The late Rabbi Dr. Louis Rabinowitz (1906-1984, Chief Rabbi of South Africa,) was once arriving in Israel and he saw them unload from the El Al plane two coffins that had been flown to Israel for burial. As the coffins were being carefully moved he later recalled: “At that moment I understood the meaning of the phrase in our morning prayers, Vetolichenu Komemiyut Le’artzenu – ‘bring us upright to our land.’ We pray that G-d grant us the opportunity to come to Israel komemiyut, upright- alive and well, rather than in a box!”
The word komemiyut is used in this week’s portion where G-d says, in the context of taking us out of Egypt, Va’olech Etchem Komemiyut – “I caused you to walk upright.” (Vayikra 26:13)
The Talmud records a fascinating debate between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda as to what “upright” means.
Rabbi Meir said: ‘Upright’ means two hundred cubits tall, twice the (spiritual) height of Adam.
Rabbi Yehuda said: ‘Upright’ means one hundred cubits tall, corresponding to the height of the Temple in Jerusalem (Bava Batra 75a.)
Rabbi Meir said that to be “upright” is to recognise the potential in each and every one of us as being created, like Adam, in the image of G-d. Our intellectual, spiritual, social and creative capacities are boundless when we reflect on how tall we stand.
According to Rabbi Yehuda, our “uprightness” stems not only because we are the descendants of Adam. It is due to the mission we have been given in being taken out of Egypt and entrusted with the task of creating a society that would radiate G-d’s message to the world from the focal point of the Temple in Jerusalem.
We stand tall when we recognise the unique worth of every human being. We stand even taller when we realise, as Jews, the divine destiny with which we have been entrusted – to be a light to the nations of the world.