Prior to last week in the desert, my main association with the concept of samaritans was in this week's parsha, Re'eh. It opens with an intimidating theology, asserting God's power to bless or curse you. And situates itself on two mountains, Mt. Gerizim (blessed) and Mt. Ebal (cursed).
In 2006, I actually visited Mt. Gerizim, on my way to the Balata Refugee Camp, which borders the town of Nablus on the south side in the West Bank. It is the highest peak in the West Bank (higher than its cursed cousin Mt. Ebal) and is home to and the holy site of the only continuous community of Samaritans, who trace themselves back to a pre-rabbinic Judaism and follow biblical instruction. Most notably, according to Samaritan tradition, to this day they still publicly sacrifice a lamb on Passover.
The term "samaritan" was made famous by "The parable of the good samaritan," a story told in the Gospel of Luke. In it, a lawyer asks Jesus, when it says "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19;18), "Who is my neighbor?" In response Jesus tells the story of a traveler is who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. And the samaritan is the only person who stops to help.
All of these stories crystallized for me last week when I worked alongside Ajo Samaritans, people of faith and conscience who are responding directly, practically, and passionately to the crisis at the US/ Mexico border.
I will be sharing more reflections tonight during services and again on the High Holidays. Sunday begins the Jewish month of Elul, a season of reflection, introspection, and transformation. For the mystics, Elul is an acronym, corresponding to the Hebrew phrase from the Song of Songs, "אני לדודי ודודי לי, Ani L'dodi, V'dodi Li, I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (6:3). What has stayed with me amidst the devastating suffering in the desert was the deep well of kindness; the samaritan spirit if you will. May we all have the courage to be and receive such kindness.
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. For those looking for ways to prepare for the High Holidays, sign up to receive daily Elul writing prompts and check out the full KT High Holiday Schedule.
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.