From the Hebrew speech delivered at the International Bible Quiz
In 1937, against the backdrop of widespread unrest roiling mandatory Palestine, David Ben Gurion, one of Israel’s founding visionaries, appeared before the Peel Commission. He wasn’t shy. “The [British] mandate is not our Bible,” he told the officials presiding over the British investigative commission that would ultimately recommend the partition of Palestine. “The Bible,” he continued, “is our mandate.”
While his candidness – Israeli chutzpah, par excellence – may have come with its risks in that context, his point touched upon a profound truth underpinning the Zionist endeavor. The Jewish textual tradition, and the Bible in particular, had accompanied the Jewish people across the infinite divides of time and space. As the Zionist vision was incarnating in body and blossoming in spirit, it would continue to draw on the richness of this tradition as a basis and justification for its very existence.
It is striking to consider ourselves at this moment, cast in the shadow of the hope and determination that paved the way for our existence in the here and now, a living embodiment of a vision stirred in the minds of men some decades ago. At this unique moment in time, I have the privilege and good fortune of representing the sovereign Israeli Parliament in an autonomous State of Israel. And, in that role, I am moved to be addressing, this morning, an audience of young Jews from across the globe, convening – via the wonders of technology – for the annual International Bible Quiz.
As I witness young people from Jewish communities across the world coming together to celebrate the best of what unites, nourishes and sustains us in our common traditions, I am reminded of the deep significance of this gathering, held continuously for over fifty years.
To me, this event is one of the finest expressions of the regard and reverence the Jewish people, in Israel and across the globe, has for the Tanach. But, beyond that, it points to the communal spirit that has accompanied us over generations, and is a symbol of the vitality of the shared, living values that inform our existence to this day.
Needless to say, we need avenues and bridges into each other’s communities, hearts, and minds. It is the fertility of dialogue between our different parts and the celebration of the roots we all share that nourish our connective bonds and helps us find meaning in our collective existence. Joint practices, like the Bible Competition, are a lifeline for both Israeli and global Jewry, strengthening the vital connections that are so critical to the future of our people and allowing us to draw upon the richness of our past, as we seek to shape our present.
And our present offers so many reasons to be grateful. The challenges that we are contending with against the backdrop of a global pandemic are very real. But so are the abundant inner resources that we can lean on during these times. The spirit of resilience we share, the innovative drive that helps us master even the most complex challenges, the deep faith in life that defines us, the knowledge that seeing and responding to the needs of others makes us stronger and better able to weather difficulty – all of these point squarely to the plausibility of hope. I have seen the best of human creativity and goodness enlisted to the cause of helping the vulnerable – people suffering from illness, poverty, or from simple loneliness – during this crisis. And I know that regardless of what comes, we have a deep-rooted inner compass guiding us to the better world available to us just around the bend.
Our traditions, after all, represent more than simple allegiance to the past. As a living source of inspiration, the Tanach is an emblem of our people’s uncompromising commitment to eternally seek truth, and strive for good. “Who is the person who desires life, who loves the days of existence that he may see good. Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good, Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34: 12-14). Our defining religious text is, in a basic sense, our ever-present ethical awareness that insists that intending to do good, and doing good in practice, is the ultimate calling of our existence as individual people, and as a people, united.
Yes, the friendly competitiveness and spirit of pride and good sportsmanship that the Bible Quiz encourages is important. But more important is recalling the basic message of the spiritual tradition that the Bible has encrypted into our people’s existence.
It may sometimes seem like strong-arming others in our drive to succeed pays off. Sometimes the right of might really does seem to triumph. But we can reach deeper beyond the basic outline of competition, past the illusory film of victory or defeat, to recall a deeper truth: we are all here to do good. United and strong.
Happy Israeli Independence Day to all of Israel’s citizens and to Jews everywhere.