Monday, July 25, 2011

Do We Need Destruction?

Shabbat Masei
Bamidbar 33:1-36:13
28 Tamuz 5771 / July 29 – 30, 2011

Do We Need Destruction?
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In this week’s portion, Parshat Masei (Journeys) we are given a recap of a variety of stops made on the way from Egypt to Palestine. Finally, the time has arrived for the Jewish people to end their lives as nomads and become land owners. One problem: Palestine is not an empty land. It is inhabited by people from a variety of nations and in Chapter 33, verses 50-53, the Israelites are instructed to not only take the land of the people dwelling there but to “drive them out,” and “destroy all their prostration stones; all their molten images shall you destroy; all their high places you shall demolish.”

Reading these verses reminds me of something I have been pondering lately. We are now in a time period in the Jewish calendar called the Three Weeks. It is the time between two fast days that mark the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The first day is the 17th of Tamuz when the walls of the Temple were breached and the second day is the 9th of Ave, the actual day the Temples were destroyed.

The destruction of the Temples brought a lot of change to the Jewish people and not all of it was bad. We have stopped killing animals for our worship and have become a book-based faith, able to survive anywhere. I wonder about how destruction is sometimes necessary in order for new ideas and understandings to bloom.

In my community I hear a lot about taking the “Buddhist approach” to a situation. Accept change and give up the pain of holding on to something that you will eventually lose anyway. I definitely see the value in this philosophy and with many things try to practice it. The problem though is when we try to judge others through that lens. It is easy to say that the Jews living in the Old City of Jerusalem should have just accepted that life as they knew it was over and a new model was needed. They could have opened the city gates and surrendered – perhaps saving many lives and the Temple itself. Obviously, this is a very difficult statement to make. How can we point back at the past and purport to know what should have been done? How do we really know if things would have turned out better?

The nation of Israel is charged with a responsibility to Wrestle with G-d (the literal translation of Yisra-El). During these Three Weeks I think it is important to wrestle with the following question: What convictions do we want to hold on to, even in the face of destruction? Let’s take this contemplative period of our calendar to consider what are the beliefs about our selves, our community, and G-d that are really worth risking it all for. And similarly what convictions might we be fighting for that are no longer relevant or helpful.


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