"I am HaShem your Healer"
16th day of the Omer
After two thousand years of exile the people of Israel have begun their long journey home. With all the expectations and frustrations, accomplishments and disappointments that have accompanied the birth and maturation of the modern state of Israel, we can gain our greatest insight into just where Israel is today by examining her through the watchful eye of Torah. At this very moment in time, following the seventh day of Passover, which marked the Israelites' crossing of the Sea of Reeds, and just days before Yom Atzmaut - Israel Independence Day, and, in fact, (as these words are being written), on Rosh Chodesn Iyar, (the first day of the Hebrew month of Iyar), we are afforded a particularly unique prism by which to locate just where we, the Jewish nation, find ourselves today.
When the Sea of Reeds closed behind the emerging Israelites, drowning the threatening army of Pharaoh, Israel had gained its physical independence. Much of the remainder of the five books of Torah chronicles the ups and downs of the young nation's struggle for survival. The challenges of food, water and war must be met and dealt with successfully in order for the fledgling nation to continue on its way. And, in fact, all three of these crucial issues presented themselves to the children of Israel in the six week period between the crossing of the sea and the receiving of Torah at Sinai.
Until Sinai the Israelite nation was independent but not free. For the true emancipation from foreign gods and the debilitating habits and manners of strangers did not take place until G-d, by virtue of the Sinai covenant, took the Israelites as His own people.
All this "ancient" history took place during the month of Iyar, the month we are presently experiencing. One could say that the state of Israel is also experiencing the month of Iyar. We have gained our independence but not yet our freedom, as we are still far from being the Torah nation that G-d and destiny have called upon us to be. We have met successfully the challenges of food and water, turning a deserted and barren wasteland into a verdant and fruitful garden. We have successfully met the challenges of war, turning back our enemies time and time again, all the while liberating and settling our ancient patrimony. As for "receiving Torah" anew, that is, returning to the Torah nation that we were when we first entered this land nearly four thousand years ago, we may not be there yet, but in spite of all the setbacks we are most definitely on the road.
And this brings us to one of the qualities traditionally ascribed to the month of Iyar. Iyar is known as the month of healing, as each of the four Hebrew letters that form its name are also the first letters of the Torah verse, "I am HaShem your healer," (Exodus 15:26) which G-d spoke to Israel after they had traversed the Sea of Reeds. "All the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you," (ibid) G-d said. The nation of Israel today has two thousand years of landless, rootless exile that it needs to be healed from. The sickness of Egypt, that is, the sickness of exile and oppression and powerlessness are all deadly diseases that have eaten away at the spiritual well being of the children of Israel no less that it has taken its toll upon Israel physically. Can all this be purged and overcome instantly simply because we have returned to our land? Two hundred and ten years of Egyptian exile required a forty year sojourn in the wilderness to heal and ready Israel for entering and taking possession of the land. Surely the sixty two years of Israel's rebirth are hardly enough for her people to have fully recovered from exile and reassumed their place before G-d and among the nations.
Slowly, slowly the dry bones of Yechezkel's vision grew new flesh and sinews, a new heart and a new spirt. So it is today, as the people of Israel rediscover Torah in the light of the land of Israel and rediscover the land of Israel in the light of Torah, and in the process rediscover their own G-d commanded role on this earth. How else can we explain the Jews' tenacious hold on the land and the sprouting of Torah communities throughout Israel? How else can we understand the reapplication of Torah precepts to the land of Israel and the re-grasping of the reigns of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel? How else can we absorb the revolutionary significance of the return of the Jewish presence to the Temple Mount and the return of the Temple Mount's presence to the heart of every Jew? Just as surely as dawn follows the dark of night, the redemption of Israel follows the dark night of exile. Iyar, which means brightness, from the word ohr, heralds the birth of modern Israel, a sacred milestone, a shining light on the road to redemption.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven focus on the mysterious, mystical ailment discussed in this week’s double Torah portions of Tazria and Metzora, known as tzarat. This was not a physical sickness, but rather a Divinely-orchestrated wake-up call; a direct manifestation of G-d’s love for His people Israel and a prophetic experience. “If only we had such prophetic insights into life today,” people say. “Ah, but we do,” say our hosts.
More prophetic fulfillment today: As we begin the month of Iyar, during which construction began on the First Holy Temple in the time of King Solomon, would you believe that the illustrious Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the all-important Shulchan Orech (Code of Jewish Law) who died in 1575, came this close to prophesizing the establishment of Iyar’s new holiday, Israel Independence Day?!