Credit: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv Seventy years after the declaration of Israel’s independence warrants a deep look at our current state. Especially since earlier this week a U.S. President suddenly felt compelled to make a statement recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
“It went on and on, for many nerve wracking moments of that winter night in 1947. Finally the American announcer pierced the silence with his announcement: 33 in favor, 13 against, the resolution is approved. The state of Israel was declared. Then came the dancing and tears, and flags appeared. Cars honked their horns as loudly as they could, and the sounds of Shofars sounded from all the synagogues… My father said to me as we wandered between the circles of dancers, ‘Take a good look at this my boy, because you will never forget this night as long as you live, and you will tell your children and grandchildren about it long after we’re gone.’”Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness
Indeed we’ve never forgotten that night. Somewhere along the corridors of Israel’s collective memory, those cheers of elation and bursts of spontaneous singing can still be heard, like an annoying reminder that it wasn’t just a dream. For a brief moment we experienced how it really feels to be together, unified as one.
Seventy years of endless wars, internal struggles and the exhausting search for our path, makes you stop and wonder at times, if these events ever really occurred. On the one hand, we cannot dismiss our achievements. We have a flag and an anthem, an electrical company, an airport, an army, a thriving high-tech industry, and rich culture. There is much to be proud of.
But imagine if we could take all the hopes and dreams from deep within the hearts of those dancing people, and pour them all out on the table opposite our current life in the state of Israel; If we take a good hard look and be honest with ourselves, have any of those aspirations we had come true? Have we turned out the way we hoped we would — a unified people, independent and free in our own land? Would the United Nations vote the same way if they voted again today?
DID WE LEARN ANYTHING FROM OUR EXILE?
There gap between the dreams of the past and today’s reality is undeniable. Somewhere along the way, we must have missed something big. We came back to the land of our ancestors after two thousand years in exile, and we tried to create a modern day version of the Hebrew culture, but it’s not nearly enough.
At some point the hands that once held each other tight began to loosen their grip and even each pull in their own direction. Seventy years have passed and we still haven’t found a formula for making that fleeting sensation of togetherness into a lasting experience.
With all due respect to the United Nations, the justification for the state of Israel dates way back, to a time when Abraham the patriarch gathered disciples in ancient Babylon who searched for the source of life. Together they discovered the method to rise above their ego, and cultivate genuine mutual concern for each other. The group grew until it finally became a nation — the nation of Israel who inhabited its given land upon the foundation of “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Ever since then, our moral and spiritual obligation has always been to “be a light unto nations” and serve as a positive example for the world. It is the only real mandate for our existence as a nation as well as for the land upon which we reside.
THE CHOSEN PEOPLE HAVE A SPIRITUAL MISSION
The long years of exile made us forget that we have a spiritual mission. But towards the end of the 19th century a fateful shift took place and the Jewish people began to yearn once again to return to their land and build an independent state. It was precisely at this time that Abraham’s method began to resurface as “the authentic wisdom of Kabbalah.” With this new turn of events, Baal Hasulam and Rav Kook, two of the greatest Kabbalists of the 20th century, declared that our external independence depends directly upon the attainment of our spiritual independence:
“As long as we do not raise our purpose above our corporeal lives” wrote Baal Hasulam in his article “Exile and Redemption”, “we shall not have a corporeal resurrection, for we are the people of the ideal”.
With the world’s eyes set on Jerusalem, the significance of the above excerpt becomes more relevant than ever: Israel cannot be a society based on egoistic values and principles, even if it appears to be successful in other countries. The people of Israel must rediscover their foundation of mutual love and be a beacon of peace for the entire world.
In Israel of 2017, the Promised Land has become the land of milk, honey and Coca Cola, and cars only honk in the streets after a great football or basketball triumph abroad.
However, the world needs a positive example of unity now more than ever before. The current fractured reality in Israeli society presents the perfect opportunity to build a new foundation for our shared life as a nation. It is time for Israelis to start dancing around a spiritual ideal of love. Then, Jerusalem too, can become the beacon of peace that so many around the world anticipate it to be.