The Annual Embassy

Friday, 9 August, 2013 - 1:00 pm

When Israeli consular workers declared a strike this past June – effectively shuttering consular services abroad – the Foreign Ministry had some advice: Find the nearest Chabad House.  Israelis traveling abroad should seek out the nearest Chabad center if they were in need of help.

My colleague, Rabbi Mordechai Levenhartz, in Kiev, Ukraine, said that the organization was happy to help out any Jew who needed assistance. “We can't issue visas, unfortunately, but we can provide travelers with a nice, warm meal, a comfortable place to rest, and other assistance.”

It’s great to know that when you travel you have a place to call home.  In fact, in my international voyages I have drawn a strong sense of comfort knowing that there were both Jews and Americans that I could turn to. I’ve had my passport reissued in places like Nairobi, Kenya and I’ve sought refuge of sorts at the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  And, I have been welcomed into Jewish homes across the globe – from Vrede, South Africa to Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.


I’m not alone in appreciating this sense of security and comfort at an embassy. Some more famous – or infamous – fellows have used, or are utilizing, embassies as an impervious shield from other countries’ law enforcement.


In this week’s parsha Shoftim we discover another type of refuge, the Ir Miklat (city of refuge), which offered protection to the unintentional killer.  If such a person fled to these specific towns they were immune from revenge by the relatives of the deceased.


The Chassidic Rebbes teach that there is also an “embassy in time” – a period in which we can find safe harbor from the chaos and challenges that usually surround us. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former British Chief Rabbi, explains in an essay:

The month of Elul, is, in time, what the cities of refuge were in space. It is a month of sanctuary and repentance, a protected time in which a man can turn from the shortcomings of his past and dedicate himself to a new and sanctified future.

This sanctuary is the current month of Elul, the period of preparation for the High Holy Days.  It is during these four weeks that we take stock of the past year and prepare for the coming one.  We evaluate our deeds and station in life, probing and resolving toward growth and change.

We can always mend our ways and improve our activities. But the month of Elul is an auspicious time. Now, specifically, our Father in Heaven is eagerly anticipating our humble advance. G-d’s doors are open. Actually, He is out in the field, visiting with us.


The Ecuadorian embassy might provide some degree of relief, but we have at our fingertips the ultimate safe haven.

During Elul – more than ever – we are truly in G-d’s embassy.  Let us take advantage. It is customary to engage in spiritual self-examination and increase in one’s Torah study, prayer, acts of kindness and teshuvah.

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