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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 5 May 2017 05:10 PM and ends Sat 29 Apr 2017 06:16 PM
כ"ו אייר ה' אלפים תשע"ב
That's the term they used to describe themselves: yordim -descenders. They'd just moved here from Israel and were clearly feeling guilty for having 'abandoned' their homeland.
If we use the complimentary term aliyah- ascent to describe the act of moving from the diaspora to Israel, then it might seem appropriate to utilise the corresponding, somewhat insulting expression to describe people who've journeyed in the opposite direction.
But is that fair?
I know nothing about these people or the story of their life to date. I couldn't even speculate about the financial challenges that may have influenced their decisions. Do they have relatives living in Australia? Did they come here to find work, or maybe just to avoid their children being drafted to the IDF? Is their evident sense of guilt justified, or are they being unnecessarily self-conscious? Truth be told, it's not in any way my business. All I know is that they seem like a lovely family and they were hanging out at a bris.
In Judaism you aren't judged by your location, but by your actions once you get there.
The theme of the first of this week's Torah portions could also be said to be yerida. We start off on an incredible high; standing at the base of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. Never has any nation received such a gift and every man, woman and child present was fully engaged in the spirituality of the moment.
The next topic we encounter is the laws that apply once entering the land of Israel. No longer exclusively concerned with G-dliness and spirituality as in the desert, no longer blessed with the manna that falls from Heaven, we now have to plough, plant and harvest to earn our daily bread.
It gets worse. All too soon we begin to doubt Hashem's ability to provide for us. And when you ask 'what shall we eat (Behar 25:20). Soon after that the Torah begins to describe people who've lost all their money and have to sell their possessions, then their land and then borrow money on interest. The final degradation of a once proud man, is to be sold as a slave to a non-Jew. What a yerida and what an unfortunate passage of events.
However, the parsha could also be read as a salutary lesson in the study of real life. Living an idyllic life of ease and comfort, unaffected by one's surrounds and secure from danger and degeneration might sound attractive, but that's not real.
The end-purpose of receiving the Torah at Sinai is to take the beauty and spirituality of undiluted G-dliness and integrate them into your daily existence. You've got to get down and dirty to be able to mine the riches that lie beneath. The free food that falls from Heaven is never as filling as that which you've worked for and earned for yourself. Even someone trapped in the depths of despair and enslaved to the forces of negativity that surround us is still a Jew and has the capacity to bring G-dliness into his current situation.
The last words of Parshas Behar and the culmination of the process of seeming descent, is I am the L-rd, which Rashi explains to be declaring you can trust that I will reward you for your efforts. (Behar 26:2). The reward is commensurate with the struggle and the harder and further we fall, the bigger the payoff at the end.
This may not have been part of your original plans. You never thought you'd end up where you are now. You might not have planned for this and are possibly even embarrassed of your current stage of life, but you should know that this too is part of G-d's plan. By accepting your current lowly situation as a challenge rather than a sentence, you have a unique opportunity to elevate your surroundings and prove yourself worthy of Hashem's reward.