“At some point every Jew must live in Florida. It’s in the Torah,” so says the Lenny Bruce character in the
latest season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Bruce is referring to the staggering number of Jews flocking to Florida in the late 1950s when show takes
place, but I think he is on to something more profound – setting is important. We, who live in the far
reaches of the Mid Atlantic, can easily forget just how far away we are from the land of ancestors, both
in physical distance and in physical terrain. Florida, in some respects, is a great deal closer – at least
when it comes to sunshine.
The Holy Land, as we know, has the heat without the ocean and tropical palm trees. The land is harsh, in
ways I sometimes forget. Take the setting where Jacob wrestles with an angel in this week’s Torah
portion, Vayishlach. I always imagined a fight on a muddy river bank, with the sound of water cascaded
around them. Not so much. The word in Hebrew for river is Nachal, which like the Arabic Wadi, really
means dry river bed, landscapes that are only transformed into riverbeds during short intervals in the
There are so many occasions we confuse our ideas of geography with that of our ancestors. Take for
example the River Jordan, as many Christians find out in their visits to the Holy Land, it is in certain parts
no more than a trickle like Ellicott Creek. Hills and deserts have different looks in feel in the Middle East
than they do here.
We take for granted so many things, like trees that are few and far between in Israel.
Living out a religion so far from its origin is a good reminder not to make assumptions either about
climate or people. Jacob learns this in a good way when he is surprised by his brother, Esau’s, generosity
and kindness when the brothers are finally reunited in the portion. May all of our mistaken
understandings end up so positively and may we all have opportunities for extended periods of sunlight
as we enter winter in Western New York.