For the past month I have been in Israel working for Shorashim and meeting with all of our Chicago community groups who have spent 10 awesome days seeing Israel with Israelis.
The past several hours I have been sitting in my friend's apartment in downtown Tel Aviv preparing Shabbat materials for a special Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim trip called The Israel Challenge. The Israel Challenge will include the same elements of any Shorashim trip and as a bonus, 10 challenges similar to those you might see on a reality TV show. The winners won’t become MTV stars or Bravo-lebrities, but they will receive gift cards to Uncle Dan's.
The challenges will not be revealed until the day of the events, so I can't speak of them here. However, I can tell you that my responsibility is coming up with a Shabbat-friendly challenge, which has led me to delve deep into this week's Torah portion: Chukat.
God tells Moses that he cannot enter the land of Israel because, seemingly, he hit a rock. Moses’s lack of faith in God ends his 40 year arduous journey through the desert with the worst punishment ever: Moses is denied entrance to the Holy Land.
The punishment does not seem to fit the crime and thousands of commentators from the ancient to the modern have multiple theories. The two most prevalent are that Moses’s punishment was for previous wrongdoings and the striking of the rock was the last straw or that Moses was no longer fit for leadership of the Jewish people, therefore it was time for his journey to end before they crossed into Israel.
As I compile sources and read, I take a break and walk downstairs to Dezingoff Street to buy Schweppes Rimonim (carbonated pomegranate juice!!!) and am overwhelmed by the heat, the sounds, and the smells of what is downtown Tel Aviv.
There was no Tel Aviv thousands of years ago when the Bible was written. But I can't help but think of the fact that Moses, this great political prophetic figure was not allowed to enter the land of Israel, yet I fly here twice a year. Thousands of Birthright Israel participants are afforded this opportunity thanks to Jewish Federations across America, many generous philanthropists and the state of Israel.
Perhaps every person who comes to Israel brings Moses with them in their heart. And although he was not allowed to enter the land, almost anyone else who wants to, many for free, can and I hope that you will do so soon.