Theodor Herzl was both right and wrong at the same time. Just look at the convoluted and tragic story of French Army Commander Alfred Dreyfus.
Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army at the end of the 19th century, was framed by several of his brothers-in-arms and falsely convicted of delivering military secrets to the Germans. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Eleven and a half years after his disgraceful discharge, he was finally reinstated and cleared of all charges.
A young, assimilated Viennese journalist named Theodor Herzl covered the Dreyfus Affair, and saw mobs in Paris following the trial chanting “Death to the Jews!” Herzl began to believe that the Jews must remove themselves from Europe and create their own state. In June, 1895, he wrote: “Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.”
Herzl understood that anti-Semitism could not be defeated or cured; only avoided. And the only way to avoid it was to establish a Jewish state. Herzl’s operating assumption was that if only the Jewish people would have a land and state of its own, it could finally join the community of nations as an equal, and anti-Semitism would disappear.
Sounds good, right? Well, let’s look at the record.
For more than 60 years, the Jewish People has indeed had a state in its own land. So where is the peace we have longed for so long, the acceptance of Israel as one more normal nation in the international brotherhood of man?
The sad truth is that from the day of its inception in 1948, the Jewish State has not seen a single day of real peace. We are in a de-facto state of war with our neighbors near and far, including those two nations with whom we have made ‘peace’ in the past few decades.
Why has reality turned out to be so far from Herzl’s theory?
The answer is that Herzl’s vision was not wrong, only incomplete. Though Herzl drew his ideas from a far older source – the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible – he didn’t look carefully enough to properly grasp the big picture.
Apparently, getting to the end of the rainbow takes two stages, not one. The first stage is the establishment of the infrastructure and society of the Jewish People in its historical homeland, the Land of Israel. Dr. Herzl understood the first stage very well. Much of what he dreamed of relates directly to the enormous and unprecedented task of jumpstarting the national life of the Jewish nation in Israel.
The second stage is mapped out clearly within the Hebrew Prophets, a trusted source of information for more than three billion people on planet Earth. Of the 15 Prophets of the Bible (16 when you include Moses), virtually all describe visions of Israel in the End of Days. What’s encouraging is that whenever the biblical narrative discusses the nation and land of Israel in some unspecified future era, it is always GOOD.
Furthermore, many of the predictions of the ancient Prophets have already become reality. The Prophets promise that God will turn the desert into a Garden of Eden. In many places in Israel, this has been done. They report that God will gather the exiled Jewish communities from all over the planet and bring them to live in the Land of Israel. This too has happened. They paint a picture of children and old people once again playing in the playgrounds throughout Israel? One need only look around to see that this already fact.
Yes, Herzl was partially right. But in order to arrive at the full Prophetic vision of a future Utopia, a few things must come about that have yet to appear on the stage of history. The first is that the entire Jewish nation must experience a vast, deep, collective change of heart. The Prophets explain that the Jews living in Israel and abroad will begin to seek God in the same way they sought Him when the nation wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
Furthermore, the Prophets relate that the great Temple that stood in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and the nations of the world will come streaming to it in order to learn of the ways of the God of Israel. Clearly this has not yet happened, and on the surface of things, it does not seem it could happen in the foreseeable future.
Yet were these and other things to take place, it seems clear from Biblical tradition that Herzl’s dream of an Israel living in peace will eventually be realized. At such a point, the Jewish Nation will begin functioning according to a whole new paradigm, as a true “Light to the Nations.” What does this mean? Once Israel finds the way to overcome the differences within the nation that prevent us from achieving our real potential, we will arrive at the true meaning of the Chosen People.
Chosen, not for domination of others, but to serve as a conduit between mankind and God so that he may pour His blessings down upon humanity in a focused and effective way. This, in effect, is the true family business of the Nation of Israel.
Keep on dreaming, Herzl. Don’t touch that dial.
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