Can the afterglow of Sukkot affect the formation of an Israeli government?

In Israel today we have the most tangible expression of the problem in forming that vessel: It has so far not been possible to forge a coalition which will govern Israel.

EXALTING IN Sukkot at the Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
EXALTING IN Sukkot at the Western Wall
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The departing festival of Sukkot, the influence of which is still with us, teaches us that the unity of the Jewish people is the vessel for God’s bounty and blessing. The blessing, which was decreed and sealed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, needs a container. This is the unity – symbolized through the taking of the four kinds – of different kinds of Jews. Indeed, the liturgy of the High Holy Days tells us that the goal is that all humanity should, and eventually will, form “one band” to do God’s will, but it starts with the Jewish people themselves.
In Israel today we have the most tangible expression of the problem in forming that vessel: It has so far not been possible to forge a coalition which will govern Israel. The heart of the matter, as everyone knows, is a conflict between Avigdor Liberman and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world over a bill for military service by haredi men. Liberman is seen by the haredi world as opposing the very spirit and life of Judaism, while from the Liberman side the haredi world is grasped as a group that will not shoulder a common burden with the secular Jew, primarily in the realm of the military defense of Israel.
The conflict, which has paralyzed government-forming, is of profound spiritual significance. There has always been a division in the Jewish people, between yoshvei ohel – those who “sit in the tents” of Torah learning – and baalei esek – those occupied with practical activity, including the economic and the military. In modern Israel, the percentage of yoshvei ohel, the haredi world, is greater than at any other time in history.
And so it needs to be. The function of the yoshvei ohel is to generate the vast spiritual protection, which is a vital part of the secret also of Israel’s immense material success, including its miraculous military survival, in the face of continuous threat. The yoshvei ohel represent the “soul” of Judaism. The baalei esek, the secular Israelis, who on the other hand work and militarily protect Israel, are the “body” of Judaism. Without them equally, Israel would have no existence.
David Ben-Gurion, like Liberman a secular Jew, knew that without protection of the soul of Israel, the state’s physical existence would be threatened. Under his leadership, yeshiva students got their exemptions from military service, Shabbat was officially recognized and kashrut was maintained within public institutions.
YET IT seems that certain of the early great rabbinic leaders also understood the honor and recognition due to the secular Jews, builders of the land, who fought for its security with their own bodies, and at risk to their lives. Maimonides writes that a solidier’s defense of Israel is in the category of kiddush HaShem (“sanctification of God’s name,” Hilhot Melachim 7:15) To fail to respect anyone who protects the Jewish people with his or her body is aberrant.
Psalm 44, verse 23 states “For we are slaughtered for Your sake all day long; we are considered as the flock for slaughter.” To whom does this verse apply? The Talmud in Gittin (57b) says it refers to a boatload of Jewish boys who, to sanctify Heaven, committed suicide rather than participate in immoral treatment at the hands of the Romans. These boys were – like the secular soldiers who go out to fight for Israel’s safety – ostensibly no great scholars, but physically they sanctified the name of Heaven. The same Gemara tells us that the verse, however, also refers to those who learn all day in conditions in abnegation of the pleasures and comforts of this world, in conditions of comparative poverty. Metaphorically they are “killed” for Torah. The yoshvei ohel too sanctify the name of Heaven with their spiritual lives.
The party of Liberman and the parties of the yeshivot must sit down together – “within the Sukkah” – that is, within the framework of the sanctity of the entire Jewish people. They must grasp the concept of the binding of the four species, which signifies that they “atone” for – make up – each other’s lacks. They must know that both those who give their lives for Torah and those (also from their own ranks) who are ready to give their lives to protect the Jewish people are both sanctifying the name of Heaven. In this spirit they can come to an accommodation over the form of a bill involving the military service of yeshiva students and effect the formation of a government.
In this (urgent) process of reconciliation, it behooves the haredi parties to take the first step. They know the message of Sukkot: ahavat (love) and achdut (unity) within Israel are intertwined with ahavat and achdut HaShem. Many in the camp of Liberman may never have heard of these meanings, through no fault of their own. Those who do know them should take the first step toward the Liberman camp. As Proverbs 27:19 says, “Just as water reflects the face which looks into it, so does one person’s heart reflect the other’s.”


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