Divrei Torah

Baubles from Babylon

Pesach time advances us from lowly national genut (deprivation) to shevach (blessings a’plenty.) Torah wants it this way — we are commanded to elevate, to ever-refine. The Haggadah is scripted as an emancipation from hopelessly bereft unto surfeit. Parallel this with modern Jewish history, advancing from the Shoah (re-enslavement) to Yom Ha’atzmaut (nation-creation.) Within three quick years, listless smoke from Gehinnom’s chimneys wafts regally toward the clear techelet of Tzion. Hitler, yemach shemo, and his uncelebrated bride Eva Braun were also incinerated into the Berlin darkened sky. There they laid that night in their cyanide spittle in mud, orphaned and famililess, having gassed themselves into unshielded oblivion. The eternal Jewish form, Sinai-ed after its release from the pits of Hitler’s camps, was loftily lifted into the luft. In G-d’s name, our holy martyrs became the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory. They addressed themselves to Tzion, the cornerstone of the Third Temple. They are the first entrants into Eretz Israel to proclaim the end of the exile.

Hitler and Eva’s remains remain, clouding the skyways of Europe with the stench of the Third Reich. Their suicide fell two days before the second week of Iyar, and Israel was established two days before the first week of Iyar. I see perfect symmetry.

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Rabbi Kadosh posits the question: why should the day after Pesach begin a semi-mourning period of sefirah counting? Shouldn’t the answer to shichrur be obviously celebratory? Weddings should be prescribed rather than proscribed. After all, one of the principal definitions of slavery is that slaves may not create their own families.

And yet I find the Rabbis brilliant in this time-centered injunction. The intense urge of freshly-won freedom is to take revenge and to become the new overlords. Slaves sadly think in terms of vertical power relations, dreaming and scheming to rise with domination over others, suppression and oppression, rather than finding the Divine Breath in all humanity side-by-side. We live in this limbo subtext for 33 days* until Lag b’Omer without music and entertainment, without bridal canopies, without trimming and shaving and sprucing up — i.e. without courtship on our minds and without distraction. There is gravitas in freedom: what responsibilities must we take? This month of Nissan separates us from the totemic hierarchies of a society without honor.

(( * NB: This period enlarges the 33 days of mother-son bonding in mother’s self-purification. Mothers and newborn daughters purify together for 66 days, symbolizing a full Jewish year of 11 months – nine inside the womb, two outside. This should be normative; however, because the son is circumcised on his 8th day, these 66 days foreshorten into 33 days of purification as the son is presented in public. The infant boy is named at his bris, which is the end of one week, whereas the daughter is named at the end of one month. ))

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