It was somewhere in the North, perhaps Tiberias or Tzippori. We were sitting in a circle on the dirt and studying the text from Baba Metzia. It was the well known story of the Oven of Achnai in which a clay oven is broken into parts, repaired with sand and its status is questioned. Rabbi Eliezer argues his position with the other Sages and calls forth a carob tree, a stream of water, and the walls of a school house to prove him right. I had studied the text before and have studied it many times since but at that moment I found myself in the second century with Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer as my companions.
It was in the center of Jerusalem on the Southern steps of the Temple. We were sitting in rows on the cool stone and studying the text from Mishnah Middot. It was the text instructing Temple visitors in how to enter the Har Habayit from right to left unless you were a mourner in which case you entered from the other direction. Rabbi Meir disagrees with Rabbi Yosi about the proper words of consolation. This text I had also studied and taught before, but at that moment found myself in the last century before the common era with the Temple pilgrims around me.
This weekend I saw Woody Allen’s new film Midnight in Paris. Rabbi Shulman had recommended it to me and spoke about it at Yizkor time on the second day of Shavuot. He was right, it was a wonderful film.
SPOLIER ALERT: it is the story of an American writer who each night at midnight arrives at the Paris of the 1920’s or the turn of the century. He engages with the famous figures of those eras -Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec and is cast into their lives and sees more clearly his own.
Among other reactions to the film what impressed me so strongly was this – It’s Israel. He captured part of the magic of being in Israel. That so-difficult-to-describe experience of time collapsing in on itself. How everywhere you go in Israel it is as if you are stepping back in time and living a rich vibrant life of another decade or era. It’s not just a matter of history coming alive, but a living sense of the past in the midst of the present.
It’s been seven years since I’ve been in Israel, too long. But it was nice to be reminded of some of its magic and mystery.