People at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On Independence Day, 1956, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “the Rav,” wrote Kol Dodi Dofek (“Listen – My Beloved Knocks”) in which he sought to place the Jews’ return to their homeland into perspective; it could not have been, he concluded, the result of coincidence or luck.
The Rav referred to a tragic parable in the Song of Songs in which a lover knocks on his beloved’s door one night, but she tells him she is tired and he should come back the next day. When he does not return, she searches for him but realizes that he is gone forever and that she has missed her chance for love. Today, when Jews in Israel are threatened by many enemies throughout the world, even assisted by some Jews, the Rav urges us to ignore their message of despair, self-doubt and defeatism.
When published, the Rav’s essay ran to 60 pages. I have highlighted its main points, added a few contemporary details, and included an additional “knock” to make the sound clearer.
1. The first knock of the Beloved (God) was when, despite the antagonism between the West and the Soviet Union, both recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The United Nations came into being solely in order to facilitate that right, on November 29, 1947, and confirmed it by recognizing the State of Israel in May, 1948. A year later, Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations.
2. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the second knock was on the battlefield, when the small IDF defeated the mighty armies of five Arab countries.
Using the analogy of the Exodus from Egypt – when Pharaoh hardened his heart and ended up with a worse deal than was originally offered to him – the Rav considers the Arab attack a blessing in disguise. Had the Arabs accepted the UN partition plan and not attacked, Israel would have had to settle for a state which excluded Jerusalem, half of the Galilee and part of the Negev including Beersheba. It could not have survived.
3. The third knock was on the theological tent. Christian theologians claim that God deprived the Jewish People of its rights in the Land of Israel, and that all the biblical promises regarding Zion and Jerusalem refer, allegorically, to Christianity and the Christian Church; this is refuted by the establishment of the State of Israel.
Christianity declared that the Jewish covenant with God ended with Jesus – that is the real meaning of the term “Old Testament” – and declared themselves to be the “new” Israel. The powerlessness of Jews throughout the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern period reinforced this impression.
4. The fourth knock was in the hearts of perplexed and assimilated youths. The era of self-concealment (during the Holocaust) resulted in great confusion among Jews, particularly among young Jews, and produced widespread assimilation. The almost mystical ability of even a brief visit to the State of Israel to restore the Jewish identities of even the most alienated Jewish youth is the stuff of which legends are made.
5. The fifth knock, perhaps the most important of all, is that for the first time in the history of our exile, divine providence has surprised our enemies with the sensational discovery that Jewish blood is not free for the taking, is not hefker!
The raid on Entebbe, on July 4, 1976, serves as the most visible and potent reminder of the consequences of treating Jewish lives with callous disregard. In this context, the Rav also cautions against substituting the promises of “the three great powers” (i.e., the US, USSR and Great Britain) for vigilance and self-defense. “A people that cannot ensure its own freedom and security is not truly independent.”
6. The sixth knock was when the gates of the Land of Israel were opened. A Jew fleeing from a hostile country knows that he can find a secure refuge in the Israel. And Jews who leave their comfortable, convenient environments to make aliya share in the redemptive power of Eretz Yisrael.
As Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal wrote in his book Eim HaBanim Smeicha, while hiding from the Nazis in Hungary: “The Land of Israel will become a universal center for the entire Jewish nation ... Even those Jews who remain in the Diaspora ... will be bound and connected with all their souls to the universal center which will be established in Eretz Yisrael ... and they will no longer be considered dispersed....”
This is a reference to the building of the Third Jewish Commonwealth in Eretz Yisrael.
7. The revival and flourishing of Torah learning throughout the world, and especially in Israel, the military victories of 1967 and 1973, the unification of Jerusalem, the flourishing of the Golan, and building Jewish communities throughout Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria) are among many “knocks” that resound around us. We have so much for which to be proud and thankful.
The art of listening is knowing what is worthwhile and what is not. “Shema Yisrael” – let our ears be open to hear, our eyes to see, and our hearts to appreciate with gratitude.