Drash Rosh Hashanah 2009 Champaign, Illinois
In 1976, when I was an impressionable teenager, in a national televised interview on the state of the nation, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called Israelis who had left the homeland “nefolet shel nemushot” – which essentially mean fallen weaklings.
The term “nefolet shel nemushot” is referenced to the laws regarding the harvesting of the wheat. If the reapers drop wheat stalks, they may not retrieve them, but must leave them for the poor, the widow, and the sick. Nefolet shel nemoshot is what the feeble would not even pick up. And that hurt me.
If you have told me 10 years ago that I will pledge my allegiance to the United State of America, that I will struggle to navigate my way in the US justice system, that I will speak with my children English, that I will be overwhelmed by the culture barriers and that I will have hard time to convey my thoughts with their all nuances, Well that would not make sense at all, after all I am a Sabra!
Feeling uprooted I was thinking at length about fate. Was it my fate to make a life outside of Israel?
But my Drash is not about fate, it is about its synonym word-the destiny. It is about the constant struggle to find a destiny and the transformation process from fatalism and fate to a destiny.
When Arthur Robinson has asked me to deliver a Drash, I asked about what, and he said you are Israeli an America, talk about women in the bible.
I will speak of 6 women in the bible – don’t worry only 2 relatively unknown, off main stream cases about women that the motives in their stories reflect my own path.
The first story takes place in last days of King David. The king is furiously busy in making sure that no others legal heir will have a claim to his throne. Just earlier he had to deal with rebellious Benjamin tribe, who still refuses to recognize him as the legitimate king. Meanwhile, the King negotiates a peace treaty with the Gibonites, who are one of the Canaanite nations. The story goes that they don’t want any Gold or Silver, just to take revenge on the house of Saul who terrorized them years earlier. King David breaking his promise to protect the off-springs of Saul surrenders Saul’s seven sons to the Gibonites.
The sons are impaled on the walls of the town and the people are forbidden from bringing them to a proper burial. Now Ritzapa-Bat Aya, whose name translates to Floor daughter of Vulture, was King Saul’s concubine and the mother of 2 of the boys. She stays in by the walls for months, making sure their bodies are desecrated by the wild animals. She is quietly protesting and protecting, till the end, the honor of her sons, defying the king’s words, risking her life by standing up to him. I always thought of this act as some sort of a mother’s heroism.
How the story ends? Well, King David impressed by her or under public pressure, not only removes the sons of the wall but also brings the bones of Jonathan and Saul back from the shallow grave in Golboa and provides them all with a proper burial.
The other story: The Daughters of Zelophehad were five sisters who lived during the Exodus of the Israelite from Egypt. These times are very important in the sense that many laws set in that time were the foundations and framework to way the Talmud Rabies have legalized later on their advices on various issues and among them the law of inheritance.
It says that Zelophehad sinned in the eyes of god, well otherwise why he would have 5 daughters Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah; but no sons. They demanded to inherit their property to which they were entitled to. They, all in one voice, raised their case to Moses and argued for equal membership and for a land. Land was not important at that time for prosperity and standing in the community, but also a place to be buried. Indeed they were granted their inheritance and with that power, space and authority they received a new defined identity.
So the cases with Ritzaph Bat Aya and Zlophchad daughters symbolize motherhood commitment and the demand for women rights, equality, independent prosperity and standing in a community represent for me the transformation I have gone through, from a blind fate to a destiny, a I could perceive, view a and eventually watch over it.
I want to conclude my Drash and go back to Yitzhak Rabin: As we say it in Israel -much water have rushed through the Jordan river and, and today no one relates to Rabin’s infamous quote as the moral campus for Israelis who leave outside of Israel. Rabin himself adapted a much more pragmatic attitude and in 1994 he shared the Peace Nobel prize with Shimon Perez – today Israel’ president and with another person whom he was obviously pained to shake hands, however reluctantly he did. I think it was his destiny to spearhead the peace process.
This Drash is dedicated to my late father Yakov Itzkowitz (Saba Miki) who introduced me to the bible stories and the joy of the Hebrew words.My mother who sits there, not always agreeing with me, but sure is beaming from nachat and for my children Maia and Daniel who are beacons in my life and are part of my destiny.
This was such an honor to be here and deliver the Drash in Rosh Hashanah surrounded by Jewish community with such deep intellectual and spiritual values. I thank the Egalitarian Traditional Minyan. I would never have experienced this emotional occasion had I stayed in Israel.
I wish you all Hag Sameach and Gmar Chatima Tova.