Many people believe there is good reason to be worried about Israel these days.
Swelling demonstrations in the streets, intensifying emotions across an increasingly divided society, and, on top of all that, yet another rise in terror.
Could it be that just as Israel gets ready to celebrate 75 years of independence that the Israel we’ve known and loved is starting to fade?
You would think that after 2,000 years of exile, scattered around the world without a home of our own, we would know some solace and serenity now that we’ve rebuilt ourselves into a nation in our original homeland.
But no. It seems like the real work of our people has just begun.
In exile, our greatest challenge was surviving the existential threats thrown at us by unpredictable neighbors and hosts.
Back in Israel, our greatest challenge is knowing how to live with different kinds of Jews with different kinds of opinions regarding how this revived Jewish state of ours is supposed to look.
(Seems like we’ve picked up where we left off in this land 2.000 years ago.)
The intensity of this moment, I believe, is a sign of how much Israelis care about this country (thank God they care!). And of how much the citizens of the world’s one Jewish state want their country to reflect the Jewish values and ideals they so deeply believe in.
Again, the challenge lies in the fact that, with a history spanning more than 3,000 years, we Jews have received, developed and collected an enormous array of values and ideals and different groups choose different ones to rally behind.
And while it may seem that the widening gap between these groups is already insurmountable today, the holiday of Purim is coming just in time to show us that all is not lost.
Back in the days when the Purim story was unfolding in real time, the Jews of Persia were also divided and ununified. Haman, our archenemy, took note of this when he said, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed” and he knew this fragile situation of the Jews could work towards his benefit and make it easier to actualize his plan.
But Haman didn’t take into account the ability of the Jews to overcome political and religious and sociological differences in order to create a unified front against any threat to their existence. That’s why Esther, before going in to speak to the king on behalf of her people, told Mordechai to “Go assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan” — because she knew that without the Jews coming together, without them being unified, nothing she could do or say would be of use.
We see this very same thing in Israel today.
We Israelis fight with one another (and fight and fight) until an external force comes along to harm, kill or destroy and then we put our inner fighting on hold, remember that which unites us and focus on working together to defeat our common enemy. And win.
But now we need to learn how to unite and to fight against a different common enemy: the enemy within that tells us we’re always right, that things should always be our way, that our ideals and values should be the only ideals and values to shape this country.
And we know that this enemy, the worst of all our enemies, is breaking us apart and destroying us.
But Purim can show us a new way, if we’re open to it, since the essence of Purim elevates us to a heightened level where we see things we don’t normally see. Where we see the divine root of each and every single individual and how God placed them lovingly and consciously in this world. Where we see the big picture, the full story, of our people who were given a specific mission, brought to a specific land, exiled from that land, oppressed to the brink of destruction, to then return home after two millennia and rebuild themselves as a nation and as a people with a renewed sense of an ancient vision and mission.
If we can make room for each other in this story, in our common past and in a shared future together, then we can transform this current moment of deep fear, darkness and worry into a great opportunity and a great light, and merit to experience a modern version of an ancient verse, “The Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor.”
This is what I want to see for Israel and the Jewish people.
I’m sure you do too.