Shavuot: Longing For A Spiritual X-ray

As I’ve been preparing my post on Shavuot, the situation in Israel has been becoming graver and graver by the hour. Therefore, instead of a regular Shavuot article, I was led to publish here today an excerpt from my book about Isaac and Ishmael, “Abraham had two sons”.  

“There is a famous saying: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Consequently, there are two things we need to do. First, we need to pray as though everything depends on God because, in the end, everything does depend on God. That is why I want to appeal to Him here:

“Dear Heavenly Father, You know how much we need you in this situation. You see all the pain and all the wounds on both sides. Nothing short of a miracle will help us here, and You are the only One who can perform this miracle. Even if we ask for forgiveness for our part, nothing good could come of it if these are just human words. We truly need Your Spirit to act through these words, to touch hearts and souls and to heal those terrible wounds that seem so incurable now. Please help us! Please heal this rupture! Our hope is in You alone, and we give You all the thanks and all the glory! Amen!”

Then, there is our part, our work, as though everything depends on us. Here, I want to take up my own challenge and to say to my Arab brothers and sisters: “I am truly sorry for what happened so long ago! I am truly sorry for all the mistakes, weaknesses, and sins in my family, that became a part of Ishmael’s story and have perhaps been a part of your personal story, as well. From his birth to his banishment, Ishmael was a victim in my family, and I am asking you to forgive me, as Isaac’s daughter, for all the pain and all the suffering that Ishmael’s descendants (and you personally) have experienced as a result of that rejection and banishment. Please forgive me!”

I appeal to all my Arab brothers and sisters, all of Ishmael’s descendants, with this request for forgiveness, even though I am well aware of the fact that many Arab people don’t see themselves as Ishmael’s descendants. After this journey I have been on, I believe more strongly than ever that there is a biblical basis and a spiritual reality beyond our complicated visible reality. We have to learn to recognize this biblically-based, spiritual reality in the everyday lives of these two different peoples who are incredibly close and incredibly hostile at the same time.

You might say, of course, that real life is much more complicated and multi-faceted than a biblical story, but isn’t that always the case? A person is much more complicated and unique than his or her X-ray shows: You see no personal features on an X-ray; you can’t recognize the special qualities of this individual. And yet, an X-ray does show the essential parts, the internal and vitally important things about this person. An X-ray is definitely needed in order to see what must be healed: to see where the fracture is and what should be done to heal it.

In one of my favorite scenes in the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan says to a girl whom he is sending to Narnia: “I give you a warning. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind.”[1] It is very easy to get utterly confused when you drop down into the Middle East, especially into Israel: The air is very thick here, indeed:  thick with emotions and hurt. None of us can see clearly here, because we all live in the midst of this thick air: We all are flooded by our emotions, overwhelmed by our thoughts, confused by our circumstances–and above all else, blinded by our pain. Therefore, we must take great care not to get confused and must learn to see our situation through the biblical lenses. We desperately need a spiritual X-ray of our situation, so all the external, visible things become invisible, and only internal, essential, and invisible things are seen. Then we’ll be able to see where the fracture is, and how it is to be healed.

Just as Aslan warned, when the girl found herself in Narnia, nothing was as clear as it had been on that mountain when he was speaking to her. At some point, the three main characters of the book face a very difficult situation: To obey Aslan’s commands, they must make a decision that not only seems completely illogical and absurd but actually threatens their lives. There are three of them there, two children and one Narnia adult, and all of them are scared and hesitant. Trembling, the girl is saying: “Oh, if only we knew!” Though the adult is as frightened as she is, he answers: “I think we do know!” “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do (it)?” asks the third person, the boy. The adult answers: “I don’t know about that. Aslan didn’t tell (her)… what would happen. He only told (her)… what to do.” Likewise, God does not tell us what will happen after we do take the right step. His promises are always based on who He is; He does not give us any promises based on what we do. He only tells us what to do. It might take all our courage and trust to do it, and we might be scared or unwilling, we might try to avoid it or even escape it, but in the end, we will admit that it was the only right thing to do.

    From the depth of my heart, I believe that the Lord wants to heal. To heal that torturous fracture that started almost 4,000 years ago and has been oozing endless pain and suffering ever since. In order to heal a fracture, you need an X-ray of it. I do believe that through this book, through these four levels that the Lord has guided us through, He has given us a clear spiritual X-ray of our incredibly complicated situation. Once again, it is very easy to become confused here; the air in Israel is thick with emotion. Therefore, in any given situation, we need to make sure that we see the spiritual reality beyond our everyday lives. He wants us to see the invisible through the visible, and for this purpose, He has given us this X-ray”.

I would like to finish this post with some comments on the Shavuot Torah reading. As you might expect, the synagogue readings for this holiday include Exodus 19-20: Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments. However, there is an additional special reading for Shavuot: the book of Ruth, Megillat Ruth, is also read during this Festival. Why? There are several different explanations – I would like to add some Hebrew insight to all these explanations that seems to be very relevant today.

We all know Ruth’s famous words: “wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” She speaks these words in the very first chapter of the book when she decided to keep going with Naomi – while the second daughter-in-law, Orpah, turned back. The Hebrew word I want to show you here, explains the difference between these two women – between the one who went and the one who did not.

In English, Ruth 1:18 reads: “When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.” This “steadfastly minded” (sometimes translated as “determined”) renders a Hebrew word‎ מִתְאַמֶּ֥צֶת – make(s) an effort. In Hebrew Scriptures, as well as in some English versions, we hear the same word from Jesus in Luke 13:24: Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” To choose God’s people, to walk God’s path, requires conscious effort and Ruth made this effort – while Orpah, with all her good intentions, did not. That is why we have the book of Ruth, and not the book of Orpah, in our Bibles.

What a sober and solemn truth to be reminded of, especially in these days! Sometimes it really seems that the only thing that can save this country is His intervention and His miracle: we all long to experience an open Heaven; we all long to hear God’s voice; we all desire to have a Divine encounter. Make no mistake, though:  it is not the open Heaven, it is not what He reveals, that defines us—it is how we respond to what He reveals; it is how we respond to the open Heaven on this earth!  It is not the Divine encounter that shapes our destiny—it is what we do after this encounter. Our decisions and our efforts. Like Ruth. That’s why we read the book of Ruth on Shavuot.

 

 

 

[1] Lewis C.S., The Silver Chair

 

My book, “Abraham had two sons”, as well as my other books, can be get here. Also, as always  I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com)

 

CHAG SHAVUOT SAMEACH, MY DEAR READERS!

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Julia Blum

    Thank you all dear friends, your prayers are much needed and very much appreciated!

  2. Marge Schwartz

    Ishmael was persecuting isacc, which was why the LORD ordered him banished.

    1. Julia Blum

      It’s a very traditional concept, Marge, because most of the translations render it this way. The truth is that Genesis 21:9 doesn’t say it at all; moreover, it doesn’t even say that whatever Ishmael did, he did it to Isaac – there is no Isaac in this verse. There have been a lot of discussions on this subject; if you are interested you can read my book “Abraham had two sons”. Blessings!

  3. Carla

    I have been praying for you and looking forward to this article. I’ve been thinking much today (as the Lord brought it to mind) about this age old rift. Your insights have made me think how on a much smaller scale this applies to each and every one of us concerning our relationships. Oh, how we all need His restoration! May you be kept safe under the shelter of His wings. Thank you and may your prayer become one that we all pray with you. Shalom.

  4. Nick

    Yes and amen.

    1. Gladys

      Thank you Julia ,
      I am begging God to bring peace to Israel and protect you and all that you love . .

      1. Angeline Musarurwa

        Thank you Julia. The truth of your words is very touching. I pray for peace between the children of Abraham. May the Lord protect you, your family and all Israel.