Report from Sinai Desert – Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

Overwhelming times. The anticipation, the escalation of the plagues, the sudden departure, the panic – and miraculous delivery – at the sea. Hard to even know how to respond, to know where we stand in the process.

As slaves we were powerless; now we are free, but in some sense we are still powerless: an incoherent mob in the desert, without a social structure, without a place, without roots, without a purpose. Maybe this was a mistake. At least in Egypt there was order, and routine, and three meals a day. We always knew what to expect. What will become of us now?

Two schools of thought have developed, as we argue endlessly (not much else to do out here):

Some say that until the promise of a land is fulfilled, the liberation is not complete. They say that without a state, sovereignty, power, we will be no better than slaves, powerless among the forces of history. Land, rootedness, place – that must be the culmination of this process.

Others say that we have seen enough of state sovereignty (from the underside), and it wasn’t such a great thing. They argue that this God who has redeemed us, the God of all the world, transcends the mundane responsibilities of running a state, and is able to establish a covenant with us that will be beyond geography, that will be binding on each of us wherever we may be.

Neither seems satisfying to me. I think we need both. Without the covenant, all we have is romantic nationalism, blood and soil and historical resentments. Without the state, all we have is lovely abstract morality with no place to implement it in the messy context of power.

First the mountain, then the river. Let’s go!


Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, author of Galilee Diary grew up in Highland Park, IL, at North Shore Congregation Israel. His first visit to Israel was as a high school student in the first cohort of the NFTY-EIE program in 1962. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1975, and received his PhD from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in modern Jewish history, while a Jerusalem Fellow. In 1990, he made aliyah, moving to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee. He is presently the director of the Israeli Rabbinical Program of HUC-JIR, as well as the director of Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence.


About dustyicentered

Rabbinic Student at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, graduate of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education. I love a good story.

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