Israel has more start-ups, investment capital, multinational R&D centers and companies on the NASDAQ, per capita, than anywhere else in the world — and the list goes on. This is why Israel has been dubbed the “Start-up Nation” However, the question we need to answer is, “Why Israel?” Why did this tiny country, a young country, a country with no natural resources and perennially pounded by all kinds of adversity become the Start-up Nation?
Although Israel is all about technological breakthroughs, groundbreaking research and world-changing innovation, interestingly the “secret sauce” of the Start-up Nation may be found within the ancient Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
Shavuot is traditionally understood as the time when the Jewish people received the Torah from God and entered into the covenant, agreeing to uphold its customs and laws. And the way it is traditionally observed is not simply through recalling this history, but actively engaging Torah through studying this ancient text all through the night until the following morning.
And traditionally when Jews study Torah, they don’t do so simply reading individually or in silence. Rather, Jewish Torah study is done in pairs accompanied by raucous, spirited, often heated dialogue and debate. Sitting face to face Jews
- turn to one another, debating the meaning of the text.
- turn to ancient rabbinic commentaries recorded on the page, questioning interpretations.
- turn to Midrashim (mythical tales) Psalms (poetry), and Prophets (other biblical texts), pushing and probing in search for answers.
Jews even turn to God, ready and willing to challenge the Almighty if need be, if that is what it takes. Like the patriarchs of the Torah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jews are permitted, encouraged and even rewarded for their relentless quest for truth.
As we read in the Torah:
Jacob was left alone, and an angel wrestled with him till daybreak… When the angel saw that he could not overpower Jacob…. he said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have prevailed.”
Within Judaism, not only is intense questioning, debate and disagreement acceptable, if it is done “for sake of heaven” (of noble intent, respectful in process and in the quest for goodness ), it is even deemed a mitzvah – a divine act.
Although there are a myriad of reasons why the Jewish nation has become the Start-up Nation, this is certainly a defining factor. Jacob, our namesake, faced the darkness and entered into it with the commitment and conviction to not relent until he found the truth, the light, transforming darkness into daybreak. So too, Jews from a young age are encouraged to question, to confront and to challenge anyone and anything which stands in the way of the pursuit of alleviating and eliminating the darkness.
- The darkness of disease, suffering and death.
- The darkness of poverty, injustice and abuse.
- The darkness of contamination, starvation and waste.
- The darkness of terror, murder and evil.
Whatever the darkness, it is incumbent upon us to question it, to confront it and to wrestle it to the ground — whatever it takes — until the break of dawn.
This is the legacy of our forefather, Israel. This is the mission of his progeny, the Jewish people. And this is the raison d’etre, the reason for being, of the Jewish homeland, the modern State of Israel:
To question the darkness. To confront the darkness. To wrestle the darkness. And to transform the darkness into light, illuminating the world one scientific breakthrough, technological innovation and world changing inspiration at a time.
This is the secret sauce of the Start-up Nation and why this little country will continue to be a light unto nations for generations to come.
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi