Fulfilling The Vision (Kedoshim – 05/07/22)
Fulfilling The Vision
Last week we celebrated Yom HaAtztmaut, the anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. In just 74 short years, Israel has become a first-class nation and hi-tech powerhouse. How did this Jewish pipe dream come to fruition?
Ode lo avdah tikvatenu Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim
L’hiyot am chofshi b’artzenu, Eretz Tzion v’Yerushalayim
Never was that 2000-year-old hope lost: to be a free people in our land, the land of Tzion and Jerusalem.”-HaTikvah
By the year 200 C.E., the Roman domination in the Land of Israel was so caustic that most Jews left their homeland for safer places to live (how ironic!). Settling along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Babylon provided sanctuary for about 800 years. Here the rabbis established our identity by edifying Jewish practice, ritual, and belief. These concepts can all be found in the thousands of pages of the Babylonian Talmud.
As the area’s economy declined around the beginning of the second millennium, Jews moved westward: to North Africa, Spain, Germany, France, and England. The Crusades made it unbearable to live in Western Europe, so those Ashkenazic Jews moved eastward to Poland, Galicia, Ukraine, and Russia. The inquisitions made it impossible to live in Spain, so the Sephardim moved to the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, and Syria.
All this time, the hope for a return to our motherland, to Zion and Jerusalem, never ceased.
Three times a day, we expressed this yearning in our prayers:
Sound the great shofar for our liberty, and raise a banner to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth.
And return in mercy to Jerusalem, Your city, and dwell therein as You have spoken; and rebuild it soon, in our days, as an everlasting structure, and may You speedily establish the throne of David therein.
And may our eyes behold Your merciful return to Zion
Every year, the Seders conclude:
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָלָיִם הַבְּנוּיָה
Next year in Jerusalem!
Numerous times a year in the synagogue we read prophecies in the Bible assuring us of such a return.
This past Shabbat we read one such Haftorah from the Prophet Amos
(Chapter 9: 13-15):
Behold days are coming, says the Lord…
And I will return the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild the desolate cities and inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their produce.
And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no longer be uprooted from upon their land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.
As we read this Haftorah this Shabbat morning, just two days after Yom HaAtzmaut, it was striking to me how Amos’ words have been fulfilled.
The modern State of Israel has truly gathered in exiles from all over the world. They have resettled the once desolate cities. The mountains of Israel are laced with vineyards producing world class wines. Across the globe, Israel is famous for its produce, growing the most delectable fruit and vegetables. Now, the once defenseless people have an army and intelligence agency that is respected across the world.
Not all of the Bible’s predictions have come true though; why is the return to Zion different?
Jewish theology has been evolving greatly over the past two hundred years. Instead of viewing God as the all-powerful cause of all, we’re seeing God as seeking us as partners in affecting change. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes, “It is strange. On the on hand, God is the Go’el Yisrael, our redeemer and liberator; however, God wills man to become His shliach (his representative) in the drama of ge’ulah (redemption), the personalistic shliach with whom God will walk.”
Thousands of years of prayer kept our hopes alive, but until Jews were willing to lobby and fight for Israel, to become the shliach, it didn’t happen.
So many times, I hear people say, “If there is a G-d, why doesn’t He
just cause so and so (villain) to die? Why does He let evil run rampant? The answer is that God is waiting for us to take on the challenge. God wants us to be active representatives.
Yom HaAtztmaut is then a lesson for all of us. Prayers can keep our wishes strong, but they’re not enough if we want to see our hopes and dreams come true. We need to combine God’s beliefs and desires for us with our own efforts.
This message is especially poignant nowadays. From protecting abortion rights to voting rights, from achieving gun control to arresting climate change, if we want to see change happen, we need to act. As Rep. John Lewis used to say, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something!” In Soloveitchik’s words: we need to be the shliach.
Soloveitchik, Joseph B., Festival of Freedom: Essays on Pesah and the Haggadah, KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2006