If you didn’t know, Israel had elections this week…..again!
And for the first time in quite a while the election was actually decisive in forming a government.
I am sure some people are delighted with the results, and some people are distraught. I’m not here to comment on the results simply to say that it is clear that Israel has a vibrant democracy!
However, I do want to focus on an idea to do with the elections, Israel and the Jewish people.
I want to start with a post from Rabbi Joel Kenigsberg, who was the Rav Shaliach of Bnei Akiva here in the UK and Rav of Magen Avot for the previous four years, about the elections.
After missing out on the last four(!) rounds of elections, today I had the opportunity of once again taking part in this precious mitzvah of voting for our representatives in the government of the Jewish state.
In modern Hebrew, a polling station is called a קלפי – a word which appears in the Mishna in the context of the Avodah of Yom Kippur. Despite the well worn jokes about yet another election cycle, there is something about this process which is reminiscent of the holiest day of the year – no less.
As I walked in to cast my ballot I was overcome by emotion. For months we have been surrounded by relentless media campaigns on all side (which no doubt will all continue). But today was a day to take a step back and reflect on where we are and how we got here. To silence the cynics within us and recognise the opportunity we have to play our part in building a state which, in the vision of Rav Kook, is to be יסודכיסאה‘ בעולם.
What would our ancestors have given to be here at this moment? What would Rashi and the Rambam have done to be able to cast a ballot here and now? What would the Maharal in Prague, the Chatam Sofer in Frankfurt and the Chofetz Chaim in Radin have said to us had they seen that blue box bearing the ancient symbol of the Menorah – today the emblem of the reborn commonwealth of the Jewish people?
I think they would have told us to forget about the pettiness and look again at the big picture. I think they would have reminded us how generations of Jews would have given anything to be a part of this. So, let’s remember what we are a part of – let us soak in and appreciate the greatest miracle in the history of our people since the splitting of the sea.
Our connection to Eretz Yisrael begins this week, with the commandment for Avraham (Avram at the time) to make Aliyah.
“I will bring you to the land, concerning which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage; I am the Lord.”
The Torah describe Israel as a Morasha – a heritage. As Rabbi Riskin explains:
‘While an inheritance (yerusha) is what you receive from the previous generation—without your particular input—a heritage (morasha) requires your active involvement and participation. A yerusha is a check your father left you; a morasha is a business that your parents may have started, but into which you must put much sweat, blood and tears.
This certainly explains why morasha is used only with regard to Torah and the Land of Israel. Our sages [Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 5a] remark that there are three gifts that God gave the Jewish people that can be acquired only through commitment and suffering: “Torah, the Land of Israel and the World to Come.” And we understand very well that neither Torah nor the Land of Israel can be easily acquired.
Pirkei Avot 2:10 specifically teaches, “Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it is not an inheritance for you.” All achievement in Torah depends on an individual’s own efforts.
Similarly, the Land of Israel cannot be acquired without sacrifice and suffering. One of the tests in the life of Abraham—and the source of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem—is the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah. The message conveyed by the Torah is that we can only acquire our Holy Land if we are willing to place the lives of our children on the line. Every parent in Israel who sends his/her child to the army understands this message very well. A heritage comes hard, not easily, and our national heritage is Torah and Israel.
Tuesday night was election night, and the above ideas were stressed to me that night and the following night– let me explain.
On January 5th 2020 I began, Brachot daf 2, the start of the 14th cycle of Daf Yomi, the learning of a page of Gemara every day, no breaks, no holidays – every day for seven and a half years.
I managed to carry on for about six months. Then during my periods of mourning for my parents I slipped behind and I never really managed to get back on track – I stopped Daf Yomi.
Fast forward two and a half years to late June 2022 and a meeting in my office with Yossi Saunders from the Jewish Weekly. I happened to mention that I was a lapsed daf yomi person. He immediately informed me that I had to join Mercaz Daf HaYomi with R Eli Stefansky. Not only would I receive a free gemara for joining but I would be a part of a dynamic shiur every day and a new masechet was about to begin.
So, I gave it a go – and four months later, I am still going strong, it really is a highlight of my day. Please God I will continue.
So, what was Tuesday night? It was the siyum of Masechet Ketubot, where over 500 of us gathered at the Meridian Grand in London for the daf yomi shiur with R Eli who had come in from Israel for the Siyum and then we shared a beautiful seudah in the ballroom where all stripes of Orthodoxy danced and sung together.
Daf Yomi is not easy, it is a constant commitment to Lilmod Torah. As the Gemara above said, there is no way to acquire Torah without time and struggle. It is our Morasha.
Then came Wednesday night – the combination of our two Morashot – Torah and Eretz Yisrael.
It was the annual Yeshiva and Sem fair where nearly 200 young men and women, together with their parents came to meet with over 30 Torah institutions from Israel, where they were hoping to spend a year or more learning.
The energy in the room was wonderful. Seeing the desire and thirst of these young people, (many of whom are our outstanding leaders for Yehudi), was a joy to behold.
I was envious of them all, (including my son) knowing what they were going to experience next year – learning Torah in Medinat Yisrael.
However, as we know, you have to put in the effort. You are driven hard at Yeshiva and Sem. For many institutions days start with Shacharit at 7am and don’t finish till after night seder close to midnight. It is intense, it is exciting, it is challenging, it is our morasha.
Yet, only in the last 74 years have we been able to combine the morasha of Torah study with the morasha of a State of our own. Yes, before 1948 Jews lived and learned in Israel but not on the scale and majesty of today where thousands of young men and women come from across the Jewish world to spend time learning in Israel.
So, Israel has a new government.
Daf Yomi has a new masechta – Nedarim.
And we as the Jewish people have to keep investing in both – Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. Yet there is nothing new there, it is what we have always done, will always do, only that will guarantee our future as a Jewish Nation.
Or as we say in Bnei Akiva and Mizrachi – Am Yisrael, b Eretz Yisrael al pi Torat Yisrael