Election season is disconcerting for society. In pursuit of votes, competing
politicians highlight the country’s failures as they lay claim to the remedies
for all the social ills. At such times, we need to step back and consider the
broader reality. In Israel’s case, this includes both the great victories and
remarkable accomplishments achieved since its establishment, as well as the
serious flaws and shortcomings that need to be confronted with unwavering
We need to avoid the twin extremes of despondency and
In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom
, former South
African president Nelson Mandela considers the balance needed when reflecting on
the past and the future, on achievements and failures: “I have walked that long
road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along
the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one
only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here
to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back
on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom
comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not
At this momentous time of elections for a new Knesset, we can
take “a moment to rest” to consider “the glorious vista” and to “look back on
the distance” that the people and State of Israel have traveled, and to realize
that “there are many more hills to climb.”
imperfections of the human condition and committing to life as a journey of
victories and defeats goes to the heart of creation.
Angels, says the
Talmud, are “the standing” ones, and human beings “the walking” ones. Static and
standing still in absolute perfection, angels are flawless spiritual beings who
do not have free choice; they inhabit the pure, pristine heavenly worlds in
which there is no suffering or injustice.
Angels can do no wrong, but
therefore can do no right, because they are frozen in an eternal, unchanging
status quo with no freedom to make real moral choices. We, “the walking” ones,
freely choose between good and evil but live in a turbulent, earthly world,
filled with so much joy and wonder and, yet, at the same time, so much pain and
We have the God-given powers to change and improve, as well as
to sin and stumble, and thus live dynamically with victories and defeats,
regressions and progressions. Stumbling and even falling is part of the journey.
Every worthwhile life endeavor is fraught with challenges and
“For the righteous one falls seven times and arises,” says the
Book of Proverbs (24:16).
Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner (1906- 1980) explains the
verse to mean that the righteous do not arise despite falling, but rather
through falling and overcoming defeat, they become great. Provided we strive to
move forward on our journey every misstep becomes part of achieving our divine
purpose on earth.
Israel is a “walking” country.
awesome miracles in the shadow of the Holocaust, Israel has, with God’s abundant
blessings, secured extraordinary economic, military, educational and societal
Yet tragically, after all these years, there are still awful
threats to Israel’s safety and political legitimacy. Our “long walk to freedom”
continues each year. As we take new steps – some small and some large, some
forward and some backward – we do not move towards a fixed destination, but
rather progress along a dynamic ever-evolving journey.
We have not
arrived because in this earthly world one never arrives. Human beings are “the
walking” ones, and we are placed by God in this physical universe to go on a
dynamic, ever-evolving journey of spiritual and moral growth, of national and
This philosophy goes to the heart of every aspect
of our lives in this earthly world. Creating loving and strong families is also
a “walking” journey.
Marriage is not an endpoint of the unchanging,
perfect bliss of the wedding day. It is a “walking” relationship – changing,
developing and deepening. In great marriages, husband and wife invest constant
energy, passion and thought to nurture and grow the love between them. They
realize that on that journey they will make mistakes and stumble, but they are
committed to marching forward and becoming stronger and more loving as the years
pass. Parenting is also not a destination but rather a “walking” dynamic
enterprise, as children are raised, educated and given the moral, spiritual,
emotional and physical tools for life. It is a calling that never ends, and
requires commitment and dedication through all its stages.
philosophy of “walking” through life guides everything that we do, which would
explain why Torah law is called “Halacha,” from the root to walk. The Halacha is
our guide to living an inspired dynamic existence; to living in such a way that
all areas of our lives are in sync with God’s will, thereby refining, nurturing
and allowing us to become people of all-round greatness.
Earning a living
as a conscientious employee or building a great business is a journey of effort
and integrity, of hard work and ethics. Doing good deeds is a journey of
compassion and care, of sensitivity and kindness. Spirituality is a journey of
connecting to God through prayer and good deeds in a forceful way, in which our
faith and devotion deepens all the time. Happiness and emotional well-being are
not elusive destinations that we seek to arrive at but, rather, evolving
processes of living with meaning and self-knowledge, of giving to others and
In all our national and personal journeys the most
important thing is to keep “walking” to fulfill our divine purpose on
earth.The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.