Wimbledon or Lords – both were remarkable, what was unbelievable was at almost the exact moment the game went 12 – 12 in the final set to hand Wimbledon their first ever 5th set tie break, England tied the game to take it into the first ever (and probably last ever) super over at a world cup final.
I am a cricket man (as you probably guessed from last week’s machshavot) and I was glued to the unfolding action as England became world champions.
I have watched the highlights of the last over and the super over so many times, the emotion, the tension, we had lost it… and then we won it. It was the perfect game to have on free to air view and according to many has created a fresh excitement for the game. People are flocking back to cricket to watch and play.
It occurred to me, that we the Jewish people need a ‘World Cup Final’, a phenomenal event that can capture the hearts of minds of the Jewish people, to wake us up, in a positive sense, to the miracle of our continued existence and devotion to Hashem. An event to reawaken our souls to the mission of the Jewish people and inspire us, especially the young of our people, to be proud and knowledgeable Jews.
I believe we have already had our ‘World Cup Final’, we have already had our super over, however it didn’t last 6 balls – it lasted 6 days and it transformed our people in June 1967. According to many the incredible victory started the Baal Teshuva movement, awakened Soviet Jewry and transformed the Religious Zionist movement in Israel.
All of us born post 1967 were born into a Jewish world transformed – I and thousands owe our proud Religious Zionist identities to the institutions such as Yeshivat Ha Kotel and Gush Etzion, both of whom were founded in the months after the miraculous events of 1967.
Yet it is sad to say that unfortunately, over 50 years later our ‘World Cup victory’ is fading.
There is a global crisis in Jewish and Zionist identity especially in the Diaspora. Israel is investing huge sums of money to try and inspire the Diaspora, especially the young to connect to Judaism and Israel. Outside of Orthodoxy in America intermarriage is approaching 80% and assimilation is climbing. It is not that different in other countries.
The solution in my mind is obvious – and it is based on a powerful idea on this week’s Parsha given over by one of modern Israel’s greatest leaders – Menachem Begin. This idea is found in the remarkable book, ‘The Prime Ministers’ by Yehuda Avner.
Begin was a fiercely traditional Jew – who believed Jews should learn Torah – he had a chavruta and every Monday he held a Bible study circle in his home when he invited top educators, rabbis and scholars to learn with him.
One Monday they were discussing Parshat Balak – where as we know the prophet Bil’am, accepted King Balak’s invitation to curse the Jewish people. This he was unable to do, instead, thanks to God, he actually recounted the praise and described the noble attributes of the Jewish people.
Among these is the uniqueness and separateness of Israel amongst the nations “Hen am levadad yishkon,” “Lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, (Bamidbar 23:9).
Begin opened the discussion on this piece by stating ‘Is this not a startlingly accurate prophecy of our Jewish people’s experience in all of history’.
One opinion focussed on the fact that whichever way one interpreted Bilaam’s prophecy, it stamped the Jewish people as an eternally abnormal nation which flew in the face of the classic secular Zionist creed. Zionism’s aim is to normalize us to be – goy k chol ha goyim – a nation like all other nations.
Once we possessed a land of our own, so they said, we would automatically become a normal nation and anti-Semitism would wither and die!
That has certainly NOT happened.
Begin concluded that by any reading of the text- the Jewish people did indeed constitute an exceptional phenomenon in world history. He then finished with an amazing Dr Yaacov Herzog quote.
‘The theory of classic Zionism was national normalization, what was wrong with this theory? It was the belief that the idea of a ‘people that dwells alone’ is an abnormal concept – when actually a ‘people that dwells alone’ is the natural concept of the Jewish people. That is why this one phrase still describes the totality of the extraordinary phenomenon of Israel’s revival. If one asks how the ingathering of the exiles, which no one could have imagined in his wildest dreams came about. Or how the State of Israel could endure such security challenges or how it has built up such a flourishing economy. Or how the unity of the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora has been preserved. One must come back to the primary idea that this is a ‘people that dwells alone’. More than that, one must invoke this phrase not only to understand how the Jews have existed for so long. One must invoke it as a testimony to the Jewish right to exist at all in the land of their rebirth.’
So there you have it, concluded Begin – Cease dwelling alone and we cease to exist.
What powerful words – Cease dwelling alone and we cease to exist.
Look at us – wherever we have ceased dwelling alone – by detaching ourselves from our traditions, our beliefs, our observances, our connection to Israel – we have or are ceasing to exist.
And on the contrary. Whenever Jews act like they are supposed to act, this will be readily apparent to all the nations and they will be in awe and we as a nation will thrive.
We are reaching a critical part of our history. The results of the Pew survey in the USA and similar results here in the UK show that outside a vibrant and growing core Judaism is struggling. We have forgotten the badge of pride that goes with Am Levadad yishcon – a nation that dwells alone.
Alone does not and should not mean total separation. It means alone as in our values, our traditions, our observances – while we live our lives in the modern world – that is what we need to be coursing through our veins.
I will leave Rabbi Sacks to conclude:
What makes Jews “a nation dwelling alone, not reckoned among the nations,” is that their nationhood is not a matter of geography, politics or ethnicity. It is a matter of religious vocation as God’s covenant partners, summoned to be a living example of a nation among the nations made distinctive by its faith and way of life. Lose that and we lose the one thing that was and remains the source of our singular contribution to the heritage of humankind.