The Kotel – the Western Wall – stands still. Unmoving. Unmoved.
The privilege of my lifetime is that I get to regularly visit the Kotel. Those stones are familiar. On so many occasions, I have stood by that wall, laying my hands gently on the cool, Jerusalem limestone, pouring out my yearnings and my gratitude.
This week in Parashat Terumah, we do not learn how to build a Kotel but the Temple that would rise above it. The Holy One invites the Israelites to contribute gifts for the construction of the Tabernacle.
“Take for me gifts – M’eit Kol Ish Asher Yidvenu Libo – from each person whose heart is so moved…” (Exodus 25:2).
The Hebrew word נדיבות – Nedivut – means generosity. Generosity demands opening your heart, to be inspired to satisfy the needs of another.
God asked us to build God’s house on a foundation of Nedivut – generosity and love. If we built the Temple with holy, giving hearts, then God’s spirit would dwell in our midst.
I visited the Kotel Plaza early Wednesday morning, with dozens of my friends and colleagues coming to celebrate the Hebrew month of Adar. We were met not with open hearts, but with seething hatred. Women who simply wanted to worship and read Torah together were assaulted with shouting, shoving, jeers and insults. A group of girls spat on one of my colleagues. Boys and men screamed in anger: “We don’t want you here! You don’t belong here!”
The State of Israel this week is convulsing with resentment. Hundreds of thousands gather week after week to protest the new government’s proposals to weaken the judicial system, threatening to undermine the pillars of Israel’s democracy. Leaders from every facet of society – justices, academics, military and business leaders, philanthropists have joined the masses to demand the government stand down from their efforts.
Both the efforts to deny religious freedom at the Kotel and the governmental proposals to weaken the judiciary have something in common. Both efforts come from a place of hard-hearted self-interest, close-minded arrogance, chauvinism, and greed.
Those who seek to ban women from praying as they choose at the Western Wall do not come with open and generous hearts, but with a chauvinistic self-righteousness that pretends to hold a monopoly on what Judaism is and how it should be practiced.
Those who seek to undermine the judiciary’s ability to serve as a check and balance against the unfettered power of the legislature and the executive are not coming with a sense of what’s best for all of Israel, but with a narrow agenda for what promises to be most advantageous for their narrow self-interest.
Walking through Tel Aviv today, I saw a sign outside a house that read: “Ma’aminim B’Megilat Atzmaut – We believe in the Declaration of Independence!”
Israel’s Declaration of Independence is a document of Nedivut – of open-hearted generosity.
It declares that Israel “… will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”
The Tabernacle was a national project, built through open-hearted generosity and love.
The national project of the Jewish people today is no different than it was then. It is a project that invites all of the Jewish people, in the land of Israel and around the world, to practice Nedivut – to give from inspired, generous hearts in order that together we may build a place for our people and God to dwell together in our ancient and holy land.
Standing pressed together in the shadow of the Kotel, we stood as a buffer between the hard-hearted antagonists and MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv holding the sacred Torah scroll. We we raised our voices in song, answering the shouts of hate with songs of love. “Etz Chayim Hi L’Machazikim Bah – It is a Tree of Life to those who hold fast to it, and all who cling to it find happiness. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
The Kotel stands still. Unmoving. Unmoved.
But for God’s presence to dwell in this land, or in any land, the same can’t be true for our hearts. We must learn to practice Nedivut – opening our hearts with generosity, understanding, appreciation, and love.
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”