Saturday, June 20, 2015

Shabbat in Israel

Greetings from Israel!

Yesterday my daughter Karen and I boarded a flight at Dulles about 2:a.m. Israeli and arrived in Tel Aviv about 12½ hours later. We picked up our rental car and drove to our hotel near the Mediterranean Sea just before the beginning of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

Karen is a professor at the University of Arizona (UA) and the director of the Religious Studies Program there. UA is one of five universities doing research on "Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging."
Tel Aviv University, one of the institutions in the project, is hosting a meeting of representatives from the five schools on June 23-25. Karen, who was being sent to the conference by UA, invited me to go along—and so here we are!
Welcome sign in Tel Aviv airport (June 19, 2015)
As we neither one of us had been to Israel before, we decided to go a few days early in order to do some sightseeing before her meetings begin. Today (Saturday) we plan to drive to Nazareth and then in the evening drive on to Tiberius where we have a hotel booked near the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Mark Levin, a retired Jewish rabbi and active civic leader in the greater Kansas City area, is a new friend/acquaintance. We sat at the same table at a community event last month and had a long telephone conversation after that.
Among other things, we talked about timshel , the key word in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which I wrote about here (Rabbi Levin confirmed Steinbeck’s interpretation), and about tikkun olam the Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.”
I was somewhat familiar with that term tikkun because of Jim Wallis and his friendship/corroboration with Rabbi Michael Lerner in California who is the editor of a quarterly interfaith Jewish magazine by that name.
Rabbi Levin suggested I read the Wikipedia article about tikkun olam. According to that article, “Jews believe that performing of ritual mitzvot (good deeds, commandments, connections, or religious obligations) is a means of tikkun olam, helping to perfect the world, and that the performance of more mitzvot will hasten the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Age.”
This is closely related to Shabbat. The same article goes on to state,
Some explain the power of Shabbat by its effect on the other six days of the week and their role in moving society towards the Messianic Age. Shabbat helps bring about the Messianic Age because Shabbat rest energizes Jews to work harder to bring the Messianic Age nearer during the six working days of the week. Because the experience of Shabbat gives one a foretaste of the Messianic Age, observance of Shabbat also helps Jews renew their commitment to bring about a world where love and mercy will reign.
I was intrigued by what Rabbi Levin posted on Facebook late last Saturday afternoon: “As another shabbat is about to end, we Jews will pray for the messianic redemption of the world, by invoking Elijah the prophet, who, at least at this moment, did not appear this shabbat. We have to wait another week for a perfected world.”
Tikkun’s website states, “We are committed to full and complete reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian people within the context of social justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel.”
So as Shabbat is celebrated here in Israel today, whether the messenger Elijah appears or not, I pray that this will be a part of the perfected world that Jews, and many of us who are not Jews, eagerly long for.
Sunset on Mediterranean Sea (just before Shabbat began on June 19)


  1. This is a remarkable reflection, Leroy, and most apropos for your travels. It has me wondering at the contrast between this Jewish notion of doing good to hasten the coming of the Messiah and the fundamentalistic Christian notion of hastening the return of their Messiah through world calamitous and destructive events. Also, it's not uncommon for some people to comment on the warrior God of the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) and the pacific God of the New, while typically ignoring the apocalyptic warriorness of the book of Revelation. It's all very complicated for people who want to take the Bible literally or nearly literally, or so I would think, although Christian literalists seem incapable of seeing ambiguities and contradictions. I'm also wondering how the Jews got to their notion of hastening the coming of the Messianic age, and the fundamentalist Christians got their version of messianic return with all its bloodletting. Hm...

  2. Bro. Leroy,
    Like Anton I too wonder where this concept of hastening the arrival of the Messiah through good works originated. I don't remember any studies in late Old Testament or intertestamental writings that point to this unless it comes out of some rare reference in the Dead Sea Scrolls materials. For me (though a near but not quite fundamentalist) the good works I should be doing have nothing to do with the return of the Messiah. It has everything to do with a simple expression of gratitude for that thing called grace and an identification with the One who made it possible. I love the quote, “We are committed to full and complete reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian people within the context of social justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel.” This is one of those several points that separate me from my more conservative Southern Baptist Convention brothers. Canaan belonged to someone else before the Twelve Tribes showed up. It has belonged to a couple more empires since 70 AD. The Jewish people never did follow through on the command to be priests to the world. Modern Israel has little to do with any form of theocracy in which God is in control. Neither good works by Jews, violent militancy by Christians, nor Jew-bashing and rockets by radical Muslims will ever bring about the kind of peace God has always desired for his creation. For individuals we find it through a personal relationship. For creation we will discover it when the Messiah does return in his own good time, in his own way, and using his own incomprehensible, divine means.

  3. Somehow, wondering about your post, I wandered into this commentary concerning Jewish customs of Shavuot.

    “A lovely midrash on the book [of Ruth] notes that while its minor figures all treat their fellows justly, doing all that the law requires of them, the major characters (Ruth, Naomi, Boaz) are distinguished by their acts of ‘hesed’ – lovingkindness – which go beyond what is demanded. The rabbis, in having us read Ruth each Shavuot, thereby teach us something: that on the day when we celebrate reception of the laws of Torah, we need to remember that law is never enough. Certainly it will not ‘bring the Messiah’, [my emphasis] whose lineage goes back to Ruth. For that, the world needs ‘hesed’.” – Arnold Eisen

    And that (God love him) Steinbeck considered a choice which God desires and not a “you must!” which God requires.

  4. For some good background on modern Israel, check out Ron Unz's latest: