Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            Phew!  Thank God we have Israeli Independence Day this week, so I don't have to write about the weekly parsha.  There are a few Torah readings which are hard to write about every year, but the two coming up, Tazria and Metzora are just too much for me.  Discussing the diseases detailed in these sections reminds me why I didn't go into medicine.  I get queasy too easily.  But talking about the State of Israel on its sixty-fourth birthday, well, that's a topic that we can sink our teeth into. 

            Before I get started on the problems of Israel (Don't we Jews always look for the negative?), I must say that the State of Israel today is in great shape.  Things are much better than at any other time in its history.  The economy is the envy of most of the world and the security situation is extremely quiet.  However, that doesn't mean that there aren't storm clouds on the horizon.   . 

            The question I want to ask is what is the greatest threat to the continued existence of our beloved homeland?  Obviously, one could make a strong case for numerous candidates.  However, there are two most apparent contenders for this distinction. First is the threat of Iran's nuclear program.  Not far behind are the suggestions of dismantling Israel from within by proposing the one state solution, which would allow the Arabs full right of return.  This second threat would quickly end Israel's run as a Jewish state through the ballot box.

            But I'm a rabbi not a political scientist.  Clearly, the point I want to make is in the realm of Torah and Judaism, not the military and politics.  The threats I fear don't menace the existence of Israel.  I'm more concerned for the soul of Israel.  The issue, as I see it, isn't about the government engendering a Torah agenda.  The Israeli government already does more to support Torah study than any other institution in the history of the world.  It's a shame that it doesn't get enough credit for this amongst those who actually receive the benefits.  No, the issue that concerns me is an ever evolving one that has to do with why we want a Jewish state in the first place.

            The simplest answer to why we would want a Jewish state is practical.  The state saves Jewish lives.  In the words of Rabbi Soloveitchik, before the Medina, Jewish blood was cheap and, thank God, that's no longer true.  Anti-Semites pay dearly for shedding Jewish blood these days.  As important as that issue is, I believe that there's an even more fundamental matter.  We wanted a Jewish country even when we weren't threatened.  We dreamed of going home since the dawn of our people, even before we were a people in Egypt we looked forward to being a Jewish nation in a Jewish state.  Why?  What's so important about having a Jewish state?  We can be Jewish any where.  I believe that the answer is that having a Jewish state allows us to implement the social law of Israel.  We needed a state to do what we had always craved, namely to perform justice.  Thirty-six times the Torah instructs us that we remember the exodus from Egypt so that we can be kind to strangers in our midst.  To be kind to these strangers we must have a midst for them to be strangers in.         

            This is not the vision of many of the founders of modern Zionism.  They talked about having a state like any other state.  They wanted to stop being different from everyone else.  They wanted a state with police (Yes, and criminals!), newspapers, and trash collection.  Is that what we dreamed about throughout the millennia?  To be just like everyone else?  I certainly hope not.

            To fulfill the Torah requirements of a state, must we establish the realities of ancient Israel?  Not at all, we have the ingenuity to modernize every Torah principle. Israel's existence presents an opportunity not available to Jews for thousands of years, an opportunity for life in the political arena to converge with the life of conscience.  The individual's public life need not diverge from his private life.  That is to say that the state allows the individual to practice one's belief in both public and private.  To do this we must take the Torah principles of social justice and morality, and figure out how to apply them to modern situations and government apparatus.  When Isaiah chastised the Jewish leadership by comparing them to the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah, he was talking about attitudes, not institutions.  He told the leaders:  Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows (Isaiah 1:17).  Those instructions can be applied to any state in any age.

            And Israel has proven itself different than other countries in many ways which make us proud.  When Israel shared its agricultural prowess with poor countries in the sixties, that was a Jewish thing to do.  And so was letting in the Vietnamese boat people in the seventies.   Israel is the world wide first responder to all disasters, tsunamis in Asia, earthquakes in Haiti, and bombings in AfricaIsrael's principles aren't affected by politics, because Israeli medical facilities are open to Arabs from belligerent nations and we offered aid to Iran in their time of need, and that's Jewish, too. 

            Israel is teaching the world that behaving Jewishly goes way beyond ritual performances.   Rabbinic interpretation of texts was always based upon elucidating Biblical material for the purpose of applying it to modern circumstances.  That's what we must continue to do, to truly make Israel a light unto the nations.  The miracle of Israel must not be confined to military and political achievement; it must be understood in the application of ethics and morality to governance. 

So, I return to my initial question.  What's the greatest threat to Israel?  To strive for nothing more than to be a state like all other states.  Let's set the bar much higher!  Happy Birthday Israel

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