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Parsha Eikev

08/08/2023 01:19:07 PM


Rabbi Faryn Borella

Rabbi Faryn's Shabbat Service drash from August 4, 2023.

Close your eyes for a moment. And call to mind something you would consider miraculous. A miracle. 

What is it that you imagine?

This week’s parshah, and the book of Deuteronomy at large, tells of many miracles that the Israelites experienced during their time wandering in the desert– referred to repeatedly as ha’otot v’hamoftim– signs and wonders. And there were some incredible signs and wonders during this time. The parting of the sea. Food literally falling from the sky to provide sustenance. But I was drawn to a line in this week’s parshah about a miracle that, at first glance, seems mundane compared to all the other miracles of which we hear during this story. The line reads:

“The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years.”

I tried to imagine this. What would it be like to wear the same article of clothing, day in and day out, in a hot & dry climate, and for that article of clothing not to wear out? What would it mean to spend your days walking from place to place, and for your feet to not swell? How do we want to relate to the miracle that is the erasure of minor inconveniences?

The medieval commentators also found this line fascinating, and they had a lot to say on the matter. Rashi, a French commentator from the 12th century, and the most famous commentator of them all, wrote of the unworn clothing:

“the clouds of Divine Glory used to rub the dirt off their clothes and bleach them so that they looked like new white articles, and also, their children, as they grew, their clothes grew with them, just like the clothes (shell) of a snail which grows with it.”

So, according to Rashi, not only did the clothes not wear out, but they were being constantly washed and pressed by a divine force so that not only were their clothes un-worn, but they wandered the desert in their perfect whites, glittering under the sun. And these clothes grew with their bodies, so they never needed to fashion a new article of clothing.

According to Ibn Ezra, a practicalist and a Spanish 12th century commentator,  it was not that the divine cloud washed the clothes, but rather, “it is most likely the nature of manna not to produce sweat.” Therefore, Ibn Ezra’s theory was that the magic food that fell from the sky to feed the Israelites for 40 years was not only magical in that it fell from heaven, but also that something about it prevented humans from sweating, and thus wearing out their clothes.

So whether you believe Rashi’s version of the miracle–that Gd was literally washing their clothes for them while on their bodies— or Ibn Ezra’s–that the Israelites did not sweat for the entirety of their 40 years wandering in the desert, this mundane miracle is indeed quite miraculous. And I couldn’t help but think of another idyllic paradise that we learned about in Torah, where its residents did not need to be concerned about the trivial workings of life like laundry or farming–and that is the Garden of Eden.

So it led me to ask–is the the midbar–the wilderness– really just the Garden of Eden?

Let me explain. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did not need to work the soil. There was not yet even a concept of working the soil. All their food was provided for them by the abundant fruit trees already in full bloom in the garden. But once they ate from the tree of the knowledge of life and death, they came to know the ways of the world, and thus went out into a land that they needed to till and sow in order to survive. From that moment on, they needed to work. Sweat. Their clothes would forever more get worn out.

The land of Israel is often compared to Eden. Referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey, that waters itself–it is understood to be abundant, luscious. But a key difference between the Garden of Eden and the land of Israel is that the land of Israel, according to Torah, does not simply provide. It needs to be cultivated. It needs to be worked.

Compare that to the Wilderness. For their entire time in the wilderness, the Israelites are wholly and entirely provided for. No labor is expected of them except the labor of ritual worship. All of their basic needs are met through the act of miracles. Gd does their laundry.
But when the Israelites finally enter the Promised Land, that is when the work begins. That is when they need to farm to remain alive. That is when they begin again needing to do their own laundry.
This week is the second of 7 Shabbats known as the Shabbats of Comfort, leading from Tisha B’Av to the High Holidays. Thus, All of the haftarot for these seven weeks are citing prophetic words of comfort.

In this week’s Haftarah from the Book of Isaiah, we read: 

“Truly the Divine has comforted Zion. Comforted all her ruins
Set her wilderness like Eden. Her desert like the garden of the Divine.” Isaiah 51:3

Thus, Isaiah also understood the power of the wilderness as another version of idyllic paradise. As a new Garden of Eden. The comfort is not found in the promised land, but in the wilderness.

Within our tradition, when we think of the midbar—the wilderness—we think of punishment. But what if the wilderness is the reward? A 40-year vacation from labors of survival after generations of forced labor? A time where all the Israelites need to focus on is their relationship with the Source of All Life? The source of all sustenance? How to nurture and sustain their relationship with the universe and everything in it? A 40-year meditation retreat, if you will.

Jews who have been historically pushed to the margins—queer Jews, Trans Jews, Jews of color, Jews with disabilities— have begun to reclaim the wilderness. For, just as the wilderness is the liminal space between constrainment and liberation, they too identify as being liminal beings, hovering between identities, occupying in-between space they have been told can only be binary, claiming the in-between space not as temporary dwelling, but home.

So what happens if we begin to really understand the wilderness, and not the promised land, as Eden? What happens when we begin to value the journey over the destination? How could we be transformed if we began to recognize all the little miracles in our wanderings? In our unknown? What labor might we see lifted off of our backs? What laundry will we find to have been completed?

What happens if we surrender control, and allow The Force that Makes for Salvation to do our laundry?

Sat, July 20 2024 14 Tammuz 5784