Monthly Archives: July 2019

A Dream Fulfilled

In 1903, Theodor Herzl, the father of the modern Zionist movement, asked his family to promise him that when the Jewish people returned to their ancestral homeland, he wished to have his bones buried there. A year later – 1904 – he died and was buried in Vienna. In the summer of 1945, when the State of Israel was still in its infancy, a parade was held as his bones were exhumed from Vienna and reinterred atop what has become known as Har Herzl, a national cemetery where past Prime Ministers, Presidents, military leaders, and historical figures have been laid to rest. Har Herzl overlooks the city of Jerusalem. Atop this cemetery, you can see the ancient city and the modern buildings. You can see the busy and bustling streets brought to life. Atop this mountain, you can see Herzl’s dream fulfilled.

In the middle of Parashat Pinchas, God tells Moses:

Ascend the Mountain of Avarim and lout out unto the land that I am to give to the Children of Israel. And when you see this land, you too will be gathered among your people, just as your brother Aaron was gathered (Num. 27:12-13).

This is God’s way of saying, go up to the mountain top, see the Promised Land, but then you will not come down. We know in Parashat V’Zot HaBracha, the final portion of the Torah, that Moses ascends Har Nevo, Mount Nebo, and dies there, seemingly fulfilling exactly what God tells him here.

Our commentators, debate if this is the same moment as at the end of Deuteronomy when he ascends Har Nevo and dies. Tiferet Tzion suggests that Moses ascends the Mountain twice. The second time is to die there, but the first time, is to bestow a blessing on the land – a material blessing. When he dies, he bestows a spiritual blessing.

We already learned in Parashat Chukkat that Moses would not be entering the Promised Land.

But ascending this mountain isn’t a punishment. It isn’t a reminder of what Moses will not experience. It is quite the reward. Moses knows he is not the person to welcome the Israelites into the Promised Land. The parasha continues with him looking for his successor. And yet, he gets a sneak peak of the future. He gets to see the future that he himself will not get to experience, but that he has spent his entire career as leader working towards. This is exactly what happened when Theodor Herzl was reinterred overlooking the city and the land that fought for the Jewish people to return to.

Imagine if we get a glimpse at the future for our descendants, what this world will be like for them, long after we have left this world. What would we do differently if we knew when and where we were to leave this world? How would be act before that moment? And what would be do in that moment? Midrash says that Moses used that mountain to bestow material and spiritual blessings unto the land and the people. And as he continued to overlook the land, he continued to bestow blessings unto them, long after he left this world. Let that be our goal as well: to recognize how short life is, and to bestow blessings unto our loved ones, and to leave a lasting impact on this world, so that we continue to bestow blessings long after we’ve left this world.


-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

We Cannot Be Silent

I know that there are many who participated in Lights for Liberty actions this past Friday night, protesting the ICE camps and the anticipated ICE raids that are about to begin. As Friday evening was the beginning of Shabbat, I was instead lighting Sabbath candles and not participating in this action. But I believe the candles we lit that evening, whether they are Sabbath candles or candles of protest, served the same purpose: to light up the darkness. The prophet Isaiah said that we must be a light unto the nations. We must shed light on the darkest moments in history, on the actions by our government and leaders that darken our world. By shedding light, we expose such cruelty and immorality. By shedding light, we add light to the darkness that ICE detainees feel, hopefully knowing that they are not alone in their fight for freedom. And by shedding light, we amplify their voices and their struggle.

This past Shabbat, we read Parashat Chukat, when Moses is informed that he, the leader of the Israelites who took them out of bondage, out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, will not be there to welcome them into the Promsed Land. Because Moses strikes a rock (twice!) instead of following God’s odd command to speak to the rock to draw water for the Israelites, he is punished by being told that he would not enter the land of Israel. 

What is surprising though is that Aaron is equally punished for Moses’ actions. Moses is the one that takes the rod. Moses is the one that strikes the rock. Moses is the one that yells at the people. And yet, the Torah tells us“And God said to Moses and to Aaron, it is because you both did not have faith in me” (Num. 20:12).

The Torah is clear that Aaron is punished for Moses’ actions. Our commentators are equally baffled by this. Abarbanel attempts to explain that Aaron’s punishment is a delayed punishment for his role in building the Golden Calf. But that was ages ago, and truly seems like an excuse, especially since Aaron wasn’t punished at the time of the idol being built, when the rest of the Israelites were punished. The Yalkut Shimoni though introduces a midrash where Moses is equally confused by Aaron’s punishment. Moses argues with God: “I understand that I am guilty, but why is Aaron?” God responds that is it Aaron’s silence that makes him liable.

Silence equals guilt. Being a bystander, midrash suggests, makes us just as responsible. We cannot unsee what we have seen. We cannot forget the stories we have read. We cannot unhear the cries of help from children in cages. If we do, then we remain a bystander, then we remain just as guilty. 

The President promised to begin ICE raids this weekend to round up individuals. There were reports that yesterday, ICE agents were at subway stops asking individuals for IDs. Neighbors are concerned about returning to their homes at night after they get off of a shift from work.  Elementary school-aged children in Border Detention Centers are being forced to wear diapers because ICE officers aren’t letting them go to the bathroom. Half a dozen children are being forced to share a mat to sleep on, denied basic rights, denied toothbrushes, denied showers, denied blankets. There are signs of trauma and children aren’t given any medical support. Older children are left to take care of younger ones. They are forced into overcrowded facilities meant for adult males and have alleged sexual and physical assault. 

If we are silent, if we don’t speak up, if we aren’t banging down the doors of every elected official who has the ability and responsibility to make a difference, and if we aren’t opening up our own doors, hands, and hearts, to care for those who are most in need, then we are guilty just like Aaron. If we don’t accept our privilege and thus, think about how we must use our privilege to advocate, and to give voice to the silent, then we too are guilty.

Like the lights lit on Friday night, a flame is how quickly it can spread. While even a single small flickering flame has the potential to illuminate the darkness, a single spark can spread into a towering flame. And we are more powerful when we unify, when our lights are shared, when we stand together to shed light, and to fight for justice.

May we speak up and refuse to remain silent. Speaking up sheds light and spreads light, just like these lit flames. Aaron’s silence prevented him from entering the promised lands. If we remain silent, then maybe we don’t deserve to live in this promised land either.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized