From freedom to independence

When God elected Abraham, he promised to make him a “great nation” through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed.

moon 521 (photo credit: Israel Weiss)
moon 521
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
Now that we have our Jewish state, what is the great challenge of religious Zionism? The festival of Passover, which recently concluded, is immediately linked to the upcoming festival of Shavuot by the Hebrew Bible: “On the morrow of the Rest Day [rabbinically interpreted to mean the first festival day of Passover] you shall count for yourselves seven full weeks... and you shall bring a new gift offering to the Lord... the first fruits” (Leviticus 23:9-17).
The Bible is mandating that at the advent of the second day of the Feast of Matzot the kohen (priest) should bring an omer of barley to the Holy Temple, barley being the first of the grains to ripen in Israel. All of Israel then counts for 49 days, until, on the 50th day, the kohen brings an offering of two wheat loaves to the Temple, wheat being the last and most significant of the grains to ripen in Israel, for the celebration of Shavuot (Weeks), the Festival of the First Fruits.
Hence we begin the preparation for the Festival of the First Fruits on the second day of Passover! Indeed, we make reference to this upcoming festival during the “study portion” of the Passover Seder, the retelling and reexperiencing of Egyptian enslavement and the Exodus into freedom.
The Mishna mandates that we expound “Arami oved Avi” – the biblical portion (Deuteronomy 26:5) that every Jewish farmer recited upon bringing his first fruits to the Temple. Hence Shavuot literally comes into the Seder.
Moreover, Passover is incomplete without Shavuot – the Festival of Matzot is incomplete without the Festival of the First Fruits. Our physical freedom is incomplete without the ethical, moral and ritual laws which are yet to come at the Revelation at Sinai (Shavuot), which will mandate responsible conduct that prevents freedom from degenerating into lawlessness.
And matza itself is no more than incomplete bread, unfinished pumpernickel. Barley (the Omer sacrifice) is animal fare; bread (brought to the Temple at Shavuot) is the human’s staff of life.
Passover may have freed us from Egyptian slavery, but it merely thrust us into an arid desert. We were still without a homeland whose earth would provide us with nutritious grains, vegetables, fruits and natural resources; we were still without borders that would provide us with security from our enemies.
Moreover, protected borders and sufficient material bounty would enable us to develop a thriving culture based on our Torah – our Constitution, which could well become a magnet and guide for the other nations of the world.
Hence Passover through to Shavuot creates one continuum, with the days of the sefira (count) being a kind of intermediate days, and the Festival of First Fruits serving as the climax and completion of a 50-day long celebration (for this reason the talmudic Sages refer to the one day of Shavuot as “Atzeret,” the conclusion.) Once we understand the incomplete character of Passover – freedom from slavery but still without a homeland – we can better understand the true significance of Israel’s Independence Day, and its calendar placement after Passover and on the way to Jerusalem Day and Shavuot.
When God initially elected Abraham, he promised to make him a “great nation” through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
The blessing would come when the descendants of Abraham would teach compassionate righteousness and moral justice to all the nations of the world (Gen. 18:18, 19). For that to come about we would have to become a great nation.
This is certainly the Divine charge for which the nation of Israel was placed on earth; the introduction to the Revelation-Decalogue at Sinai called for us to be a “holy nation and a kingdom of kohen-teachers” (to humanity) – since the God of Israel is God of the entire earth, and He is concerned for all of humanity.
And certainly in a global village all of humanity is mutually intertwined and interdependent.
Hence, in addition to the national covenant of land and seed (Gen. 15) and the religious covenant at Sinai, there is a third covenant right before our entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 26:15-19, 27 and 28:1- 14). This is the universal code of ethics, at the point of entry into and exit from of the Land of Israel (Shechem, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal), to be written on pillars of stone in all 70 languages. This covenant expresses our obligation to teach the world! All our prophets speak of Israel’s function as God’s witnesses to humanity, as a light and a banner to the nations. And this is the major function of the third Holy Temple, to which all the nations will flock, to learn from our ways and to walk in our paths, to live in peace and tranquility (Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Zechariah 7, 8, 9).
We cannot begin to perform this God-given task unless our nation is successfully dealing with the same problems as other nations (poverty, minorities, war ethics).
The Scroll of Ruth, read on Shavuot, goes a long way in demonstrating how the agricultural laws in ancient Israel did exactly this vis-a-vis the poor and the stranger. The goal of Israel playing a parallel role today is the true challenge of Zionism in our glorious, fateful and momentous times.
Shabbat shalom
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and graduate programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.