May 4, 2014

Israel at 66 - What are You Doing?

Rabbi Haber

degelIt’s that time of year again.  Here in Israel, blue and white flags are going up on lampposts, apartment balconies, public buildings and automobiles, and people are stocking up on meat and charcoal.  In Jewish communities abroad as well, celebrations for Israel’s 66th Independence Day are scheduled and the Jewish People is getting ready to celebrate.

Well, at least many of us are. There are still, as there have been from the beginning, some Jews who don’t think we should celebrate. Among these are some liberal Jews who feel that Israel isn’t democratic enough, and some religious Jews who think Israel isn’t Jewish enough. Some of these people will be demonstratively boycotting or protesting celebrations, and many others will just stay home.

To me, though, there is no question whatsoever; the requirement to celebrate is 100% clear.  Every day when I walk down the street all I see is the fulfillment – in exquisite detail – of Biblical prophecies.  While I recognize that there have been great Torah leaders who saw things differently, with each passing year it becomes clearer and clearer that God’s will was different than we may have thought.  Generations ago there were indeed legitimate arguments about how the redemption of the Jewish People was to be brought about.  But as Rabbi Berel Wein declares in this remarkable piece, by now history has spoken.

I’ve written about this a number of times in the past. I’ve analyzed the connection of the State of Israel to the coming of the Messiah from a philosophical angle and from a halachic one.  I’ve written emotionally about these things as well, and spoke about it in this YouTube video made by my neighbor Izzy Broker.  In countless speeches I’ve given over the years for Yom HaAtzmaut, I’ve spoken passionately about our absolute obligation to sing and dance (and perhaps make mangals*), and to offer special prayers of thanksgiving for the great miracles we continue to experience on a daily basis.

This year, I won’t elaborate on those points (you can just click on the links above) but instead go a step further and talk about the purpose of celebrating. Yom HaAtzmaut isn’t just an excuse to party, and it isn’t even only about expressing gratitude to the Almighty.  Both of those things are important, but if that’s all we do, we’re missing the point.  The singing, dancing, celebrations and prayers are meant to move us and motivate us to action.

The Biblical prophets promised us that we’d survive the harsh exile come back to the land of Israel. But they also told us that each one of us needs to be deserving in order to participate.  For example, take a look at Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 20:33-44.  This prophecy (especially verse 38) makes clear that the redemption of the Jewish people is assured on the national level, but that each individual still needs to be worthy of participating.  We are not redeemed passively; each one of us has to be worthy of redemption.

In practical terms, what this means is that as we celebrate on Monday night and Tuesday, as we sing and dance, pray and eat, and mostly as we marvel at the miraculous redemption unfolding before our eyes, we must each ask ourselves what else we can do to personally contribute to this process.  Here are a few ideas of what to think about:

  • For Jews still living abroad, think about making Aliya.  For many people, it may very well not be practical or advisable at the moment, and that is completely legitimate.  But it doesn’t exempt you from thinking and planning. If you can’t make Aliya today, when and how can it become possible?  What are you doing to make it a reality?
  • For those already living in Israel: What are you doing PERSONALLY to help make this country better, stronger, more developed?  What else can you contribute, beyond what you are doing already?
  • For Jews everywhere:  What can you do to help bring Jews back to Judaism and back to Israel, to support Israel and help defend her, and to contribute to strengthening the Jewish people and its eternal message?
  • And finally: what can each of us do to improve ourselves personally and to improve our relationship with our creator?  What can we do to make sure we are worthy of participating in the redemption, as it occurs here and now?

Chag Atzmaut Samaeach to everyone!

*Mangal is Israeli slang for “barbecue”.  According to Wikipedia, the source of this word is in the Bedouin dialect of Arabic, from which it was transferred in a modified form to Turkish and from there to Israeli Hebrew.  Who knew??

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