18 November 2011
21 Cheshvan 5772
As many of you know, I am in Israel this week with 42 Gann juniors as they bring their incredible three months to a close. During the past two days I have travelled with them through the Galil and Golan (Northern Israel). We have seen beautiful landscape as well as Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, met with various people to hear about their experiences and perspectives on Israel, and wrestled with Israel’s complex political and existential situation, especially regarding its borders and its neighbors.
I have been inspired by the thoughtfulness and passion with which our students challenge each speaker and each other, wanting to understand more and willing to articulate their opinions and beliefs. I think they will return home with strong opinions and feeling connected to their homeland, yet aware of and humbled by all they still have to learn about this place and its complexity. These are habits of mind and heart that our Gann education strives to instill in our students, and we should be proud of how much these students have learned and grown over the past three months.
As I reflect on the meaning of our students’ time here, I am impressed by something that we learned today from the most unique person we met during the past two days, a man named Moshe, whom I can only describe as a mystic-musician-shepherd. His home consisted of rugs and cushions on the ground of an organic-feeling, tent-like structure with plastic for walls, rocks and branches for decorations, piles and shelves of sifrei kodesh (classical Jewish texts), kabbalistic signs and symbols, and innumerable drums and other musical instruments. Moshe was dressed in white, flowing garments with a white, keffiyeh-esque head wrap that covered some of his long, curly, grey-white hair and beard. From the moment Moshe opened his mouth, his spirit seemed to lighten and enlighten all of us. You just wanted to be in his presence. Many of our students commented later on the connection they felt to him, even in our short time together.
I want to share just one of the many small nuggets of Torah that flowed out of him, which is appropriate as Abraham’s life comes to an end in this week’s parsha. As Moshe described his love of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), he suggested that it is and always has been easy to look at this place, this land, this State, and to see all of its problems, shortcomings, challenges. “But,” Moshe said, quoting Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach but unable to remember the original source upon which this teaching was based, “Abraham was an Ivri (a Hebrew), able to see this land “me’ever l’einayim – beyond his eyes.” This Hasidic-mystical interpretation is based on the linguistic connection between the word “Ivri (Hebrew person)” and “ever (across or beyond).” While the origins of the word “ivri” are usually associated with this word “ever” in a physical sense (“from beyond, or other side of, the river”), this interpretation is a spiritual one: to be a Hebrew (and, I think Moshe would add, to be human) means to have the capacity to see “beyond our eyes” or beyond the physical – to see beauty that lies beneath the surface, to see the divine within each person, or, to put it somewhat less metaphysically, to pay attention to things we have never noticed before, to see things we have always seen in new ways, through new eyes, or eyes “beyond our eyes.”
What Moshe might not have realized was the beautiful blessing he was giving to our students as they begin to reflect on all they have seen, learned and experienced over the past three months. One of the reasons this program is so powerful is because our students come to see Israel, Jewish history, and each other and themselves through new eyes.
May they continue to see the power of this place and the impact this experience has had on them. And, in the spirit of Abraham Avinu (our forefather), may we all be blessed to continually see our world “me’ever l’einayim” with eyes beyond our eyes.
Rabbi Marc Baker