Optimism is an intrinsic part of the Jewish tradition. We have overcome so much and survived where so many others have perished because of our optimism and hope. This optimism is expressed in the ideal of a nation of priests who are the vehicle for the revelation of the Divine Presence, and the prophetic vision of a world founded upon justice and filled with the knowledge of God.
The story of Jewish history is the story of our constant failure to fulfill this divine mission. Yet despite our many failures, we have not abandoned the vision that was bestowed on us, nor forsaken our hope in the future of Israel and all of humankind.
Our modern state was founded through the power of this spiritual optimism. Herzl’s famous words, “If you will it, then it is not a dream” inspired hundreds of thousands to leave their homes and settle in the Holy Land. A hundred years before him, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov spoke about the need for azut dekedusha, holy chutzpah or willpower, if we want to make the journey to Israel. The chalutzim, the early pioneers, surely harnessed this willpower when they created lush farmland from malarial swamps and built modern cities out of barren sand dunes. Their lives provide us with a compelling example of spiritual optimism and azut dekedusha.
The return of the Jewish people to Israel and their amazing pioneering spirit reignited the optimism of humanity and heartened many nations to aspire for recovery and healing after the destruction of two world wars. They thought that if post-Holocaust Jews can dare to dream a great dream, then so can we.
The return also inspired a generation of Jews throughout the Diaspora, giving them a new sense of optimism, purpose, and identity. The establishment of the state created a Jewish renaissance in the Diaspora, where Jews identified with their religion and country with great enthusiasm and pride.
Rebbe Nachman speaks at length about the obstacles along the road to Israel. He also makes clear that an enormous amount of purification and sanctification will still be needed after we arrive in the Holy Land. We are now living in the land and the extent of that work is painfully apparent. Though much has been accomplished, there are a whole range of difficulties and challenges that remain to be addressed. Once again, we are called upon to apply the power of spiritual optimism to our situation, to return to the place of hope and high ideals. Only such a dynamic force can empower us to achieve our goal.
There are several key ideas that will aid us in awakening our inner resources. The first concept is Knesset Yisrael, the name given in the Kabbalah to the eternal soul of Israel. This soul was created three thousand five hundred years ago to inspire the ancient world with the ideals of justice and the unity of life. The soul of Israel contains all those who have incarnated as part of our people over the millennia. It embraces everyone who has taken up this spiritual task. These souls who dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven are working to support, guide, and strengthen us. They are waiting to pour their light, love, and energy inside us, if we but turn toward them. In the task of sanctifying Israel, we do not labor alone.
Ahavat Yisrael, the second key concept in this work of spiritual transformation, is intimately linked with the first one, Knesset Yisrael. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook teaches that true ahavat Yisrael is an unconditional love that embraces everyone. It is a love born out of a shared sense of mission and purpose. It is a divine love that is anchored in the eternal soul of Israel.
Ahavat Yisrael motivates us to sacrifice for others. It enables us to let go of old grievances and hurts. Ahavat Yisrael strengthens us to confront the imperfections within our people. It provides us with the clarity we need to see ourselves as we truly are.
Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that much of the labor of purification and sanctification is inner work that each of us must do. He explains that the source of most of our trouble is in the mind. Our fears, worries, and despair make us feel weak, confused, and helpless. They keep us focused on external appearances and prevent us from seeing the truth of our inner reality. If we could see the divinity behind these outer forms, we would recognize that what we fear is only an illusion. We would realize that we can accomplish a great deal of good in our lives and our world. Every spiritual act, he proclaims, repairs another piece of the ‘land of Israel’. Whenever we stand by our moral values, attempt to break down the barriers of prejudice and hatred, or extend a gesture of loving-kindness, we redeem a part of Eretz Yisrael.
There is one more concept that will bolster this spiritual work. According to the tradition, God created and destroyed several universes before he created this one. The last of these worlds or universes was called Olam haNekudot, the World of Dots. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains that the World of Dots did not survive because of the lack of interconnectedness between its parts. Each vessel, sefirah, or world was self-contained and separate. This created a universe of tohu, of chaos, a universe where there was no balance or harmony.
To repair this situation, God restructured the universe around a supernal scale, a matkalah, with a left hand column of din (judgment), a right hand column of chesed (mercy), and a middle column of rachamim (compassion), and a vast network of light and energy that connects all of its different parts. In this universe, everything is interconnected and aligned with each other. Everything has the potential for harmony, balance, and relationship. Everything has a role to play in the process of universal redemption and repair.
Our attempt to create harmony and balance in our land and people is part of the spiritual evolution of the entire universe. The divine will that propels our universe forward is our ally in this sacred mission. If we succeed, it will not only benefit our people, it will offer a model of holy living for the rest of humankind.
According to Rebbe Natan, the consecration of Eretz Yisrael is not the exclusive purview of those who live in the land. Each Jewish community around the world is part of this great labor of repair and uplift—a spiritual outpost of the soul of Israel. Together we are creating an emanation of holiness that will illuminate all of existence, a beacon of hope and optimism for the whole human race.