Behar-Bechukotei: Jerusalem 2009


Diary of a Traveler

You hear wailing echoes in the night and tolling bells in the background. Forces clamor for attention. And where is the Jewish sound? Is it in the bustling streets and the incessant bullhorns of Geulah and Meah Shearim protesting one thing or another? Is it in the boisterous arguments of taxi drivers and plain everyone about matters that don’t matter that much?

Welcome to Jerusalem 2009.

The Pope’s in town. Whoopee! And the traffic jams are worse than ever. People continue to do what people do, and Messiah has not yet arrived here, in case you were wondering.

My father’s soul has just finished the fourth leg of its journey beyond our material plane, which makes me think about our journey down here on this plane.

I look for some relief from existential pain. And realize: Either we soothe ourselves through distraction or numbness.

How many of our dreams and visions will be fulfilled in this lifetime? And does anybody really care – except our petty egos and fragile beings? Can we release our wild souls and not get hurt or hurt others in the process? And does it make any real difference – except for the moments and the people it affects?

And then I remember that there is a third path: Not distraction or self-medication, but taking on the dissonance and challenging its dominance in our lives.

Philosophical thoughts about the sadness of existence may make us feel wise and insightful. But they don’t accomplish much – anything for that matter – unless they motivate us to do something about it.

Dissonance – and its much less benign offspring – is all around us. Inconsistencies, deception, outright greed and corruption, surround our lives. But do they govern our lives? They surely have the power to overshadow every aspect of our experience, dictating terms of compromise and resignation as we succumb to its tentacles. But we have the ability to withstand, and more importantly, to reverse the negative effects of dissonance.

Take the “scoundrel” by its throat and strangle it. Not with your hands or with violence, but with light. Strangle darkness with light. Asphyxiate pain with joy. Choke off the toxic oxygen of the negative by breathing healthy air. For every despondent moment create two moments of joy. For every resigned thought, generate two of hope. For every broken heart repair two.

And here in Jerusalem, where every experience is amplified and pronounced, the forces are in full battle gear. Voices insist on being heard. Perhaps the less secure they are, the more attention they demand.

And then there is the voice of silence – more powerful than them all – which can hardly be discerned, but its truth resonates with confidence. It is the wise voice of the silent orphan who has grown through his suffering and is stronger because of – not despite – his pain. It is the voice of the old Jew that trudges every dawn to the broken Wall to file his daily protest.

Where does all this leave us? It leaves us challenged in a complicated world. It leaves us with a choice – will we be carried with the tides or will we create them?

Yes, you can say it comes down to pride: Who will win this battle? Will we just lie down and die because life can often be unbearable? Or will we rise to the occasion and do the single most difficult thing: To go against the grain and fight the temptation to become indifferent and cynical. To show that even when dealing with one person amongst billions, a fleeting moment amidst trillions, in one small corner of a vast universe – you transform this brief encounter into eternity.

Some thoughts emanating from Jerusalem this bright morning.



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Esther Sarah Evans
15 years ago

The Shema – the whole Shema – is the only answer. Say it as if you were engraving it with fire into your very soul.
In other words, absolute faith in HaShem is the only answer. Get other Jews there too. Get non-Shomer Shabbos Jews to keep Shabbos as best they can, and HaShem will help. Only He can really help us.

Drew Alexander
15 years ago

It is the wise voice of the silent orphan who has grown through his suffering and is stronger because of – not despite – his pain.

That is me. Although, too often I forget what I have learned–*that* I have learned from the pain. Just because the pain is not gone, does not mean I have not learned. Thanks for the reminder.

Dovid Kerner
15 years ago

I put together a song to that effect- although, not to be picky, the Shma talks about loving God:

In a world which holds so many things
Where the lonely weep and children sing
I wish I had wings
As I step out on the wire.

But through the dark of night and the light of day
I shall not fall or lose my way
As these words remain my pillar of fire.

Sh’ma Yisrael, HaShem Elokaynu, HaShem Echad.

Emet vyatsiv, vnachon vkayam, vyashar vneeman
Vahoov vchaviv, vnechman vnaim, vnora vadir
Umtukan umkubal, vtov vyafeh hadavar hazeh
Aleinu lolam vaed.*

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