“It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it”. (Jeremiah 30,7). The Jewish people are experiencing days of pain: after the tragedy of Meron, we now witness with increasing anguish the dramatic events of war whereby our brethren in Israel are subjected to bloody, incessant missile attacks by Hamas and other terrorist organizations based in Gaza, while another front unfortunately opens in Israel, with violent reactions and other acts of unprecedented severity, such as lynching incidents and the burning of a synagogue by Arab population groups in various cities.
The State of Israel is facing the situation with the necessary firmness and strength but always keeping in mind the criteria of humanity that the Torah teaches us: towards attacks from outside, having as its primary objective the protection of its population and the commitment to strike the enemy to neutralize them, limiting the victims as much as possible; towards the inside, re-establishing order with the necessary measures of authorities and police but at the same time propagating, through the voice of political authorities and respected rabbis, urgent appeals to the Jewish population to absolutely avoid responding to the violence by the Arabs with personal initiatives of revenge and vigilante justice.
At the same time, Jews from all over the world show solidarity and make themselves spokesmen for the reality of the events and situations that preceded and determined this explosion of violence, which we know is often distorted in a hostile way against Israel by the information sources.
Beyond all these different areas of reaction to the dramatic events, let us remember that our Rabbis urge us to face moments of suffering and particular struggles not only by intervening on the direct causes but also by reflecting on the possible spiritual implications and on the initiatives that we must actuate from a Jewish point of view.
The solemn days of Shavuot just showed us some lines of thought and action regarding the difficult situation we are experiencing. Firstly, let us consider that the event of Mount Sinai, which is remembered in Shavuot, represents a fundamental moment of unity of the Jewish people. Unity that was determined and cemented the moment we responded affirmatively to the proposal of the Covenant with the Lord and prepared to receive the Torah, “The people responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do”.
Concretely in the present, I think it means that we must remember what unites us most deeply and try to rediscover it first in the Torah. Reality, though, is very different. The words of the Torah divide us much more than unite us, while instead we look for what unites us in the fight against anti-Semitism and in the support of Israel. Obviously, very valid causes. But also, perhaps for this very reason, at least in part they divert and distract us from the main problem; the defense of Israel, the defense of the Jewish people is a subject so crucial that it occupies and engages us but does not make us realize that we are missing something essential.
Indeed, while we strive to counter the infamy of antisemitism and to defend the things we hold dear that they are trying to take away from us, how much do we focus on knowing and understanding what we really are as Jewish people, on how to achieve it through the Torah? Obviously, in this brief reflection we cannot give answers to that, but we can give a little reminder that might help: the Torah tells us that all the people of Israel were absolutely united at the foot of mount Sinai while listening to the Ten Commandments (the Ten Words, Aseret ha-Dibberot). But the Rabbis also teach us that the Voice of God – so the very same Words – reached the sons and daughters of Israel in strength and measure equal to their ability of receptivity and comprehension.
Maybe we can imply that we have to find in the Torah what unites us all, what represents our souls, our duties, our goals, yet at the same time also what expresses the different sensitivities, minds and hearts of each and every Jew.
Another aspect of Shavuot that calls us back to the idea of unity of the people of Israel is that it is part of the “Shalosh Regalim” solemnities: the three celebrations – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – when the Torah prescribes the pilgrimage towards the chosen place for the Sacred Temple.
When the Temple still existed, Jerusalem used to become a meeting place for all the Jews coming from all over Israel and also for those already living in the diaspora. Precisely because it emphasises the centrality of Israel and of Yerushalaim, I think this festivity is an occasion for us to reflect upon the meaning of our life choices in diaspora. A reflection of personal, individual, as well as collective Jewish identity implications.
I think that one of the themes the future of the Jewish people is built on, at least in the closest perspective, is actually understanding if and how diaspora Judaism has meaning, and, consequently, how it connects with Israel well beyond words and acts of solidarity, albeit meaningful and necessary. This aspect of Shavuot is linked to the aforementioned: the purpose is to rediscover in the Torah what could be – if there actually is – the meaning of the Jewish presence among the populations as a made choice, and not, as in the past, as an endured condition. In this case, too, the meaning of the diaspora cannot be just the fight against antisemitism and the support of Israel.
The dramatic events taking place in Israel these days remind us, maybe, that its strength can never reside just in material resources of defence and counter-offensive: the greatest strength is in the bond of all Am Israel with this land, in the Jewish values that must be realized in this land and in what this land represents for us all our bond with the Lord.
Then, our support of Israel must be expressed not only through events, manifestations and the media, but researching all that deep down characterizes us as Jews, unites us as a people and gives us a way to realize in Israel – whether we are near or far – a country and a land actually different from any other place on earth: “a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end”. (Deut. 11,12)
Translated and revised by Oyebuchi Lucia Leonard and Silvia Bozzo, students at Trieste University and at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.