peace are just some of the ways pieces of that promise becomes manifest. The expectation to have a perfect peace or the full fulfillment of the promise seem unrealistic to me. We know this from our own country. We should not, however, stop trying.

I end with this prayer for Israel, adapted for this moment.

Rock of Israel, the One who has saved us and preserved us in life,
bless Israel and all those who dwell in the land of great promise.
Be her loving shield, a shelter of lasting peace.
Guide her leaders and advisors by Your light of truth;
instruct them with Your good counsel.
Strengthen the hands of those who build and protect the holiness of the land.
Deliver all from danger; crown their efforts with success.
Grant peace to the land, lasting joy to all people.
And together we say: Amen.

And also Shabbat Shalom!

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