Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
Israel went to the polls….again.
And it was déjà vu – deadlock again.
There are plenty of reasons to be despondent, however it was pointed out that this was the first time than an election ever took place in September. (It was also pointed out that this was the first election that took place in Ellul, that is not correct, the 1961 elections took place on 3rd Elul.)
Why is that relevant?
It is relevant because just after these elections which leave no one happy, for the first time ever we have the parsha of Ki Tavo.
Ki Tavo is mainly known for the tochacha – 53 verses of horrendous predictions if we fail to ‘listen to the voice of Hashem your God to perform all His commandments’ (Devarim 28:15).
However, the opening of the Parsha is far more uplifting and can give us a powerful idea after Israeli elections.
It details the ceremony of the Bikkurim, where farmers were to take their first ripened fruits to the Temple and present them to the Kohen, in a ritual that included a moving declaration of gratitude to God for His eternal role as the Guide of Jewish history.
We know the declaration very well – it forms for us today not the bikkurim ceremony but the core pasukim for Seder night at the heart of Magid.
And you shall call out and say before the Lord, your God, “An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.
And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labour upon us.
So we cried out to the Lord, God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. (Devarim 26: 5-8)
However, this is not the full declaration of the farmer when recounting our history, there is a fifth verse to this passage:
‘He brought us to this place [the land of Israel] and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey’ (Devarim. 26: 9).
We do not recite or expound this verse on Seder. This is very strange since the Mishnah in Pesachim states explicitly, ‘And one must expound the passage beginning, “An Aramean tried to destroy my father” until one has completed the whole passage.’ In fact, we do not complete the whole passage, despite the Mishnah’s instruction. There is a missing fifth verse.
Rabbi Sacks in his wonderful essay about this in his Pesach Hagaddah notes ‘The Haggadah as we now have it and as it evolved in rabbinic times is, in Maimonides words, ‘the Haggadah as practised in the time of exile,’ meaning, during the period of the Dispersion. The missing fifth represented the missing element in redemption. How could Jews celebrate arriving in the land of Israel when they were in exile?
And there you have it.
However, frustrated, depressed, confused, angry you are about the elections – the fifth verse has happened – Hashem brought us back to the land. The fact that we have had elections in Israel is a celebration of our return.
Six months ago at the last elections I shared with you a piece by Sivan Rahav Meir who joins us this week for a week long UK tour – which powerfully shows the huge hakarat hatov we must have to Hashem and a realisation that we are living in wondrous times.
This is how Rabbi Moshe Alpert of Jerusalem’s pre-State Old Yishuv described the first Israeli elections to the Knesset in 1949. “At 5:35 AM we woke up, my wife, my brother Reb Shimon Leib and my brother-in-law Reb Natanel Solduchil. And after we drank coffee we put on Shabbat clothing in honour of this great and holy day, because ‘Zeh ha yom asa Hashem, nagila v nismacha bo’ – This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be happy on it.’ After 2000 or more years of exile, you could say that from the six days of Creation until this day, we have not merited to see a day like this, that we are holding elections in a Jewish state! Shehechiyanu! Blessed is the One that kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day! So we went to the voting station near Chabashim Street with our identity cards in hand. With great and mighty joy we walked the short way there, and the entire way I walked like it was Simchat Torah and I was circling with a Torah scroll, because I was holding the identity card of our new Jewish State in my hand.
My happiness and joy knew no bounds! The assistant at the voting station brought the ballot box, and the chairman called out to me and said ‘V’Hadarta Pnei Zaken’ – ‘And you shall honor the old man’, and he told me that since I was the oldest person present, I would be the first to vote. With a thrill of awe and holiness, I handed my identity card over to the chairman, and he read out my name from my card and from the book of voters.
And the deputy chairman wrote down my name and handed me the number 1. Then he handed me an envelope and I went into the other room, where there were ballots from all the parties. And with a shaking hand, moved with holiness, I took one ballot marked “B,” for the Religious Union party, and I placed the ballot inside the envelope I had received from the deputy chairman.
I re-entered the polling room, and I showed them that I held only one envelope. Then the holiest moment of my life arrived. The moment that neither my father nor my grandfather had the privilege to experience in their lifetimes. Only me, in my time, in my lifetime, did I merit to experience such a holy and pure moment as this… What joy for me and my portion!
At 6:28 AM, we returned home and went to pray. What a great holiday!”.
So whether it is Bibi or Benny
Just be thankful.