Against the backdrop of terraced hillsides covered with vineyards and thousand-year-old olive trees, over a thousand people of all ages and backgrounds come together every summer to learn Tanakh. Amid the everyday miracle that is Israel, a Jewish renaissance is underway. One of the many expressions of this revolution in Jewish learning is the annual Tanakh Study Days, a week-long celebration of the Tanakh in all its complexity. This year features some intriguing insights into the underlying purpose of the Shmittah year.
For the past six weeks, I’ve enjoyed a new and very rewarding experience: I participated in an online course with the intriguing title: The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. The course, taught by Jacob Wright, argues that the Tanakh was aimed at providing a blueprint for a stateless nation. This idea isn’t new; it is central to the writings of Max Kadushin and Daniel Elazar. But Dr. Wright manages to give concrete and vivid support to the idea. While Kadushin looked at oral traditions that grew out of the Torah, Wright traces historical trends evident in the text itself.
I suppose, it was inevitable: the strident calls for revenge. After all, do we not say “Hashem yikom damam”? Is this not a call for revenge? No, it is not! Rather, it is an affirmation in ultimate justice when it is needed most. Our traditions allow us—in fact, encourage us—to be ourselves, to be fully human. We aren’t required to be more than human, but we aren’t allowed to be less either.
How should we related to the unanswered prayers of an entire people? Perhaps an answer can be found in the fact that we base the order of the central prayer of our liturgy on a prayer that was not in fact granted.