Bamidbar: Making a sacred space
If ever there was hope for world peace and harmony it would be at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Hundreds of countries of all backgrounds, religions, and stripes; athletes of varying ages and color; men and women — all assemble in one arena to compete in a particular discipline and represent their country and to be the best. I particularly enjoy the moment when the athletes march in with a designated flag bearer, donning the colors of the country they represent, beaming with pride, and brimming with anticipation for the competition that will ensue. What a hope-filled moment that is; what a sacred space is created.
Shortly after the games are played and the flags stop waving, the athletes will go back to their homelands and deal with the internal and external struggles that they face daily. But in the Olympic village, struggle, war, and conflict do not live. There is no oxygen for those evil forces of nature to breathe. Those few days of sport, competition and camaraderie are the epitome of hope for a future of peace and harmony that could be. and that should be. That is the beauty that seems to exist in that small vacuum in wandering locations every four years, much like the boundaries and vacuum set for the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle in this week’s portion.
When we read Parashat Bamidbar, which begins with a census and the delegation of responsibility for leadership, I conjure up in my mind’s eye a vision similar to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Tribes all led by a particular person bearing the flag of the region they represent. Armed and of age for battle, their role is to work in concert with the tribes next to them. Furthermore, this first parasha of the fourth book of the Torah delves into the rules regarding the Tent of Meeting and the rules and regulations of the borders that surround it. Nachmanides, the medieval commentator from Spain, teaches that the borders of the Tent of Meeting are proportioned throughout this book of Bamidbar as a sacred space. Who could enter and get near is laid out clearly so that the arena of offering and all that happens there maintains a level of holiness and sanctity.
While a bit of a stretch in comparison, I am taken by the sacred space and boundaries of the Tent of Meeting and the values of sportsmanship that are supposed to dictate the Olympic games that come July will be played in London.
During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, nasty forces broke the space of peace and harmony when a Palestinian militant faction entered the Olympic village and murdered 11 athletes and coaches of the Israeli delegation. It was a heart-breaking moment for the world; Jews were again being killed for their religion and nationality in Germany; the government and Olympic committee were silent; and the peace and hope for harmony that lives in the vacuum of the Olympic village were destroyed.
Forty years since Munich, the international community is requesting a moment of silence at the 2012 games in London in memory of the murdered athletes. The International Olympic Committee has reflected on the request and denied the moment of silence. Part of their reasoning is based on not politicizing the games or upsetting other delegations. That answer is naïve and laughable. The games are inherently politicized when each delegation enters bearing a flag of the country they represent. It becomes more politicized when certain countries boycott particular matches based on the international relations between countries. And it was politicized in 1972 when the athletes were murdered for the flag they marched behind when they entered the coliseum in Munich.
As a Zionist and Jew and Olympic enthusiast, I believe we owe these athletes a moment of silence at the 2012 games. Should this happen, God forbid, to any other athletes from any other country we should demand the same. The moment of silence should come not for political reasons, but rather to memorialize the hermetic seal that was broken in 1972 of allowing hope and harmony to be destroyed.
Hope is a critical value in Judaism. It is the light that shines through our darkest hour. It is the teachings found in the Ethics of our Ancestors that tell us we all have a reckoning in the world to come and we all have a place in that same world. Hope is what we create in the boundaries surrounding the Tent of Meeting. Hope is what kicks us out of bed on a gray day and encourages us to fight when the odds are stacked against us. Hope is what enabled the Jewish people to persevere on their journey to the Promised Land that would be flowing with Milk and Honey. Hope is the Jewish people’s fuel. That is why Hatikvah — the Hope — is the anthem that will play proudly when the Israeli Olympic delegates enter the 2012 games. It is a hope for all of us of the peace and harmony that can exist between nations. May we realize that hope in our days.