This week should be a momentous and proud week for the Jewish people. We celebrate the Yovel, our 50th anniversary of the sovereign return of the Jewish people to the ancient and Holy city of Jerusalem for the first time in over 1900 years. I hope you have seen the educational wrap in the Jewish News this week, where we have detailed the miraculous return of our nation to our ancestral home.
However, I feel that the Jewish world is not united in their thanks to God and pride in the Jewish people and his Torah and his land. Let me explain.
There is a fascinating Midrash which states the following ‘There are three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt the Jews and say, ‘You stole them’. They are a) Cave of Machpella in Chevron b) Har Habayit c) Burial place of Yosef in Shechem.’ (Bereishit Rabba 79:7)
We read this Midrash and we are very confused. Over the last few years, these are EXACTLY the places that the world seems to have a problem with. Even this week we have politicians telling us that the Kotel is not ours. What has happened? How has the Midrash got it so wrong?
To answer this, we have to look at another Midrash, based on the famous first Rashi of the Torah where he asks why the Torah did not begin with the first national mitzvah in Shemot– i.e. why do we start with Bereishit? The answer, he says, lies in the verse ‘Koach Maasav higid l’amo latet lahem nahalat goyim’ ‘The strength of His deeds he has declared to His people, to give them the heritage of the nations’ (Tehillim 111:6). So if the nations of the world say to the Jews – you are robbers, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations’ the Jews can respond ‘the entire world belongs to the Holy one blessed be He. He created it and gave it to whom he saw fit. He willingly gave it to them and he willingly took it away and gave it to us’
However, that still leaves the question; the nations still believe we stole the land. So how does it help that there is a proof from the Torah, do the nations really care what it says in the Torah?
The answer is obvious if we relook at the verse that Rashi quotes from Tehillim – it does not say ‘koach maasav higid l amim’ the strength of His deeds He has declared to the nations. Rather is says ‘ higid l’amo’ He has declared to His people. The proof is for us not for them. In many ways no matter what we tell the world they will never be convinced. We can see so much of that today, as many in Europe, America and United Nations take positions that defy logic and any sense of balance. No, the proof is there for us, God wants us to convince ourselves, that we are fully at ease and proud of our connection to the entire land. The land of our forefathers – which includes Yosef’s Tomb, the Temple mount and Chevron. Yes, we know there may need to be painful sacrifices for peace – but it is our land.
The problem is, we have begun to doubt ourselves. We don’t feel that connection, we don’t believe. And we begin to doubt, then our enemies can take full advantage.
There is a book I wish everyone would read it is ‘The Prime Ministers’ by Yehuda Avner z’l. It is a wonderful book, an intimate narrative of Israeli Leadership. However more than that it is a unique glimpse into the greatest miracle of modern times the return of the Jewish people to Israel and the rebirth of the third commonwealth.
Avner takes us through his service to four Prime Ministers – Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin and Menachem Begin. I want to share a story from the book – which speak volumes about what I have said above.
Menachem Begin was a fiercely traditional Jew, who believed Jews should learn Torah, he had a study partner 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 Parashat Balak, where the prophet Bil’am, accepting King Balak’s invitation, is unable to curse Israel. Instead, thanks to God, he actually recounts the praise and describes 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’. Avner recounted that Golda Meir had once mentioned to him how lonely she invariably felt when attending the UN – ‘Israel is entirely alone’, she would say ‘But why should that be?
Yet Golda, being a socialist and not a theologian – never attempted to answer.
Begin wanted to.
One of the professors gathered around the table suggested the meaning was that throughout history the Jewish people voluntarily set ourselves apart with our distinctive moral laws from the Torah. Another 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.
Secular 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 had 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, one of the finest leaders of the Religious Zionist movement and outstanding diplomat who died in 1972
‘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
Listen to Begin, ‘Cease dwelling alone and we cease to exist’, powerful.
Look at us, wherever we have ceased dwelling alone – by detaching ourselves from our traditions, beliefs, observances, connection to Israel – we have or are ceasing to exist. The figures from America and from the UK are showing that outside the Orthodox and Traditional worlds, assimilation is rife and growing and connection to Israel is weakening, this allows the rise of a mainstream opinion which points at our own people lack of belief in Israel as a reason to attack Israel.
Yet, on the contrary, I believe that whenever Jews act as 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. As Rabbi Sacks once said – ‘Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism.’
We are reaching a critical part of our history – the land we have returned to after 2000 years to re-establish our homeland is under attack globally not just from extremists but also from mainstream politicians and even from members of our own community.
The results of the Pew survey 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 for the State of Israel and Judaism that goes with Am Levadad yishcon – a nation that dwells alone.
Not alone as in total separation , alone as in our values, our traditions, our observances, our beliefs– while we live our lives in the western world – that is Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism, and that is what we need to be coursing through our veins.
This Tuesday night and Wednesday, we must decide where we stand. Do we understand our national heritage and the Divine message that has brought us back to Jerusalem? Do we understand our obligations to Judaism and to Israel? Do we understand that unless we have pride in our identity and our religion and our nation Israel – how can we expect the next generation to have any sort of connection?
Therefore, we at Mizrachi have tried to make sure that this Yom Yerushalayim be unlike any other, to connect to Jerusalem in a way that we have never done before. Nearly 50 people are part of the UK delegation joining with the Chief Rabbi and other Rabbinic and community leaders and representatives from across the world to join as one in Jerusalem this week, celebrating together at this momentous time.
We are also taking 45 students and staff from our Jewish schools to be front and centre at this historic time. We have also created a programme running across many of our communities here in the UK to link up live with the festivities and hear from Rabbi Sacks on Tuesday night in Jerusalem as well as powerful audio-visual presentations.
So join us in Jerusalem or find a community (a full list of participating communities can be found at https://www.mizrachi.org.uk/events/j50/ ) and play an active part on one of the most momentous days in Jewish history. And remind yourselves proudly that we are an Am Levadad yishcon nation that dwells alone, a nation united under God and His Torah and with His blessing that Jerusalem is ours forever.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach