It used to be so easy to be a Zionist….
Years ago, things were clear. Those were the heady days of Israel’s miraculous birth in the shadow of the Holocaust, of decisive victories in its battles for survival, of the draining of the swamps and the planting of the Negev. Those were the days of our pride in a citizen army that could do no wrong, of the Jewish David battling the Arab Goliath, of the kibbutzim, and of each farmer in his or her kova tembel — an Israeli hat.
The moral lines were clear. Heroic figures abounded. Right was on our side without equivocation.
For the first time in thousands of years, God had granted us the miraculous gift of our Jewish home, and nothing seemed more important than that.
But now things have become more complicated. Israel, a mature state, reflects the imperfections of all mature states. Not all of its leaders always behave ethically, its society wrestles with moral dilemmas, its leadership makes religious and social decisions that antagonize elements of world Jewry. Sometimes it stumbles as it balances newfound power over others with the responsibility of keeping its own citizenry safe.
In some quarters, diaspora Jews have begun to ask: How can our support for Israel continue to be unwavering if we find ourselves questioning its policies, practices, or politicians? What happens when we and Israel disagree, whether about the peace process, immigration, egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, or a plethora of other issues? Do we even have a voice from the diaspora? What are the boundaries of our partnership from afar?
An answer to these questions might emerge from a totally unexpected source — from a mysterious ritual recorded in the Torah at this time of the year.
At the beginning of parashat Tazria, the Torah mandates that two offerings be brought to the Temple by a woman upon the birth of a child. One is an olah, a burnt offering, and the other is a hatat, a sin offering.
The troubling question is obvious immediately. Why must a yoledet, a childbearing woman, offer a sin offering? Wherein lies the sin in childbirth? The creation of a new life marks the greatest act of partnership between man and God. It is a fulfillment of God’s first blessing and directive to mankind, to be “fruitful and multiply.” The suggestion that a yoledet should offer a hatat on the birth of her child seems not only puzzling, but offensive.
Perhaps the Torah itself hints at an explanation.
Whenever the Torah mandates the sacrificial combination of an olah and a hatat, the order is clear and constant. The hatat, the sin offering, is listed first, and the olah is second. This sequence stands to reason. A burnt offering, symbolic of a renewed relationship with God, can be offered only after past misdeeds first are cleared through the sin offering ritual.
There is only one exception to this rule.
In the case of the yoledet, the order of these sacrifices is reversed in the text. The Torah lists the burnt offering first and the sin offering second. Why invert the listing of these offerings only in the case of the childbearing mother, especially if this reversal exists, as the Talmud later explains, solely in the text and not in practice?
Perhaps because in the case of the yoledet, the sin offering is brought not for a sin that has occurred in the past but for one that is bound to occur in the future.
The moment of childbirth is a moment of rarefied personal perspective. In that instant, you recognize with unerring clarity that nothing in the world is more important to you than this child, this precious gift that God has bestowed upon you.
But then — three months later, at two o’clock in the morning, when you are more tired than you have ever been in your life, you are changing the diaper of a screaming infant; when, three years later, you are running in circles after a recalcitrant toddler; when, 15 years later, your teenage son or daughter rolls his or her eyes at you in that frustrating way, as only a teenager can…
At those moments, somehow, that child doesn’t seem quite so precious. You lose sight of the clear instant when you held a new life in your hands, when nothing was more important than the life and welfare of that newborn child.
The sin offering of the yoledet, we are suggesting, proactively addresses all of the inevitable moments when the crystal perspective accompanying childbirth will be lost, all the times when this precious life will not be as dearly appreciated as it was at the moment of its arrival. And if the hatat does its job, the memory of this sacrifice will resurface during those difficult future moments, reminding each parent that the apparent distance developing between them and their growing child may not be so great, after all.
The parallel is clear. The hatat of the yoledet reminds us that Zionism today should not be so complicated, after all. Just as our grown children still are the children whom we celebrated in their infancy, the State of Israel still is, at its core, the miracle we once keenly felt it to be.
It is still the Jewish homeland for which Jews longed over centuries; still the one place in the world where Jewish destiny is in Jewish hands; still a home to which we can move voluntarily to be with our family; still a refuge to which any Jew can return from across the globe; still a country built by Jews. It is still the most precious gift granted to us by God in millennia.
Just as our enduring love for our children must transcend the frustrations they may bring, so too our enduring Zionism must transcend specific politicians, policies, and problems. Transient issues will pass, but our cherished, essential relationship with Israel will remain.
At this time of the year, as Israeli citizens mark their annual series of national commemorations, culminating with Yom Yerushalayim — Jerusalem Day — on May 13, true Zionists across the globe should celebrate with them. There will be time enough to return to the discussions and debates. Now is the time for the perspective and clarity of childbirth. Now is the time to simply recognize, appreciate, and cherish the wondrous, greatest miracle of our times.