We are wrapping up our two weeks in Israel, and preparing to return to America. Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of spending time in Israel is the way in which Jewish life is literally embodied here. As my kids’ book, Sammy Spider’s Trip to Israel, reminds them (and us): A trip to Israel is a sensory experience, full of sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes. While Diasporic life certainly contains these elements, they are accentuated in Israel, where Jewish life is first and foremost a physical enterprise, and secondarily an aesthetic and intellectual one.

Rashi’s opening comment on this week’s double parasha, Tazria-Metzora, reminds us that Jewish life is a deeply physical enterprise. After detailing the laws of animals (as in which ones are kosher to eat, which were enumerated at the end of Parshat Shemini last week), the Torah begins its discussion of human bodily laws: what happens when men and women have certain emissions and secretions, when women bear children, etc. Rashi explains that this follows the fundamental order of Creation: Just as at In the Beginning animals were created before humans, so here the laws are given in the same order.

In my work with Hillel one of the basic building blocks of our trade is immersion experiences: trips, often to foreign countries, that create a high-impact experience. While Jewish life in the Diaspora can take us out of our regular time–as when we are walking to shul for Yom Kippur while our non-Jewish neighbors go about their day–an immersion experience takes us out of our space. Abraham Joshua Heschel argued in his wonderful book The Sabbath that Judaism is about time more than space. But it ain’t necessarily so: We find at Hillel that travel experiences are on the whole much more powerful than temporal ones. Despite modernity’s best attempts to separate us from our bodies, Zionism has reminded us that our bodies are as much a part of our being as our minds and souls.

Shabbat shalom.

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