Parashat Aharei Mot – Kedoshim (Outside of Israel)
Haftarah | Amos 9:7-15
April 29, 2018 / 13 Iyar 5778
For a people who adapted so well to living outside our homeland (so much so that we stopped calling it “galut/exile” and call it “tefutzah/ diaspora” instead), it is sometimes hard to understand the pain of exile and deep existential fear it entailed. But the prophets, whose people experienced exile firsthand, knew and understood its inimical forces. And their spiritual sensitivity caused them to feel exile’s full force as a divine punishment – not only removal from one’s land, and a neutering of one’s identity, but also a loss of intimacy with God.
Whether God was pleased or angry, while we were in our land we knew that God was still our God, and we God’s people. But who are we in exile? Is God with us there? Will we survive? It is this last question that the prophet Amos is responding to when he relays this message from God: “For I (God) will give the order and shake the House of Israel through all the nations as one shakes [sand] through a sieve, and not a pebble falls to the ground.” (9:9) We will indeed be scattered and dispersed among the nations, but we will not be lost.
The following midrash, however, amplifies the consoling message of this verse, and adds to it an affirmation that God still cares about us even as God punishes us: “Happy are Israel, for wherever they have been tarried in the four corners of the world, to the north, to the south, to the south and the north; to the east and to the west, to the west and to the east, they are still at the center [of God’s concern]: ‘For I (God) will give the order and shake the House of Israel through all the nations as one shakes [sand] through a sieve, and not a pebble falls to the ground.’ If the verse would have said: ‘and the pebble shall fall to the ground’, ‘my heart would have been broken within me and all my bones would grow weak’ (see Jeremiah 23:9) since it is the nature of things that when they fall to the ground they are lost. But instead it reads: ‘and not a pebble falls to the ground’. As a grain which a person shakes back and forth in a sieve ends up in the center of the sieve, so, too, Israel remains at the center of God’s concerns.” (Midrash Eliyahu Rabbah 5, Ish Shalom edition p. 25)
This midrash provides a critical message for all Jews. Wherever we may live, we and our lives as Jews are precious to God, and it is incumbent upon us to live with this inspiration in our hearts. Whether in the Jewish homeland, a thriving Jewish community, or somewhere far from both, we must not let our ourselves get lost as Jews. We must live our Jewish lives vibrantly, inspired that wherever we are, we are the “center of God’s concerns,” always.
For Discussion: How does it affect the experience of being Jewish when one lives in a Jewish community that is anxious or pessimistic about its future vs. one that feels confident and optimistic?
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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