Today, I spoke with a colleague at the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), one of our key partners, and we got into a discussion about Israel. Not about its politics or its neighbors, but rather about the basic language we use when speaking about the country and about words like nuance and complexity. They come up time and time again in discussions about Israel today, but I am done with these words.
The word that I chose is dynamic, as in dynamism. The dictionary definition of “dynamism” is fitting: a theory or philosophy that explains something in terms of great energy or force.
For me, Israel’s national expression is one of dynamism. It’s the energy of the marketplace—both literal and figurative—and of the ideas driving innovation. The Tel Aviv beaches. The stones of Jerusalem. The blossoming of the Negev desert. The biotech and computer engineering labs. The taste of chocolates and wines and so much more.
This Shabbat’s Torah reading, Chukath, is filled with such energy. The command to find an entirely red cow to offer to God reflects a kind of aspirational energy, the drive and force to find the nearly impossible to find and to sacrifice it, in gratitude, once it’s found. In the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, we see the dynamic tension between the forces of faith and doubt, which is itself emblematic of our people’s historic wrestling with their faith and their fate.
Moses and Aaron are themselves subject to this dynamism. They assemble a free people but a thirsty people, and instead of speaking to them, Moses shouts at them, despite their thirst. Instead of speaking to the rock, an expression faith, Moses strikes the rock, demanding water pour forth. Both Miriam and Aaron die in this parsha, and it features a dynamic comingling of emotions: hope and despair, the deaths of a matriarch and a patriarch and the birth of a new generation born from slaves but not enslaved, the freedom and vulnerability of today, the weight of yesterday, and the responsibility for tomorrow.
In its way, the Israel depicted in this week’s portion is as dynamic as the State of Israel we know and love today.