Parashat Toldot / The Mountain Has Been Found

Yair Caspi
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'Esau Selling His Birthright,' by Hendrick ter Brugghen (circa 1627).
'Esau Selling His Birthright,' by Hendrick ter Brugghen (circa 1627).Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Yair Caspi

For a century, the Zionist movement was – in the eyes of many who belonged to it – Judaism’s senior spokesperson, which, lost in the Diaspora, was returning to its roots. In “Rome and Jerusalem,” Moses Hess began a process that went on until David Ben-Gurion, who believed “unique people” and “light unto the nations” were concepts calling for a model society.

The Zionist movement demanded the birthright be given to it, not to Diaspora rabbinical authorities. It returned to the Bible, which established a code of values transcending contemporary culture’s definitions: “Father” is not just my biological father or the tribal elders – “Father” is the Creator I try to emulate, or the earthly bearer of his knowledge.

The customs governing the identity of the father’s heir change. “Elder” is the child who is prepared to assume the role of heir in the revolution Abraham began. Jacob is no thief, but is guardian of the knowledge his father transmits to him, which would have been lost in Esau’s hands (Gen. 25-27). Rebecca, who seeks God, rectifies the actions of her husband, whose insight is impaired.

King Saul’s heir does not acquire that title through genetics, contrary to the local custom. The prophet Samuel, who knows how to decipher the divine voice – “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7) – declares David, who will later be revealed as “king of Israel,” Saul’s heir.

The genuine heir does not compulsively follow his parents’ customs. The Hasidic revolution’s heir does not wear the Baal Shem Tov’s hat. Perhaps the true heir is the young boy who whistles in synagogue on Yom Kippur.

The heirs of the Zionist movement’s founders, tired of being responsible for the establishment of a model society, initially thought that rural settlements, agricultural work and an army could replace the Torah. The secular Zionists’ abandonment of the birthright restored to Orthodoxy’s hands the authority for determining what is Israel.

The world’s monotheistic religions have been in an ongoing crisis for the past century and a half. Many adherents have left the fold. Those who remain are gradually losing the ability to retain faith in the traditional precepts and rituals. Those who are slowly losing the connection that exists through the synagogue or mosque have despaired of ever finding a new channel for experiencing religious uplifting. As traditionalists, they are permitted to seek holiness only in those places where God was once found.

The Temple Mount Faithful and the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” faithful know something about each other. The “Al-Aqsa is in danger” faithful know that the Temple Mount Faithful must continue to plan the Temple’s reestablishment because, without the Temple, they will lose the source of their religious vitality; the Temple Mount Faithful know that the struggle to banish from the mount those Jews who come to pray will continue to be waged by those who, without the motto “Al-Aqsa is in danger,” would lose their faith.

Late Second Temple-era literature includes the tale of the four who attempt to ascend God’s mountain. They enter the orchard to have holy experiences; three of them are destroyed. Only Rabbi Akiva emerges unscathed; he does not know the location of the divine domicile but enters the orchard to receive lists of human responsibilities.

Something of the lethal, sacred urges experienced by the three harmed in the orchard can today be found in those who ascend the Temple Mount, who passionately thirst for a nearness to God, a nearness they cannot find in the yeshiva. The Temple Mount Faithful are prepared to violate religious laws prohibiting ascent to the mount. This is a regressive revolution that avoids the difficult task of mending the Torah of Life, and instead seeks a channel for extracting a modicum of holy energy.

Secular Jews feel no responsibility for religious insanity. However, those who restored to the hands of religious Jews authority for discovering Jewish history’s meaning should not be surprised if the latter want to build a Temple. Those who shirk responsibility for the birthright should not be surprised that the “Temple Mount is in danger” motto rules their lives.

The compulsive obsession with the Temple Mount hides the real mountain – the mountain that should be ascended and which is being neglected by secular and religious Jews. It is not the Mount of Ceremonies, the Mount of Festivals or the Mount of Sacrificial Offerings. It is higher than the Temple Mount. We once ascended it, or at least sent representatives to it. It gave us life. We almost saw God there.

At its foot, the Hebrew people received its mission, the foundations of its identity. Zionist pioneers of the first waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine ascended it; they changed the list of commandments, suggesting an audacious interpretation of classical Jewish sources, prioritizing it over synagogue and kashrut.

The formation of the Israeli identity began when we asked where the mountain was, how to ascend it and descend from it, how to receive signs and hear voices, how to know what the day’s role was. The mountain has already been found. The tablets are waiting. We just lack the one who will ascend and receive them.