Posted by Ellen W. Horowitz for Jewishisrael(The following article appears in the Pesach Issue of VOICES Magazine)
With spring in the air and Pesach around the corner, a Jewish mother’s thoughts turn to kitchen cabinets, hidden corners, and a slew of laws, obligations and responsibilities.
The Festival of Freedom is upon us, and it sometimes hits us mothers like a ton of bricks. But, then again, Moshe Rabbenu didn’t lead us out of Egypt to be free and easy, drifting spirits. The “narrow straights” of Mitzrayim were exchanged for “a very narrow bridge”. In our precarious quest to serve G-d properly we are required, as individuals and as a nation, to come to the realization that we cannot fulfill our potential and expand our horizons if we don’t acknowledge the existence of, and abide by, certain limitations.
I believe that generations of Jewish women have had redlines engraved upon their hearts which predate Sinai. We have an acute awareness that a breach of certain forbidden fences spells an express ticket back to slavery and a pro-longed Galut. We understand that Hashem allows our physical lines and borders to be breached by the enemy (G-d forbid) when we fail to hold our halachic, ethical, and spiritual lines.
Our mentor was the archetypical Jewish mother, Rachel. Tradition has it that Rachel gets no rest, and she watched and wept as Nebuchadnezzar’s legions led her children, in chains, to exile. I think most people understand Rachel’s continuous tears as a fervent plea for mercy and a timeless prayer for the Jewish people to return to their land. But this Jewish mother would like to be so bold as to offer a different interpretation:
The haunting passage in Yirmiyahu 31:14-16 has G-d making a promise to Rachel that her children will return to their “border”. The term “land” is not used. I believe Rachel – like any Jewish mother - is greatly distressed when her children go off the derech and she desperately wants them to return to their moral and ethical boundaries, because without those spiritual fences intact, her people relinquish their freedom, lose their land, and revert to the status of slaves (G-d forbid).
And Jewish mother’s intuition tells me that the particular breach that is the source of intense pain for Rachel is the sin of idolatry. Of the numerous sins leading to the destruction of the First Temple, idolatry stands at the forefront. It’s known that G-d and the Land of Israel can tolerate many sins, but idolatry is not one of them. And it is Rachel who has a puzzling historical episode involving idols, which leads to her early death and a “Divine command” that she be buried on the road to Bethlehem.
Whereas some Commentators suggest that she stole the family idols from Lavan in order to lead him away from idol worship, others imply that she took the idols for her personal use - as she may have attributed some power to them. But either way, “… Rachel's uniqueness lies not in her ability to refrain from sin, but specifically in her ability to correct her sins… through the familiar stages of ‘teshuva’ (repentance).” (Rabbi Amnon Bazak on Parashat Vayishlach :Virtual Beit Midrash). And perhaps that is the “effort” for which she is promised a reward.
It’s interesting to note that other great women in Jewish history grappled with the issue idolatry on the road to Bethlehem. Naomi uses a somewhat “tough love” approach as she commands her daughters-in-law to return to their people and to their gods. And, indeed, one of them does. Ruth, on the other hand, clings to her mother-in-law and becomes a part of the Jewish people.
Naomi’s methods form the foundations and principles for accepting converts to Judaism. While this cautious and demanding approach has not won us popularity contests or large numbers of converts, it has ensured Jewish continuity and identity.
But today in Israel there are religious and community leaders who are heralding a new era in interfaith relations and who are calling for revolutionary openness and leniency in our approach to Christianity. The special status and obligations that Jews living in Eretz Yisrael have vis a vis their dealings with the Gentile world is being eroded. And our preoccupation with security issues and concerns for our physical survival, have caused us to move halacha and our spiritual heritage off the top of our list of priorities.
It is essential to remember that for the Jew, Christianity (the belief in Jesus as lord and savior) is an irrefutable form of idolatry.
and that the prohibition against and rejection of idolatry is at the very core of Judaism.
Various “Judeo-Christian” sects are making inroads in their attempts to legitimize “messianic Judaism” and change the Law of Return, A missionary University is opening a campus in West Jerusalem, Evangelical groups have used international freedoms of religion laws in order to thwart counter-missionary legislation in the Knesset, and in a post-Madoff era Israeli institutions are seeking vast amounts of funding from Christian organizations without assessing the costs and consequences. The people of Israel are ill-prepared to handle the current missionary onslaught resulting from an unregulated Israel-Evangelical relationship.
Several weeks ago I was interviewed by a Canadian journalism student about Israel’s relationship with evangelical Christians. She informed me that she had also interviewed the executive director of an Orthodox Jewish Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation in Israel. Previously I had criticized the executive director of that center for having encouraged his Christian guests in a synagogue, to “ pray in Jesus name. Don't leave Jesus at the door” (quote published in the December 2008 Jerusalem Post Christian Edition). He reportedly told the journalist that, Ellen is neither a theologian nor a scholar. She is nothing more than a Jewish mother and a columnist.
Nothing could be closer to the truth or be more gratifying for me to hear. So to those rabbis, administrators and community leaders who are so anxious to breach fences and blur lines, I would like them to consider the following: Tradition has it that Avraham Avinu was so full of chessed that he had his tent opened up on all sides. But he was fortunate enough to have a wife named Sara who – I imagine - would, on occasion, have to pull him in line and tell him, “I will not tolerate this in my house!”.
Chag Kasher v’Sameach!