Rabbi’s Weekly Message

Rabbi’s Message, May 28, 2024


Illustration: Paul Vogel, “Indecent”, Act 2: Manke and Rivkele dancing in the rain. Mirvish (Toronto Theater), 2022

            This week, many of our congregants joined me at the Generic Theater to take in the production of Paula Vogel’s Indecent. That drama is a play about an earlier play and its reception history. The earlier play was by the acclaimed Yiddish author, Sholem Asch—we read his biblical novel, Moses, in our most recent book club gathering. The play was a much earlier worker of his, “Got fun Nekome” (God of Vengeance), in which he took aim at hypocrisy and religious posturing. In Vogel’s play, the scene in which the two young women dance in the rain becomes a symbol of transcendence.  In the final portion of her play, all the actors of the original troupe had been killed in the Holocaust, and the playwright did not want to see his effort brought to the stage again.  He felt that he had written the play for a different time and place, and that it was no longer appropriate. But in his mind, he relented when he envisioned the pure joy of the two loving women, dancing together in the rain, the entire theatrical troupe watching them and feeling the love. The play ends, after the catastrophe of the Holocaust, with at least some hope for the future.
            In an uncanny way, the words of the Torah that we encounter this very week underscore that message. Leviticus chapter 26, “The Rebuke”, is one of the hardest chapters of the Bible to read. It is filled with dire warnings about the catastrophes that might overtake our people. And the course of history has seen those catastrophes, and worse, enacted. The Bible did not predict Auschwitz. For the Bible, the nadir of the nation’s existence would be losing its land and being sent into Exile.
            But there, at the bottom of the pit, the Biblical seer envisions a rebirth:
“Yet even this, too—when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them and I will not loathe them and I will not put an end to them, to void my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. I will remember for them the covenant of the first ones whom I brought out of Egypt before the eyes of the nations to be God for them, I am the LORD.” (Lev. 26:44-45)
            And so has our nation’s experience confirmed.  From the ashes, our people has regained its independence.
            We are in the midst of the conflict to secure our independence and a peaceful coexistence with hostile neighbors. It has never ended since the day of our birth.  Now, we are many months into the latest round of this conflict. Much has not gone well for our nation in this round. Our international isolation is worse than ever. 
            Israelis will yet decide if their political leadership has guided them well in this round, or not. For my part, I stand with Israel, and I ask you not to falter. The big question is whether the prayer of Leml, the stage-manager of the theatrical troupe in Vogel’s play, will be answered in the affirmative: Standing in line to be murdered, Leml prays, “let this not be the end of our story.”
            In Vogel’s play, the memory of the troupe endures; the troupe rises from the ashes; and each time the play is performed, that memory is revived.
            In the real world, the people Israel endure, and it is our sacred duty to do our best to help them. May God grant them strength, and ultimately, peace.