(By Yisrael Rosenberg)
President Obama: “Baruch HaBa L’Eretz Yisrael!” - Welcome to the Land of Israel!
Ancient Jewish law requires that Jews say a special blessing upon seeing a true leader (“king”) of the nations of the world:
“Blessed is He who gave of His honor to mortal human beings.”
[Source: Shulhan Aruch (“The Set Table”), the Authoritative Code of Jewish Law: Section 224, Paragraph 8)]
A Jerusalem Youngster Dressed as a King for the Purim Holiday
[All images © Y. Rosenberg unless otherwise specified]
On the other hand, you may recall a revealing dialogue that appears in the classic American film “Fiddler on the Roof”:
Says a young Talmudic student: “Rabbi, is there a proper blessing - for the Czar? “
Answers the Rabbi: “A blessing for the Czar? Of course! ‘May God bless and keep the Czar - far away from us!”
A Shtikel (Piece) of History Can Tell You a Lot about Who We Are Today
Following is a brief spiritual history of the Land of Israel from a traditional Jewish perspective. Knowing how Israelis perceive our past may help you grasp who we are and our relationship to the rest of the world.
A. Israel’s Humble Beginnings
Nearly 4,000 years ago, God (a.k.a. HaShem, The Lord, Allah, the Creator of the Universe, and more) appeared to a man named Abraham the son of Terach, who was living at the time in what is now Iraq:
And God said to Abram, "Pick up and go away from your land, from your birthplace and the home of your father, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will magnify your name, and there will be blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse; and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you."
And God appeared to Abram and said: "To your descendants I will give this land”; and he built an altar there to God, Who had appeared to him.
[Source: the Book of Genesis, Chapter 12]
Ma’arat HaMachpelah, the Cave of the Patriarchs
Hevron, the Burial Place of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Their Wives
Abraham took up God on His offer, and set off with his family and belongings towards what was then known as the Land of Canaan. Upon arrival there, he had two sons: Ishmael, by his wife’s Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar; and Isaac, from Sarah, the original wife of his youth.
Ishmael, Father of the Arabs / Islam
Eventually, God asked Abraham to send Ishmael away stipulating that Isaac, and not Ishmael, would inherit Abraham and the blessings that God had given him, including the promise of the land. According to Jewish and Islamic tradition, Ishmael became the ancestor of the Arab nation, and with it: Islamic culture and language.
Esau, Father of the West / Christianity
Abraham’s son Isaac also had two sons: Esau and Jacob. These boys struggled with one another while still in the womb. God then decreed that Jacob would be Isaac’s successor. As a result, Jacob inherited God’s special blessings and the promise of the land. Esau separated from the rest of the family and went to live in what is far south of the rest of his family, near the Dead Sea.
But just as God blessed his uncle Ishmael a generation before, He blessed Esau. According to Jewish tradition, Esau is the ancestor of the nation of Rome, and by proxy, Christianity and all of Western civilization.
Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, had 12 sons, who became the twelve tribes Israel.
B. “Let My People Go”
In response to a famine, Jacob’s sons and their families went down to Egypt, where they became a great nation that was eventually enslaved by Pharaoh, king of Egypt.
Moses, a Jew who had been brought up in Pharaoh’s own household, arose as a redeemer. After a series of great miracles, God told Moses to tell Pharaoh those timeless words: “Let My People Go!” Off into the desert the nation marched.
Mt. Solomon, at Timna in the South of Israel
Miraculously sustained by water from the rocky mountainside and bread descending from the sky - the Jews journeyed en masse to Mt. Sinai. There, God made a pact with the entire nation, giving them a complete set of divine laws to follow.
God then promised to lead the Jewish nation out of the desert wasteland, to the land He had set aside as an eternal inheritance for Abraham, Isaac , Jacob and their descendants. He committed Himself to blessing Israel, as long as they followed His laws.
God promised that He would uphold the pact He made with Israel at Sinai forever. Furthermore, should the nation one day be exiled - He made an oath that he would ensure their survival away from the land. One day, He said, He would redeem them, gathering them back to Israel and restoring their fortunes and making them His Beloved Nation again - for all time.
C. The Nation Strays
Time passed, and Israel abandoned God and His Laws, adopting in their place the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations. God responded by sending prophets to bring the people back to the fold.
A Jerusalem Child Dressed as a Prophet for the Purim Holiday
The admonishments of the prophets fell on deaf ears, and eventually, the national leadership was carried off into exile by the Babylonian army. Five hundred years later, the Jewish nation was once again driven out, this time by the Roman. Jerusalem was destroyed, and the land became a desert: barren and all but forgotten.
D. Mark Twain’s Eyewitness Account
Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, journeyed to the Holy Land in 1867. He travelled the length and breadth of the country, described what he saw.
The land, he wrote,
…“sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.
(…)Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua''s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; … untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye.
Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone.”
Clemens went on to describe his journey from the city of Shechem in the North to Jerusalem in the center of the ancient Land of Israel:
“The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became. (…) There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. (…) The only difference between the roads and the surrounding country, perhaps, is that there are rather more rocks in the roads than in the surrounding country.”
[Source: Samuel Clemens, “The Innocents Abroad,” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3176/3176-h/3176-h.htm]
E. The Long Wait Is Over
Just after Clemens’ time, something new began to happen. A national awakening spread among the Jewish people that had survived being scattered all over the world. The long and arduous Exile was ending.
Jews began returning to the Holy Land; a trickle at first, and then later, a flood. Many of these pioneers arrived devoid of the traditional faith that their ancestors had clung to for nearly two millennia of exile.
These young, idealistic settlers were driven by an ideology called Zionism, which largely denied the role of God in these historical developments, believing that the Jewish nation, like all other nations, deserved a homeland. And what better place to replant the nation than the abandoned unwanted wilderness that they had left so long ago?
The Zionists succeeded in what no one else, Jew or non-Jew, had done. Th coaxed the land into giving forth its fruit to the people who tilled it:
“And you, my man: prophesize to the mountains of Israel, and say: Mountains of Israel, hear the word of God. You, Mountains of Israel: your branches will give, and you will carry your fruit for my People Israel, because the time is close when they will come.
… The cities will be populated, and the ruins will be rebuilt. (…) And I will be better to you than in your beginning, and you will know that I am God.”
[Source: The Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 36]
This Narrative Is Not Just for Jews
Mr. President, are you aware that this narrative is believed by billions of people all over the planet: followers of all three of the great monotheistic faiths - Islam and Christianity as well as Judaism?
Most Christians accept the Hebrew Bible’s recurrent statement that the Land of Israel is an inheritance to the Jewish nation from God. But few people know that the Quran states clearly that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel:
“And We [Allah] caused the people who had been oppressed to inherit the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, which We had blessed. And the good word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel because of what they had patiently endured. And We destroyed [all] that Pharaoh and his people were producing and what they had been building.
[Source: The Qur’an, Surah 7, 137. http://quran.com]
The Words of the Hebrew Prophets Underlie the Israeli Ethos
God spoke to the prophets so long ago because He wanted to be sure that the world would not forget His intentions to bring the Nation of Israel back home. God told the prophets that Israel’s return would be good for the rest of humanity:
And it will be,
in the end of days -
The mountain of the House of HaShem
will be established
At the head of the mountains,
And lifted high above other hills;
And all the nations will stream towards it.
And many peoples will go, and say:
“Let’s go, and go up to the mountain of God,
To the house of the Lord of Jacob -
And he will teach us of his ways,
And we will walk in his paths.”
Because from Zion will go out the Teaching,
And the word of God - from Jerusalem.
(…) And they will beat their swords into shovels,
And their spears into pruning shears;
Nation will not lift the sword against nation,
And they will no longer learn war.
[Source: Isaiah, Chapter 51]
Using The Heart Instead of Just The Head
Mr. President: What is really going on today in the Land of Israel is BIG STUFF. Bigger than Iran and its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. More significant than the Rolling Stones, and more critical to the world’s future than global warming and the impending environmental crises awaiting the generations to come.
Perhaps this visit will bring you to a new way of seeing us. And by truly knowing who we are, you may find that you could help formulate a plan for bringing genuine, lasting peace to our troubled region. That would be an achievement of a lifetime.
Yisrael (Jay) Rosenberg is a marketing and technical writer who hails from Boston. After attending Dartmouth College and working for a international management consultant firm in Washington, D.C., he came on a whim to explore Israel - and never left. He and his Israeli-born wife and four children reside in Jerusalem.