Ein Gedi is an amazing and magnificent desert oasis in Israel. Located by the Dead Sea on the way to Masada one could easily pass by and not notice this wadi (jagged valley ). Our fabulous DHJC Israel adventure this summer spent a day at Masada exploring the powerful history of this mountaintop and then floated in the Dead Sea. Our late afternoon was spent at Ein Gedi enjoying the natural beauty of this oasis and reveling in the refreshing waterfalls located here fed by the underground spring from the cliffs above .
Next to Ein Gedi is an ancient synagogue that archeologists excavated more than a half century ago. They discovered a majestic mosaic floor with an inscription that speaks of the secrets of Ein Gedi. Two thousand years ago, the residents of Ein Gedi had a flourishing spice trade including the resin from the balsam tree that was used in the fragrant spices on the altar of the Second Temple. According to historians the closely guarded recipe of the balsam and incense was to be treated as a proprietary trademark of the community and was not to be shared with others. The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 and the ancient community of Ein Gedi and the reminder of the balsam resin recipe secret remains as a postscript on the mosaic floor inscription .
Yet this past week Ein Gedi revealed another secret ! When the synagogue was discovered by the archeologists they also found a charred ancient scroll. The lump of carbonized parchment was found to be impossible to open or read so archeologists preserved it hoping for the day when technology would enable us to read the secrets soft this scroll. Over this summer computer scientists at the university of Kentucky perfected a method of digitally reading a text that can be unfurled by a micro CT scan . Remarkably, this method worked perfectly for this scroll, dated to the first century CE prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The computer was able to digitally read the text found with this clump of carbonized parchment and the words and the letters were clearly legible.
What the scientists discovered is the secret of the scroll. They found the first two chapters of the book of Leviticus , the third book of the Torah. They discovered that this two thousand year old text matches perfectly letter for letter and word for word the texts found in our sacred Torah scrolls today . This then becomes the largest section of Torah ever discovered that matches identically to our scrolls today . This find validates what our people has known for eternity - that we faithfully adhere to ancient traditions that our with fidelity transmitted l'dor va-dor, from one generation to the next and infused with vibrancy and everlasting relevancy in each successive generation.
The secrets revealed in the scroll of Ein Gedi are a timeless message at the dawning of this new year of 5777. As we usher in the fall holidays, it is the recognition that our traditions and customs are seasoned with age and invigorated by each generation. When we sound the shofar and listen to the clarion call of this ancient instrument we literally become part of the timeless joy of Judaism. Our prayers , both new and old , are linked to the inspired wisdom our our sages from the ages gone by and transformed by the beauty of our high holy day prayer book/mahzor that incorporates so many new, poetic and illuminating prayers that touch our souls.
Our fasting on Yom Kippur provides us, as it did our ancestor two and three millennia ago, the recognition that we have a spiritual strength. We can forgo eating and drinking for 25 hours and remind ourselves that we can master the material world. We are not enslaved to technology as on each holy day we unplug from technology ( yes, NO cell phones, NO texting and NO FaceTime ) and instead are plugged INTO our venerated and dynamic traditions and we are in the presence of the Divine, of family , friends and community without being interrupted by our technologies . If we can fast for 25 hours ( with the notable exception of those pregnant, ill or those taking medications when you are obligated to eat - but you can skip the chocolate cake!) then we can resolve to be drawn closer to the so many other brilliant aspects of Judaism .
Yom Kippur concludes and we swiftly go into the divine sanctuary of the joy of sukkot. Build a sukkah for yourself or with your neighbors. Then enter this outdoor Harvest hut all thoughout sukkot to enjoy fine wines, great meals and fabulous camaraderie in this autumnal season.
Sukkot continues the joyous celebration of being together and created joyous moments in Shul and in your sukkah to marvel at the world that we inhabit and to share sweet moments with family and friends - a club med vacation with your backyard sukkah becoming the oasis of food, friends and fun .
The gift of the high holy days comes to a grand finale with Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah as we dance with the scrolls of Torah in our community. Unlike the scroll of Torah found at Ein Gedi which was a carbonized clump, our Torah scrolls are the living legacy that we celebrate. The words of Torah are the foundation of our ethics, the essence of our names and traditions and the genesis Our our life cycle events and holidays. The Ein Gedi scroll could be read but not unfurled. We will unfurl a Torah scroll from the ark and as the scroll is held aloft it will extend to the farthest end of our ballroom and we see that the words of Torah are alive, dynamic and uplifting . We connect to the Torah as we hold it aloft with our hands and our deeds, with our hearts and our values .
There is so much disconnect and divisiveness in our world today. The corruptions that we see and the toxic words that are uttered along with the loss of civility and decency is frightening . The inhumanity on a global scale - with the carnage in Syria as but one example - is a brutality that is searing the 21st century. The world stands idly by and argues about what to do - while israel opens her borders to those wounded in the syrian conflict and gives refuge to those in need.
Our high holy days draw us closer to the values sorely lacking in the world around us. We are brought closer to ethical and moral living , we are given the embrace of a caring community and our traditions to be lived not only at dhjc , but in our homes. The songs of Torah and the melodies of Shabbat and holy days bring joy not oy into our homes and community. This is the essence of our faith , of Judaism.
I hope and pray that our community will touch and inspire you ever the more deeply this year and that you will resolve to be open to our mission and message as a dynamic , caring , striving , learning and joyous community . Unlike the and ancient scroll of Ein Gedi which could not be unfurled and needed a micro-CT scan to be read, may we be open in this new year to the joy of Judaism and the blessings of our dhjc community. Be here , be involved , be read into the life of our community and be transformed day by day , mitzvah by mitzvah.
May we share in the rich and sweet blessings of a shanah tovah. Laura , along with Yael, Yair & Lev, Aviva and Matt, Hillel and Jaclyn, Elie and Tamar and Noam join me in wishing you and your loved ones a year of new beginnings and soulful joy! Shanah tovah, Rabbi Howard Buechler