Pardes 360: Thoughts from a Pardes Faculty Member in Exile

Posted by Yaffa Epstein on October 22, 2015
Topics: Pardes 360, Zionism

I am an Israeli. For seventeen beautiful, powerful, and meaningful years I have worked, learned, loved and celebrated living in Israel. Now, I find myself half way across the world from home, and my beloved country is in pain, bleeding and crying, on a daily basis.

I call and text daily, sending messages of support to my family and friends. Yet my caring and worrying feel like they don’t matter, my loving words seem trite and forced. Because what can I say? My breathing here is not tinged with fear; my footsteps as I walk down the streets of New York are not cautious or rushed.

When I lived in Israel during times of violence and terror, the daily act of living, persevering, and refusing to give in, were beautiful courageous acts of defiance. But here in New York City, living a normal life feels like a betrayal of some kind, feels like somehow I don’t care enough. Even though it is at the top of my consciousness, and I hit the refresh button on my newsfeed constantly, it feels wrong to continue on.

So what gives me the right to even share my thoughts with you?

In truth, I don’t really have that right. Yet, I am moved to write a few words, because I know that many of you are feeling the same things that I am. Hopeless, helpless, and far away.

So, what can we who live outside of Israel do?

Luckily, we have a beautiful and rich tradition to look to for answers. If we look at Bava Batra 60b, we are told that Rebbe Yehoshua comes across some people who are mourning for the destruction of the Second temple by denying themselves meat and wine. They feel, like I do, that it would be audacious to behave normally in the face of this great tragedy. Rebbe Yehoshua responds to them, why stop there? In fact, nothing really makes sense in a post Temple world, and we should have no pleasure at all! He says, I deeply understand you, not to mourn would be impossible, but also, you must not mourn excessively. Rather, do small acts that remind you constantly of this loss. Live a normal life, but make yourself aware, and then let your actions be different, be affected by your loss.

We must carry on, we must continue. Yet, we must also take action, on a daily basis. So, I humbly suggest, that the next time we ask ourselves, what can I do? We choose to act; we choose to bring more light into this world. Do a random act of chesed, of kindness. The only real way to counter darkness is to add more light.

I pray that we be blessed with peace, quiet, and comfort speedily in our day.

Pardes360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect an institutional stance. To read other Pardes360 articles, click here.

About Yaffa Epstein

Yaffa serves as the Director of the Wexner Heritage Program. She received Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshivat Maharat and holds a Law Degree from Bar-Ilan University. She has studied at the Pardes Kollel, the Advanced Talmud Institute at Matan and the Talmud Department of Hebrew University.

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