A Nation Adrift

By Rabbi David Bar-Hayim

The Plan
Once upon a time there was a man called Abraham. We Jews call him Avraham or Avrohom (the authentic pronunciation is somewhere in the middle, the way natives of New York pronounce the “a” in “father”). The Creator communicated to Abraham that he would become the father (“Av”) of a nation that would bring great blessing to mankind: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a source of blessing. And I will bless those that bless you, and he that curses you will I curse; and through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Nothing greater, more sublime and more edifying has happened to mankind than the Hebrew Bible. It is the ultimate blessing. Nothing can equal its grandeur, majesty, and moral power. It is also easily misunderstood and perverted. Witness one group that ended up making a young Jewish man from the Galilee into a deity, and another that turned it into a vehicle of and justification for barbarism and death worship.
The Bible was first translated into a foreign language, Greek, approximately 2200 years ago. In short order it was translated into Latin, Aramaic and other ancient languages. It has been available in most languages for many, many centuries. Yet only the Jewish people were capable of making sense of and internalizing the Word of God, turning it into a civilization, a societal norm, a way of life. This is because in addition to the Written Torah one needs an Oral Tradition. This Tradition, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains (Oroth HaTorah Chap. 1), is not a second Torah that was simply handed over to Moses; it is the interface of the Torah with the Jewish people. The Written Torah is the life giving precipitation from heaven acting upon the fertile soil of the Jewish nation, and the result is the Oral Tradition. It is this that we call Judaism. As with a computer, to successfully use the hardware you need the right software.
The ultimate purpose of Judaism was announced by the Creator before He transmitted the Torah to His people: “And you shall be for My purpose a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The nation of Israel is the priest connecting God and mankind. “I, God, have summoned you for a righteous purpose…. and have assigned you for my covenant with humanity, a light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
How are we to achieve this? In modern parlance a “kingdom” or “nation” is a state. God did not command us, however, to establish just any state, but rather a holy state. Our purpose was and remains the creation of a unique society in which morality and righteousness reign supreme, a society dedicated to wisdom, beauty and excellence – such a society would glorify God’s Word and Moral Law and lead mankind to the recognition that its salvation lies in learning from God’s people. “At the end of days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the LORD’S House shall be established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. And many nations shall go and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the House of the God of Jacob; and they will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths’; for out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2).
The Jewish people failed. Instead of a light to the nations, they decided to be like other nations. The inevitable result was exile from Jerusalem and the Land, as foretold in the Torah. And for two millenia we had the time to contemplate the error of our ways.

Exile-mode Judaism
Judaism in Exile did not die, but it was transformed. Instead of being the vehicle for God’s Purpose, it became a system for spiritual survival. “Even though I am sending you into exile, keep the commandments, so that when you return they will not be new and strange” (Siphre Devarim 43). The system developed by the Sages served its purpose; the Jewish people maintained their identity. In fact, if anything, the system worked too well. We came to understand the Torah in terms of the subsistence-level Judaism of the Exile – the bigger picture, God’s master plan, with Jerusalem at it centre, receded into the mists of our collective memory.
Nearly 900 years ago, in response to the criticism of the Khazar king that the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah is selective and its prayers for redemption insincere because they make no concerted effort to return to the Land and reconstitute their sovereignty, thus abdicating their responsibility and mission, Rabbi Judah HaLevi had this to say: “You have shamed me, King of Khazar. It is this very sin that prevented us from achieving that which God intended for the Second Commonwealth. Had the nation returned willingly to the Land when afforded the opportunity [2500 years ago], the Divine Presence was prepared to settle once more in the Second Temple as it had in the First. But only a minority chose to do so; the majority, including their leaders, elected to remain in Babylonia rather than leave their homes and possessions. And God dealt with them accordingly, with the result that their success was limited. For Divine blessing descends according to our actions. Therefore our prayers such as ‘Blessed are You who returns His Divine Presence to Zion’ are as words repeated by a parrot – we do not think about or mean what we say” (Kuzari 2:24).

Zionism and Zion
And thus it was throughout our Exile – until a few generations ago. Suddenly a significant number of Jews could no longer bear the endless and ineffectual “let-God-take-care-of-it” policy of Exile-mode Judaism. They decided to do something about it. From this resolve evolved the Zionist movement.
This development, however, came down to us from the God of History wrapped in enigma. Starting in the late 1700’s, many Jews had been turning their backs on Judaism. Some accepted baptism, many simply assimilated. Others, affected by the nationalist spirit sweeping Europe, became Jewish nationalists. Reaffirming their Jewish identity, they set themselves to the task of reconstituting Jewish national life in their ancestral Land. The paradox of Jewish nationalists, having rejected Jewish values and concepts, now working for a Jewish homeland, escaped them. Zionism, the creation of Jews who embraced Jewishness but whose cultural orientation was pan-European, was necessarily a confusing and fundamentally impossible amalgam of disparate and incompatible elements.
This weird and wonderful historical process gave birth to the State of Israel – an Israel without Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, an Israel without Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Yet few were perturbed by this, for during the decades of preparation for the coming state, one thing had never been spelled out: its borders. After all, on what basis was a mainstream Zionist – i.e. a self-proclaimed Jewish nationalist with a pan-European, non-Jewish worldview and lexicon – supposed to determine where the borders of the Jewish homeland lay? Surely not according to Judaism. The Answer to this riddle being beyond the ken of Zionism, it remained unAnswered – until the 1948 War of Independence. At that time the conundrum was conveniently solved: the caricature-like borders of the new state were deemed to be the borders of Eretz Yisrael. (Shulamit Aloni, a former politician of the Israeli Left, once stated explicitly on Israel Radio that Hebron is not part of the Land of Israel; she went on to explain that the borders of the Land were decided in 1948).
The Six Day War changed all that. Or did it? Israel did not immediately annex its newly acquired territories because these were viewed by the political leadership, and a significant percentage of the citizenry, as occupied territory to be used as bargaining chips.
The argument regarding the fate of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is not about politics. It is about the soul of Israel. Is Israel a piece of beachfront property on the Mediterranean where Jews may eat, drink and procreate in peace (a dream that remains unfulfilled)? Or is it the seed of something much greater: the final realization of Israel’s priestly mission to the world and the re-establishment of the Jewish State with the Sanctuary of the Torah in Jerusalem at its spiritual centre, a rallying point to which all peoples will flock?
We have been adrift on the ocean of our destiny for 62 years. Our ship-of-State requires a competent captain with a chart, a clear notion of our destination and destiny. Otherwise we shall continue to drift aimlessly, rudderless and out of fuel. Our enemies know this only too well.
Do we?