Blessings and “Memories” - Berakhot 54
One of the new categories of blessing described here are blessings on seeing places where miracles are said in the Bible to have taken place. The Talmud gives examples: the Red Sea, the Jordan where Joshua crossed (and the sea also parted), Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt, the stone the giant king Og wanted to throw at the Israelites, and so on. We even get a story of Moses as superhuman superhero – as Og prepares to destroy Israel, Moses (who is himself 10 cubits, or 15 feet, tall) takes a 15 foot axe, jumps 15 feet in the air, strikes Og on his ankle and kills him. And one can hear a latter-day tour guide say, “Imagine how large Og must have been! And THAT’S why this mountain is called Og’s Stone.”
Of course, from an historical perspective, many of these “moments” never actually happened – they were later stories to explain ancestral names for locations, or elements of the founding mythology – imagine finding the cherry tree George Washington supposedly cut down as a boy, saying “I cannot tell a lie,” and you’ll understand. We have found Jericho, but the site was abandoned during the time Joshua’s supposedly destroyed it. Even though we will be hearing the story on Passover, there is little historical evidence of any sizable Jewish presence in or Exodus from Egypt – certainly nothing on the order of events described in the Bible. The story retains its power as literature, but not as historical fact. Changing the past may be impossible, but changing our understandings of the past is essential to get a truer picture of who we are and from where we come.
Rabbi Adam Chalom