After seventy years of nationalism, perhaps it is finally time for a brotherhood of man. Part of A Drasha in Celebration of the 70th Year of Israel’s Independence.
As I was preparing today’s speech, I felt the same excitement that I feel as I work on a speech for a wedding, timed for meeting the bride and groom under the chuppah. The Land of Israel is love, and Yom Haatzmaut – the Day of Independence – is the day of the wedding: a day of renewing the covenant between a nation and its ancestral inheritance.
These feelings of naivete, this childish excitement that I feel on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut – what are they for? Do they allow me to turn a blind eye to any defects? I do not think so.
There is the youthful love of the Song of Songs: the\ Israel of old, that of Naomi Shemer, Yaffa Yarkoni, Sallah Shabati. This is the love of “All of you is beautiful, my love, and there is no fault in you” – the perspective of a lover gazing upon his beloved, a love that obscures any wrongdoing.
But can we continue to obscure and ignore? Can we truly love the state today? Do we grasp onto that prophetic intuition of the return to Zion as the indicator of the Messiah’s arrival, of that long-awaited beginning? Couldn’t this belief be a mystification, an illusion?
There is young love but there is also another love – an old love, an aged love – expressed in Kohelet: “Experience happiness with the woman you love all the vain days of your life.” Our state has grown 70 years old. “At seventy – a grayed head,” said our sages: time for a new perspective that emerges from a place of deep humility, freed from the delusions that have plagues us from within. Can we accept ourselves? And if we cannot love ourselves, can we at least not loathe ourselves? To offer ourselves some empathy? To tie loose ends, to be content with our work, to say, “It was worth it”?
Old age opens us up to a deep kind of listening. We listen to a nation that has suffered greatly from pains embedded in its heart and soul, one that hungers and thirsts for a new Torah. This is beautifully expressed in Amos:
“The times are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine upon the land: not of hunger for bread nor thirst for water, but to hear the words of God. Men will wander from sea to sea, travelling from north to east, to seek the word of God – but they will not find it. On that day fair maidens and young men will faint from thirst. Those who swear by the guilt of the Shomron saying, “As your God lives, Dan,” and “As the way to Beer Sheva lives” – they will fall and never rise again.”
These are the hopes of mature adults, ones who have parted ways with outdated ideologies, whose lives have become significant, who have seen goodness in their work but have also seen suffering, failure and troubles. After all this – and specifically from this – the messianic belief rings out: “This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be happy in it.”
Ha Tikvah – The National Anthem
As long as within our hearts
the Jewish soul still sings,
and out towards the East
our gaze looks forward to Zion –
Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem
“Not yet” is the spirit of this anthem: we are still in Diaspora – hope and faith are to be found in the future.
Seventy years later, do we still feel this way?
Is there no space for celebrating what is? Without becoming overly sentimental, I ask whether we can draw wonder from all that surrounds us – the goodness, the kindness in this, our state as it is today. To take a moment to express gratitude to God for the goodness, the generosity, the blessing – to recognize that we have merited such a reward.
We have merited a strong, established state that has granted us the thing that is most precious to my heart – a feeling of home. If you’ve been outside the country, especially in Europe, you know the power of the phrase “I am here” – and here, right here, is my home.
This feeling of ‘home’ is especially prominent when we are asked that one question, again and again: are we more Jews or more Israelis? For me, these are two total identities. Israeliness is my feeling of home here, as a state of being. The intimacy and familiarity between the land and those who dwell in it – this is the greatest actualization of my faith.
As a society, we are involved in various complicated problems, ones involving inappropriate social norms and moral codes, and much heresy, God help us.
On other hand, from time to time we see deep expressions of unity and solidarity.
When you fight for survival in the face of danger and destruction, you encounter existence itself.
Language, behavior and especially awareness – these can all change from moment to moment.
On Yom Hazikaron, when I go on the Mount of Olives and see my nation Israel there – or as some like to say, “family-in-mourning” – I feel a profound sense of solidarity. This is not a whim, but a very real state of mind. It is important to take this consciousness beyond the cemeteries, beyond destruction, as well.
This solidarity is lodged so close to the heart that sometimes I suspect that our survival instinct prevents us from extracting ourselves out of this consciousness built on existential threat. The thought occurs to me that if there were true peace – one that entails a change in humanity as a whole, a metamorphosis of reality – we would waste away, tied to trivialities and vanity.
After seventy years of nationalism, perhaps it is finally time for a brotherhood of man. Time to become truly open, for we know that human discourse, showing our true faces and listening deeply to one another – these are the seeds of the future. It is a well-worn practice: distinguishing the right-wing – which clung to the covenant – and the universalist left which abandoned the covenant so as to connect with every man. Is this really the case? It is precisely that attachment to covenant and holiness that can open us up to every human being.
Yet we are afraid. Of what? Of what is, of the “yesh.” Faith is never here, in this world – it is what occurs over there. Where? In the future, in redemption.
At the age of seventy, there is not much of a future. In other words: what has not happened yet will never happen. That long-awaited change occurring in our consciousness – it is here and now.
One of the yeshiva students here criticized me for often asking “What will be?” and “What is the next step?”, as though what is happening now, in the present, is insufficient.
And he was right to do so.
The United States has an Independence Day established on the basis of a war for freedom, just as we do – from slavery to liberation. Canada, on the other hand, has a ‘Birthday’ of the state. This has far-reaching implications in grounding the ethos of Canadian society, a country of many ethnicities and languages without clearly national divisions.
“Yom Haatzmaut,” Independence Day, expresses the transition from bondage to redemption. For this reason, we frequently compare the Seder night to Yom Haatzmaut. I personally was raised to make this association.
But perhaps the determining experience of the next seventy years will be related not to the Seder night but to the seventh day of Passover: “I will show them wonders.” (Micah 7:15) [Record-keepers have already noted that Yom Haatzmaut always falls out on the same day as the seventh of Passover.]
Maybe the time has come to change the name – Atzmaut, “Independence” – away from one that foregrounds liberation? Perhaps, instead: “The End of Concealment” or “The Day of Wonders”? And then we may soon merit a fulfillment of the prophet Ezekiel’s words:
“I will take you out from the other nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be purified; I will cleanse you of all your impurities and uncleanliness. I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will place within you, I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will give my spirit within you, and I will cause you to follow my laws and keep my rules. You will settle in the land that I granted to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God”.
In the future, even political language will change. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach said the following:
“I was once at Queens College, and there was a whole group of Jewish students there. They told me, ‘We don’t want a connection with Judaism. Someone told us that according to Judaism, Jews don’t care about what happens in the world. The only thing that matters is what happens to the Jews…’ We’ve locked ourselves up in the ghetto and stopped interacting with the world. And the Jews that felt a compulsion to speak with the world – they left the ghetto. They thought that to speak with goyim, they must become like goyim. So we’ve reached a situation where one who wants to speak with the world is uninformed about Judaism. He comes and says to other people: ‘I am your prophet.’ And they say to him: ‘And what do you have to say to us?’ And he gives a political speech. But the non-Jews – they want prophecy. Understand this: the non-Jewish world doesn’t want to listen to us give political speeches. They have enough politics of their own. They want to hear prophecies…”
Perhaps Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach is correct in saying that human society seeks solutions for its problems in mysticism, in the concealed. Is this the task of Religious Zionism? At the end of the day, it is Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook who granted our generation the awareness that one cannot reach faith without touching upon its mystical elements.
What will be the nature of this redemption of wonders? It will awaken a spirit of social justice, humanity of mercy and kindness, an openness of the heart and dignity for every living creature, the breakdown of barriers and alienation. Rabbi Kook’s vision of the revelation of Mashiach ben David after Mashiach ben Yosef will be fulfilled.
We are already a ‘free nation in our land.’ We lift our eyes to the quivering future, to illumination, to healing for humanity and repair for society, to a foundation for the throne of God in the world.
From the Haftorah for Yom Haatzmaut:
“But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse, a twig shall sprout from his roots. Then will he judge the poor equitably, deciding justly for the downtrodden of the land. Justice will be the girdle of his loins, faith the girdle of his waist. The wolf and the lamb…and on that day, the long-standing stock of Jesse will be a standard for the peoples – nations will seek it, and its abode will be honored.” (Isaiah 11)