Reprinted by permission of the author from the December 2000 special issue of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility.

"Now these are the days and the years of Avraham, which he lived: 100 years and 70 years and five years, then he expired. Yitzchak and Yishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Makhpela in the field that Avraham had acquired There were buried Avraham and Sara his wife. Now it was after Avraham's death, that God blessed Yitzhak his son. And Yitzhak settled by the Well of the Living-One Who-Sees-Me" (Gen. 25: 7-8a, 9-11.)

On the eighth day of my life, I was named "Avraham Yitzchak"--"Abraham Isaac." On Rosh Hashanah, 1975, when we read in the Torah about the near-deaths of Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, it came to me to add "Yishmael"--Ishmael--and thus to complete the troubled triangle.

Ever since, when the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac tear at each other, I feel myself being torn apart.

So I take joy in the passage of Torah where these two come together to bury Abraham, and then live together at the same "well of seeing" that had saved Ishmael's life. For years, I have urged that we read it on Yom Kippur as a tikkun--a way of healing or makin whole--a tshuvah, (repentance) for the deadly Rosh Hashanah stories.

And not merely read. Today, all Israelis and Palestinians, all Jews and Arabs, might mourn together--not separately--the deaths of our children. If we see each other's tears, we may water a wellspring of seeing, a wellspring at which we can learn to live together.

And perhaps we learn not only to share our tears but to bury our fears. Perhaps the brothers had projected onto each other the fear they felt toward Abraham--but could not say aloud. So perhaps his death released them both to see each other's faces, rather than his frightening frown.

Today, what fears would have to die to release Israelis and Palestinians to see each other?

The passage mentions two places: a tomb and a well. What land does Abraham "acquire"? A grave. Only the dead can "own" land; the living simply sojourn on God's land, as Leviticus 25: 23 reminds us. If we the living give up our attachment to acquiring, we can sit calmly ("vayeshev" in Genesis 25: 11) to drink at wells of vision.

What about those sacred places of today whose "ownership" has sparked so many deaths?

For Jews to claim to "own" the Temple Mount is a travesty. During the past 1,800 years, we have become wise enough to decree it not a place we are supposed to physically inhabit, but a place we are supposed to physically avoid. We taught that the most sacred place is one we do not "own" and cannot even put our foot on.

Why? Because we might inadvertently step into the Holy of Holies, the place where the inner sanctum of the holy Temple once stood. Why not do this? Because the Holy of Holies itself was a place to be entered only by one person for one moment every year--the High Priest on Yom Kippur.

Our non-ownership was holy. This was a radical critique of idolatry. It teaches in space what Shabbat, the Sabbath, teaches in time.

What Rabbinic Judaism did was in effect to expand the Holy of Holies, defining the entire Temple Mount as the Holy of Holies and Mashiach, Messiah, as the one "high priest" who could enter it.

Yet we cannot do without land altogether. We are creatures of body, who at our healthiest must have a Land to "sit" in, a well to drink from, a brother or sister to see. How can this done without "acquiring" the Land?

By treating the land with loving respect, living not on its back but as part of its web of life, avoiding such mistakes as draining the Huleh wetlands, building the Trans-Israel Highway, using scarce water for settler swimming pools instead of Palestinian kitchens.

Zionism had within it both the strand of healing the Land and the strand of dominating it, the strand of befriending Abraham's other family and the strand of controlling it. In recent years, the second of these strands has been elevated to a dominant role.

But exile, alienation, cannot be solved by possessiveness. It can only be eased by acknowledging that possessiveness is itself a form of exile.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad