15 Elul, 5770
August 25, '10
Translated from the NRG website
It was Shabbat, and I needed to re-enter the hospital, where my son, David, is being treated. The doors to the hospital are equipped with an electric eye, automatically opening as a person nears the entrance.
This presents a problem on Shabbat, when it is forbidden to activate electricity. An electric eye that opens doors cannot be used on this holiest day of the week.
But never fear; the Tzomet Technological Institute has a modern, technological solution for every Jewish-law challenge that arises. The Tzomet Institute engineers attached a special light for Shabbat observers onto the door of the hospital. They drew a line on the floor in front of the door. Whoever does not cross that line will not be detected by the electric eye. As the Shabbat observer stands behind the line, he must raise his eyes to the light above the door and wait for it to turn green. Every three minutes, the green light goes on, indicating that the electric eye is now taking its Shabbat rest. Even if an elephant would walk over the threshold during those seconds, the electric eye would not detect it.
There I stood, waiting for the green light in my finest Shabbat attire, feeling slightly out of place as pedestrian traffic flowed into the hospital. Suddenly a short man, shaven head, muscled arms, beach clogs, shorts and tank top – I assume that he had just thrown his cigarette away – approached the door. He did not notice me because he was in the middle of a lively conversation on his cell phone, pressed against his ear. He stepped up to the door and the electric eye faithfully opened it wide. But just then, something strange happened. The man moved the cell phone from his right hand to his left hand and used it to cover his head.
I don't know if the person on the other end of the line understood that he was being used as a temporary kippah: The man's right hand lifted in a movement that cannot be mistaken, his legs marched the width of the door and brought him straight to the mezuzah. The door did not like the idea, but patiently waited until the man kissed the mezuzah. The cell phone promptly returned from the man's shiny head to his ear. His legs carried him forward and the door also understood that the ceremony was finished and returned to its routine.
I don't know who was stranger in this scene – me or him. It seems to me that something was out of place with both of us. Stranded outside the hospital door, watching all the people stream past, I seemed to have taken G-d's word to a place that seemed patently unrealistic. The man with the cell phone seems to have taken reality to G-d in a way blatantly opposed to the interpretation of the Sages, who passed the Torah on from generation to generation. Clearly, the Torah is what the Sages say it is, whether I like it or not. Historically, anyone who has tried alternative interpretations of the Torah has simply disappeared from the Nation of Israel.
In the truly Jewish state, Judaism is supposed to blossom from its current contracted state of religion, to the broad dimension of all-inclusive culture. We are supposed to connect heaven and earth – not to separate them by means of religion or secularism.
So how should a hospital entrance door look in the truly Jewish state? There are two possibilities: One, that the doors in the Jewish state will open with a handle, just like they used to not so long ago.
The second possibility is much more fundamental and true. The Torah of Israel must become the vibrant and vital culture of our lives. It will be the Torah of the Land of Israel in all its glory, Torah that connects heaven and earth in the most direct way – in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Just as King David was not religious or secular, in the future there will no longer be religious or secular Jews. The original Israeli culture that will develop here will inspire the entire world. We can already see signs of that happening today. The shoulders of Israel's sages will broaden enough to connect the Torah to life and to re-delineate the borders of permissible and forbidden. I believe that when that happens, the doors will be wide open for everyone.