In a healthy and open discussion on Shavuot evening, we sat and discussed Israel. Amid the current turmoil and hot debates, one might incongruously ask: Why Israel? Why can’t the world population of Jews settle on a Caribbean Island? What gives them the right to Israel? Who best to answer than the late Rabbi Sacks? In an April, 2018, article Israel: The Heart of Judaism, Rabbi Sacks expounded on the definition of Judaism through the spirit of the Torah and the Biblical responsibilities given to the Jewish people several millennia ago. It is not a fluke. It is a predetermined condition that G-d gave to His Chosen People, through Moses, the prophets, and the sages that came after.
Why Israel? “…because of the duality that defines Jewish faith and constitutes one of the most important contributions to civilization.” Rabbi Sacks defined Judaism as “…the tension between universal and unique…everywhere in general and somewhere in particular”. To understand Judaism and its direct correlation to Israel, one must also understand the implications of social ideals. Through the ages societies morphed as universal or particular. Universals created empirical strength and doctrines. They made and make claims of knowing the truth sans challenge or opposition. They conquer by seeking conversion. Totalitarian solutions without freedom of thought or action. On the other hand, particular societies combine myriads of cultures and ethnicities without universal principles that bind them together. They remain fragmented in their own particular bubble of thought and ideals. Both universals and principals aspire to a manipulation in collective thought and social standing. Both create beliefs opposing concrete principles that bind people rather than separate them. They remove uniqueness.
“Jews belonged somewhere, not everywhere. Yet the G-d they worship is the G-d of everywhere, not just somewhere.” Rabbi Sacks contended that Judaism avoids both universalism and particularism by nature of its fundamental Abrahamic covenant with G-d. A covenant that has no room for either separatism or imperialism. By virtue of this covenant, Jews were directed toward a destiny founded on a promise of one land. Their land. Biblically and archeologically based on truth, Israel has been that land. The dispersion of Jews throughout the millennia was not G-d made but man made. United by Torah, tradition, and practice, a universal umbilical cord binds all Jews in the Diaspora in one expectation and land: Israel.
Whether secular, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or liberal: a Jew is part of a large homogenous society historically fraught with enslavement and freedom but in covenant with G-d. Consequently, the Torah does more than bind the Jewish people in prayer and song. It is inherent to every Jew. It is a template that every Jew lives by whether intentional or not. A concept difficult to comprehend by non-Jews. There is only one path to Judaism. There are many to Christianity. Without disparaging other religions or faiths, it is a fundamental distinction that few notice or even bother to explore. Which is the reason why anti-Semitism is the common thread that ties bigots on both the far left and far right. They fail to realize that their narrative can never break the covenant Jews have with G-d and one another.
“Judaism is the code of a self-governing society.” Dispersed, evicted, persecuted, or shunned: Jews have been left without self-government for two millennia. Rabbi Sacks explained how within the heart of Judaism’s destiny for one land, is also the destiny of self-government. A self-government for one people. Judaism embraces redemption rather than salvation. The Jewish G-d talks about love. Love of G-d, love of neighbor, and love of self. The latter imbedded in the concept of creation and that G-d created us in His image.
Rabbi Sacks talked about the “Code of Society” founded in the 613 commandments that spell out a roadmap to justice, righteousness, compassion, and social welfare. Through these commandments Judaism is mandated to provide for the welfare of oneself and others. The Code of Society is the governance by which Judaism holds Jews responsible for each other and their society. A common thread is woven within a Judeo society that provides a pattern to a people obliged to do good by everyone. A society of one that cannot exist without a point of reference. A location or a land. Self-government albeit secular still lies within an “architectonic” society bound by Judaism and its dedication to the service of G-d. A Jewish state restores the freedom and dignity to Jews who were destined to live in a land where G-d can be found in public places without the fear of persecution or eviction. The freedom to fulfil G-d’s covenant.
Rabbi Sacks contended that after four millennia of wandering and persecution, only Israel could set the Jews free. A country where the official language is biblical, Hebrew. Where the calendar is in Jewish years, and where Jews can walk freely in the footsteps of their sages and prophets. Jews in Israel live the story of Abraham and Moses. No other location makes sense or logic. If Jews are to continue on their biblical journey, there cannot be any other place than where that journey started: Israel.
The state of Israel was born out of the pain and ashes of the Holocaust. In 70 years, Israel managed to create an infrastructure envied and coveted by the entire world, especially its neighbors. It leads the global community in patents, science, research, medicine, economics, agriculture, and tenacity. It’s been attacked, bombed, infiltrated, demonized, despised, marginalized, terrorized, praised, courted, and assisted. It’s the lone reed waving in the turbulence of political disingenuous narrative . It has a population of Jews, Arabs, and Christians. All enjoying the same social benefits of living in a free democracy.
“Choose life, that you and your children may live.” (Moses). Rabbi Sacks concluded his argument by saying that Israel continues the unedited story of the Jews. Bias and anti-Semitism have tried to re-write and edit that story. But Israel has history on its side. Israel has archeology on its side. Israel has G-d on its side. Changing the narrative does not change the truth. Why Israel? Because Israel is “the heart of Judaism”.
Rabbi Sacks. April 16, 2018. Israel: The Heart of Judaism – Rabbi Sacks