I love spending time in Israel. It is pretty much my favorite place to be on the planet. And over the years, I have grown particularly fond of Jerusalem. Not just as an ideal or a mystical place, but as a real place that I have lived in. During my third year of rabbinical school, I spent six months living in Israel. After a month of studying Hebrew at the University of Haifa, I spent five months living in Jerusalem. While I lived in Jerusalem for a year after I graduated from high school, this time it was different. I really felt connected to the real live city with real people and developed relationships that are still very special to me.
While I miss my friends and family, and I long to return and study Torah in the Holy Land, when I reflect on the things that I miss most about spending time there, I find myself missing some of the little moments. I miss Sammy, the waiter at one of my favorite restaurants. We would hug every time I would come and we would chat about his family. He gave me his cell phone number just in case I was going to bring a big group, and he would make sure we got a table. I miss the young man from whom I bought spices every week. We would share a little bit about our week and what we were cooking. He would let me taste some new tea he had put together and explain some of his tactics in selling to tourists in the market/shuk.
And I can occasionally return there for an instant. If the right blend of spices is in the air. Or I eat a certain dish that my wife cooks, or I hear certain music playing, I am momentarily transported to the place that I yearn to be. While it never lasts for that long, it is enough to remind my body and soul of the holiness that I have touched, and it recharges me moving forward. I am sure many people can think of things that through the different senses bring them to another place and time. We can’t be anywhere but where we are, but we can brush our dreams with our fingers for a few moments with the right inspiration.
In this week’s Parsha, Pinhas, we are given the specific sacrifices that we are to offer of Shabbat and other holidays. When the Torah describes the continual offering, it is stated that it was offered on Mt. Sinai/עולת תמיד העשויה בהר סיני. The Sfas Emes teaches that the verse mentions Sinai to remind us that during the time of the Temple, just as on Sinai, these offerings were a way of actually reaching new spiritual heights. These acts brought us spiritually closer to God through a real physical act. What do we do now without the Temple? The Sfas Emes explains that God has hidden treasures for us all over the place, and that if we look carefully, we can find them and they will briefly remind our souls of the heights we can achieve.
On Shabbat for example, our prayers include mention of the sacrifices during the Musaf Amidah. While we do not offer these sacrifices anymore, our mentioning them with great focus can bring us to another place and time.
This week, I want to challenge all of us to look around us for those hidden treasures that God has graciously given us. And when we find them, let’s notice where they take us, and how it feels. And then share it with a friend. For what good is a treasure if you cannot share it with those you care about.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.