Jerusalem Old City and Mount of Olives at Night, Israel
Jerusalem Old City and Mount of Olives at Night, Israel

I’d said the prayer a bunch of times before.

But this morning, as the congregation recited a blessing for the state of Israel as a community, as my people’s safe haven, two words jumped out at me: eretz kadshenu.

Land of our holiness, land of our sanctity.

And as a word nerd, I was struck by the concept.

The translation read Holy Land, but that’s not really what the words say. The words connect a place and a people in the concept of sanctification, of holiness. Us, and the place, together, are linked as sacred.

Or perhaps we could read it as in this land, we become sanctified as a people.

As if the land itself is designated as essential for we to become sanctified, to elevate our peoplehood. So that by being there, we rise up.

When Jews leave wherever they are to live in the land of Israel, it is called Aliyah, going up, ascension. “I’m making aliyah.”

An active state, an act of will, a concept and a decision. The words matter. Nothing happens TO us; we make choices and we define our moods and in so doing, we become the architect, the master of this moment.

Inukshuk,-Canada-000027692862_FullAnd the next one, and the one after that, too.

Land of our sanctity. The place where we will be sanctified. Where we will become.

Last night, I stood outside the sukkah, the temporary hut Jews build at this time of year to mark the harvest holiday of Sukkoth, and following the intensity and immensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we seek temporary shelter as a way of succumbing to God.

As a way of recognizing that we are not in charge, that our outcomes are in the hands of something greater.

Outside my friends’ sukkah, we talked about place. A mother and her teenage daughter discussed the veritas of living in the state of Michigan. The daughter wants to leave as soon as she is old enough; the mother acceded that “there’s nothing to do here,” followed by the idea that she wouldn’t do much anywhere – except perhaps London.

It was a funny thought. The place does not make the person.

But we give so much power to that idea anyway.

When I was a teen, I remember eagerly anticipating my freedom, my launch from these boring suburban roots to places great and elsewhere.

And when I did, living in New York first, then Washington, D.C., I reflected mightily on the beauty of my home, this place surrounded by water and where people wave to say thank you when they let you in in traffic.

I came back because, having gained the distance, I could finally see what home meant.

Early morning in ancient mountains of Sinai desert. Sunrise over Red sea
Place gathers people, adding ascent to our destiny. The words matter. Eretz Kadshenu, land of our sanctification.

It’s a place deep within, that is not moved by place or status. It is who you are and where you feel most yourself.

And so it doesn’t matter whether the suburbs offer entertainment extraordinaire or nothing special whatsoever. Because you yourself can infuse life with excitement, compassion, peace.

Place where we are sanctified. The land of our rising up.

What is the place of Truth, the place of Being, the place where one crosses the threshold from nothing-matters-much to everything-matters?

That’s where we find home. And for my people, this concept of a land, a place, where we gather to rise up as a community, to gather force and comfort, safety and safe haven, that has new meaning for me because of the words.

On the drive home from synagogue, I commented to my sons about the power of seeing words as if for the first time. I may have recited that prayer countless times before, but today it was as if I saw it for the first time.

And therein lies the power of meaning. The beauty in the words. The knowledge that the words do, in fact, matter.

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