You shall keep My commandments and perform them. I am the Lord. You shall not desecrate My Holy Name.
This week’s portion is called Emor, or Speak. It is G-d’s commandment to Moses to tell the priests how to conduct themselves. They are the leaders and their behavior must be above those of their constituents. They are commanded to be pure. The rest of the Jews can marry virtually any of their co-religionists, including prostitutes. The priests cannot. The Jews can defile themselves. The priests cannot.
The Jewish leadership is directed to maintain a code of conduct that shuns materialism and embraces the divine word. The priests have no time for business. They were not promised land in Israel. Instead, they work in the Temple, where they walk barefoot, their garments spare and simple. No villas; no cars and no trust funds. The conduct of the leadership can sanctify G-d’s name or do the opposite.
I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you, Who brings you out of the land of Egypt, to be a God to you. I am the Lord.
The wording of the Torah seems peculiar. The sentence should have read, “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt” rather than the present tense. Slavery in Egypt is a closed chapter, and now the focus should be on the liberation of Israel.
Not so fast.
The Torah tells us that G-d’s miracle of taking us out of Egypt did not end with Pharaoh. It remains with us daily and comprises a simple formula. Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, born in the 11th Century in Spain, says the liberation from Egypt was meant for one thing: That Jews serve G-d. The acknowledgment of G-d, says the rabbi, “is the key to all of the commandments…”
Declaring independence is easy. All you need is a microphone, computer and Internet access. Yasser Arafat declared independence for Palestine numerous times. It impressed few people, least of all those in the Arab world. An independent state wields borders, authority, sovereignty and national pride. It fights for its principles and places the welfare of the people above all. There are names for those entities that fall short of this mark — banana republic, feudal state, sheikdom. In these places, one family or an elite rules in defiance of the will and needs of the people.
Watching the festivities during Yom Haatzmaut, or Independence Day, I couldn’t help thinking that G-d must be the last Zionist. His miracles cannot be fathomed. In 1948, He saved the Jewish people from five Arab armies, several of them equipped and trained by Britain. He saved us from an antagonistic Mapai elite that focused on destroying its political opposition rather than fighting for a state. He saved us in war after war despite the obedience of the leadership, pressed by the United States, not to defend Israel.
G-d has catered to our every need. We complained that we didn’t have enough Jews to populate our little land. He brought us the masses from Algeria to Russia. We moaned that we had no energy. He gave us an overwhelming reserve of natural gas — located offshore so we would not destroy our communities to find and develop the resources.
We complained that there was war. He gave us a decade of peace. Our historical enemy Egypt entered into genuine security cooperation with us. More than one million Syrians decided to flee their war-torn country to Europe rather than drive an hour to Israel.
We complained that we were being outnumbered. G-d pumped up the Jewish birth rate to equal that of the Arabs, something not seen perhaps since the First Temple period some 2,500 years ago.
We complained that we were poor. Today, Israel is one of the richest countries in the world. We are No. 2 in most billionaires per capita. The nation’s foreign currency reserves is at least $206 billion, or more than $20,000 per man, woman and child.
We complained that our children abandoned Judaism. Despite government policy, G-d has brought millions of Jews, young and old, to embrace their faith and commit to observance.
But just as easily, we squandered those miracles. The elite transferred the gas reserves to the United States, leaving the superrich with handsome commissions and the rest of us with soaring electricity bills. The financial reserves remain with the few while many of us struggle to pay for food and rent.
Jewish immigration has dropped from a flow to a trickle. Over the last year, only 3,100 Jews came from America; more than 18,000 had applied for Aliya.
Instead, Israel has been welcoming thousands of gentiles and promises to take many more when it signs the Istanbul Convention, which gives the right of any woman deemed abused to enter and demand citizenship. This could be the single easiest way to destroy the hard-fought Jewish majority.
In essence, the State of Israel has established two systems: A harsh governance for the Jewish majority in which taxes remain among the highest in the world and their rights to religion, freedom of speech, property and movement come under constant assault. And then there is a system for the gentile minority, a benign governance in which they benefit from foreign patronage — whether America, Qatar or Russia.
In this state, Yom Haatzmaut can be celebrated by no more than the privileged or the blind. Just as it was in the days of the Judges some 3,000 years ago, enemies that we thought were long gone have reappeared. Today, Jews are killed on a nearly daily basis, including our day of independence.
The Torah gives us the solution to this quandary. Return to G-d and observe His commandments. No, this is not what the elite, represented by the government, wants. But if we are determined to survive, let alone achieve independence, then we have no choice but to listen to the ultimate Zionist and understand that as much as He gave us, He can take it all away.