For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still. … Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, have I assigned watchmen; all the day and all the night, they will never be silent. – Isaiah 62:1-6
Time is our one-time gift. We must use it wisely. It was Jeremiah who long ago proclaimed, “Thus said the Lord: He who appoints the sun to shine by day and the moon and the stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is His name: “Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before Me.” (Jer. 31:35-36)
“I met a traveler from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies. … And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains…boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” Ozymandias is another name for the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem was inspired by the arrival of a statue of Ramses acquired by the British Museum in 1816 after its removal from Thebes by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni. Ramses is gone. Jews are back in our covenantal homeland, and the sound of joy can again be heard in Jerusalem.
In the Cairo Museum stands a giant slab of black granite known as the Merneptah stele. Originally installed by Pharaoh Amenhotep III in his temple in western Thebes, it was removed by a later ruler of Egypt, Merneptah, who reigned in the 13th century B.C.E. Inscribed with hieroglyphics, it contains a record of Merneptah’s military victories. Its interest might have been confined to students of ancient civilizations, were it not for one fact: the stele contains the first reference outside the Bible to the people of Israel. The inscription lists the various powers crushed by Merneptah and his army. It concludes: All lands together, they are pacified; Everyone who was restless, he has been bound by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Among the “restless” was a small people otherwise not mentioned in early Egyptian texts – a people whom Merneptah or his chroniclers believed to be a mere footnote to history. They had not simply been defeated. He believed they had been obliterated. The stele reads: Israel is laid waste, his seed is [no more]. The first reference to Israel outside the Bible is an obituary notice.
Ironically, so is the second. This is contained in a basalt slab dating from the 9th century B.C.E. which today stands in the Louvre in Paris. Known as the Mesha stele, it records the triumphs of Mesha, king of Moab. The king thanks his deity Chemosh for handing victory to the Moabites in their wars. “As for Omri, King of Israel, he humbled Moab for many years, for Chemosh was angry with his land. … But I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel has perished forever.”
It was Mark Twain who famously wrote, “The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated.” The mighty empires have come and are now gone, and our Jewish brothers and sisters are back in our ancient homeland.
Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar declared in a recent interview on Al-Manar TV, “In this region we have faced Roman occupation, Persian occupation, Crusader occupation, British occupation – they are all gone. The Israeli enemy does not belong to the region. It does not belong to the region’s history.” And so the Arab delusions and lies continue, perpetuated by the next generation of Arabs whose history begins with the lies and hatreds of their last generation. It’s their tradition. Each generation has been the victim of its own delusional propaganda, preferring fantasy over truth.
Anyone with the least bit of knowledge of Middle East or Near East history knows that there was no country called Palestine during the Roman occupation. Mohammed was still 700 years into the future. The land was known as Judea and its people were known as Jews. Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Josephus, Roman historians during the two major revolts of the Jews in 66-73 C.E. and 133-135 C.E., make no mention of a land called Palestine or its imaginary people called Palestinians. In Tacitus’ words, “Titus was appointed by his father to complete the subjugation of Judea.”
After the first revolt, Rome minted thousands of commemorative “Judea Capta” coins – not Palestina Capta – to celebrate the capture of Judea, and today there is an arch in the Forum in Rome called the Arch of Titus depicting the Roman army carrying away the giant menorah from the Second Temple – and menorahs aren’t known to be an artifact of Arab inspiration. The historian Cassius Dio recorded that some 60 years later, when Hadrian decided to totally destroy the Land, “580,000 men were slain and nearly the whole of Judea was made desolate.” Determined to destroy Jewish identity, Hadrian renamed the land “Syria Palestina” after the Philistines—not Muslim Arabs. Even after the Romans and the Persians, after the Crusaders and the Arab throngs, Jews never left the land. Throughout history, under almost impossible conditions, the Land of Israel and our people were always intertwined.
It was our patriarch Jacob who, knowing of our people’s wandering in many lands, connected his worship of Hashem to his return to his father’s house (Gen. 28:21). And who else could the land be named for in 1948 – “Your name shall not always be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name…for you have struggled with the Divine. … The land that I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, I will give to you and to your offspring.” (Gen. 35:10-12). We, Jacob’s offspring, have struggled, but never did we forget the Land.
In the introduction to Ma’amar Mordechai, the son of the author wrote that once his father was in Lublin for Parasha Bechukotai and heard from the holy Rabbi of Lublin that the Maggid of Kozienice turned the Admonishment of Bechukotai into blessings, so he set off to arrive in Kozienice by that Sabbath. During the Torah service he stood directly in front of the Maggid as he read from the Torah. When he reached the Admonishment he raised his voice, louder and louder. And when he came to the verse, “I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors” (Lev. 26:31), he exclaimed these words: “Our Father in Heaven, grant that we have the merit to reach this hour.”
The Maggid of Kozienice did not explain his words, but the blessing embedded in this verse was in the spirit of remarks made by the Admor of Sedov: “Your land shall become desolate and your cities a ruin (Lev. 26:33), so that the other nations shall not come and settle in your land and prevent you from returning; rather, the land will remain a desolation, waiting for you to return from your wanderings.” Indeed, we have witnessed for 2000 years the Land of Israel passed from one nation to the next, and from one ruler to another; yet not one of them settled the Land, making it their own. The Land waited patiently…as Rachel wept.
And it was Nachmanides (1194-1270 C.E.), after arriving in the Land, who described its devastation such that “your enemies will be appalled by it, and it shall be that our land will not accept our enemies. Ever since we left the land, it would not accept any other nation or tongue.” For the Land was a covenantal blessing with our Jewish people exclusively. The Land waited for our people’s return to redeem its eternal covenantal pledge.
For Jews in the late 1800s, armed with the words of Theodor Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream,” the time had come to return. The dream of a land of milk and honey had captured the imagination of Jews as Russia and Europe were becoming less accommodating. The Torah reminded our people, “The survivors [of the punishments] among you – I will bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their foes; the sound of a rustling leaf will pursue them, they will flee as one flees the sword, and they will fall, but without a pursuer.” (Lev. 26:36) Yet there follows a passage of remembrance and love: “But when the time finally comes that their stubborn spirit is humbled, I will forgive their sin. I will remember my covenant with Jacob, as well as my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the Land. … Thus, even when they are in their enemy’s land, I will not reject them or spurn them, bringing them to an end and breaking My covenant with them, because I am the Lord their G-d.” (Lev. 26:41-44)
Our people have been tested over the last 2000 years. Jacob/Israel had long ago seen into our people’s future, that future generations would be wandering in many lands. And it was Jacob who reminded G-d of His promise to return His people to the Land. As it is written, “I will remember My covenant and remember the Land.” As historian John Gunther observed in 1938, “Zionism could not be installed anywhere else. How can they sing the Lord’s Prayer in a strange land? The concrete achievements of Zionism have been considerable. … To many it was enthralling. I have watched the immigrants come in at Jaffa…from the ghettos of Lemburg and Czernovitz and Prague. No, they were not handsome, vigorous young men. No, they were not lit by any apparent inward fire. Instead they were wretchedly dressed and miserably poor, huddled in compartments where brisk British officers shuffled and distributed them; they looked like refugees from the slums. But a few years later I saw these same people tilling the soil, carving livelihoods out of the dusty rock of the Jordan hills – upright, alert, self-sufficient, with pride in their work and pride in themselves. The transformation was all but unbelievable. They had begun to transform the Land, but the reality was that the Land had begun to transform them.” (John Gunther, Inside Asia)
How can we sing the Lord’s Prayer in a strange land? Long ago, Joshua crossed the Jordan River. Jews have paid for it with their courage, determination and blood. The question for us today is: Are we willing to stand up for our covenantal inheritance of our homeland, or are we willing to give in to liars and thieves? Logic and the laws of nature have always seemed to be against our people; and yet the story is told of an archeologist who was digging in the Negev and came upon a casket containing a petrified body. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural history museum and announced that he had just discovered the 3000-year-old body of a man who died of a heart attack. The curator replied, “Bring him in and we’ll check him out.” A week later, the amazed curator called the archeologist, “You were right about the corpse’s age and cause of death. But how did you know?” So the archeologist explained, “When I found the body, there was a piece of paper in his hand that read, ‘Ten thousand shekels on Goliath.’ ”
In 1948, the world sat silent, believing the odds were against Israel. And in 1967, as Nasser threatened Israel with annihilation, leaving little doubt in the eyes of the world that this was the end of Israel, the world again sat silent. Our wanderings have taken our people all over the planet on an often difficult and bloody journey, yet the dream of returning to our Land has always remained in the soul of a Jew. It was through our eternal covenant of love that our G-d – in the eyes of all the nations of the world – brought our people back to our Land in 1948. And in 1967 the world witnessed a miracle in six days as He gave back to our people the Land of our Torah—Judea/Samaria. The nations of the world have not and will not forgive the miracle. The liars and thieves can win only if we let them. Hazak achshav – Courage now! If not now…when?
Shabbat Shalom, 04/24/15
*For previous articles, see The Times of Israel.com
Jack “Yehoshua” Berger*