Rav Shlomo Aviner (Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim and Rav of Bet El) was once asked: is it appropriate to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, when Israel has a secular government and is not yet a Torah state ? He answered that it is not only appropriate but also a mitzva to give thanks to G-d and not be indifferent or blasé about the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. What generations pined for has come true in our day, and legions of Jews who dreamt of returning to Israel would probably be astonished at the impertinence of Jews who are disenchanted because statehood has not unfolded the way each person anticipated. There are always Jews who despair of any challenging situation ever improving; some despaired that Jews would ever return to our homeland, and some despair whether Jews will be able to retain our homeland. But the Torah obligates us to be appreciative of our gifts, and accept all challenges – personal and national – as divine opportunities to develop ourselves and perfect His world.
It has been more than 40 years since my first trip here (yes, I was very young at the time). The roads, telephone service, culture, transportation, mails, business, etc. were, frankly, primitive. Israel existed – in the minds of many Jews, especially American Jews – as a refuge, a haven for the persecuted, somewhere for Jews from Russia, Ethiopia, Argentina, France, Yemen, Iran, etc. to flee when their hostile host governments turned on them. Neither beggars nor refugees can be choosers, so whatever meager services, housing, or job opportunities were offered sufficed for them, and for Jewish tourists as well. Israel as asylum still exists, of course, but it is much, much more than that. There is a flourishing, modern, and most livable country, with all – literally, all – the conveniences to which Western man has become accustomed. There has been a steep decline in “coerced aliya” of Jews hounded to Israel by our enemies and grateful for their mere survival. Most aliya today is, well, dream-like, of Jews who come here to live in a Jewish state, and who are able to live very well. It is a positive, voluntary, purposeful aliya, which still perplexes some Israelis but gladdens most of them. And that Jews today have the opportunity to come home, build a state, fully live the rhythms of Jewish life, and be proud and happy about it is something to cheer. Actually, it is something that should cause us to stand up, take notice of the hand of Providence, and, at least, be overcome with gratitude. Moreover, it should prompt a personal reckoning of whether each of us can become part of this historic undertaking, and how, and when. The prophet Yeshayahu (42:5, in the haftara for Breisheet) said that “God… gave a soul to the people who dwell on it [the land of Israel] and a spirit to those who walk on it.” (See Ketubot 111a as well.) What sounds trite to some and obvious to others is nonetheless true: the Jewish soul comes alive, and can be fully developed, only in Israel. Only here do we encounter the tableau on which the Torah is implemented, and only here do we find the opportunity to fulfill all the mitzvot. In a real sense, Jews in Israel live, and Jews in the exile live on spiritual “life support”. In galut, we remain tethered to the Torah and are sustained by the oxygen of mitzvot. But the Torah makes clear, again and again, that there is something artificial about it, and something essential that is missing. Here, just the breadth of subjects covered in weekly shiurim that deal with the interface of Torah and modern life are awe-inspiring corroboration that the Torah – in all its dimensions and grandeur – can be the foundation of a modern state. In the exile, the reach of Torah is necessarily truncated.
That is not to sound Pollyannish about life here. (I am reminded of the old joke about the Israeli who told his friend that, despite all the problems in this part of the world, he has decided to be an optimist. Asked by his friend, if so, why do you look so despondent, he replied: “You think it’s easy to be an optimist ?”) What is most irksome about life here is the realization that every scoundrel, every thief, every rude driver, every indifferent bureaucrat, every corrupt politician, every person who expelled Jews from their homes and then turned his back on them, every person who is indifferent to the fate of the residents of Sderot, and every brutal police officer – is a fellow Jew. But what is most endearing about Israel is the realization that every ba’al chesed, every lover of Torah, every developer of the land of Israel, every stranger who inquires about your family and wants to set up his niece with your nephew, every store clerk – in whatever form of dress and whatever level of observance – who wishes you a heartfelt “Shabbat Shalom”, every person who took in the refugees of Gush Katif and visits the Jews of Sderot, or who sits around at night arguing over how to make the Jewish State better, or who rejoices in the smachot of every Jew, or who visits a perfect stranger who is sitting shiv’a (because each one is a brother or sister), every driver who abruptly cuts you off enabling you to see his bumper sticker that reads “Ein od mi’lvado” (“there is none beside G-d”), and every individual who cries over the fate of every Jew – is also a fellow Jew. There is a profound sense of family, the family of Israel. And, I suppose, even the scoundrel has a role to play in this great enterprise.
To walk again good Jews who build Israel, learn Torah, raise families, serve in the army, do mitzvot, seek out chesed, and want to be part of the destiny of an eternal people in these momentous times is itself a blessing. May our share be with them, the builders of the “resting place” of the divine presence on earth. May we all soon merit finding our share in fulfilling the prophetic vision of old, and be present to welcome the son of David, speedily and in our days.
Shalom from Israel !