As Israel miraculously approaches its 75th Independence Day, too many people seem to be focused on overhead clouds instead of the shining sun; fixated on the troubles within Israel’s borders and the dangers beyond them instead of the brilliance bursting forth from the nation of Israel in realms galore.
To this I say, beshaat chedveta, chedveta! At times of rejoicing, rejoice! (And at times of sorrow, be sorrowful, beshaat avla, avla.) This was the response given by the fourth generation Mishna sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha to a non-Jew who challenged him with a theological question about God regretting the creation of the world.
This also was the answer of the late, great Rabbi Yehuda Amital to his students in Yeshiva Har Etzion on Israel’s 55th Independence Day in 2002, following 18 months of bloody terror attacks that left more than 100 Israelis dead. Beshaat chedveta, chedveta; beshaat avla, avla (there is a time to rejoice, and a time to weep): (Ecclesiastes (3:4)).
Life in Israel is full of meaning and delight
So, at this time of rejoicing, let us count our personal and national blessings. Life in Israel is full of meaning and delight – adorned by sacrifice, commitment, achievement, and joy; the crucial ingredients that make life satisfying and exciting, and uniquely so for Jews who have long awaited a national return to Zion.
Let us remind ourselves that, until 75 years ago and for the last 2000 years, the Jewish people had no national home. Instead, it suffered Diaspora, dispersion, degradation, and disaffiliation, and even near-extermination.
Alas, attempts to annihilate the Jewish people in Israel (threats that come primarily from Iran) and to persecute them abroad continue apace, but the people of Israel are no longer defenseless.
In fact, in aggregate Israel is stronger than any of its enemies and stronger than all its enemies combined. Major military threats to Israel have diminished as Arab societies and armies crumble across the Middle East. And the Abraham Accords have wrought a tectonic change for the better in the regional strategic infrastructure.
My net assessment is that Israel is winning on all battlefronts, even though there are inevitable conflicts ahead. Neither the perpetual Palestinian conundrum, nor the Iranian threat to Israel, nor the unstable regional situation dim my optimism.
And Israel’s hand remains outstretched for peace, whenever its adversaries are truly ready for a levelheaded settlement.
Moreover, Israel’s dramatic drive to succeed in all aspects of life continues relentlessly, despite the many current and looming challenges, with spectacular results: Outstanding science and top-notch technology; excellent doctors and in most cases first-class health care; elevated levels of Torah study; and yes, vibrant democracy.
Israel also enjoys a strong currency; massive foreign investment; innovative water desalinization and natural gas solutions; multiple humanitarian commitments abroad; continuing (although slow) aliyah and immigrant absorption; and most of all, sensational youth activism and undimmed patriotism.
Soft power attacks on Israel – things like international campaigns to divest from Israel and to sanction Israel – mostly have fallen flat. In fact, the Chinese, Indians, Moroccans, Gulf Arab businessmen and investors, and even Europeans are lining up to buy Israeli technologies, not to boycott them.
Furthermore, and perhaps most important of all, Israelis are neither crushed nor dispirited by their challenges. They remain quite resilient and motivated to build an even better future. And this gives Israel fortitude for the long haul ahead.
Indeed, this month’s Independence Day polls affirm the optimism and patriotism of Israelis. A vast majority of Israelis believe that the country’s successes outweigh its failures. The current controversies over judicial reform, haredi military draft, religion and state and more, have rattled elements of national solidarity, but I believe that this is reparable.
I do not buy into the current doomsday discourse about irreparable depredations in Israel’s democratic moorings. It is neither accurate nor wise. Israel is far haler and heartier than the worked-into-a-frenzy judicial reform activists and protesters would have us believe. Political compromise, and societal calm, is possible, even though disagreements will persist.
So, despite apocalyptic agonizers, overwrought friends, boycotters, and detractors – I still sense that the Heavens are shining, not collapsing, upon Israel.
Judaism in Israel
ISRAEL ALSO is, more than ever, a nation of believers. A renaissance of Jewish identity is underway, which can be heard in the verses of prayer in popular music, seen in outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat celebrations at public entertainment spaces, and felt in all-night Torah study sessions on Shavuot – even in Tel Aviv.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 80% of secular Israelis believe in “the God of Israel.” 80%! In my view, this means that 80% (of the 40% of Israelis who define themselves as secular) are not truly secular. They believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They believe in Divine providence over the Jewish People and a Divine presence in Jewish history.
When you add to the mix the 20% of Israelis who call themselves dati (National-Religious) and haredi (ultra-Orthodox), as well as the 40% of Israelis who consider themselves traditional (masorti) this means that Israel is a deeply believing nation.
In other words, while not everybody practices traditional Judaism, just about everybody in Israel senses that this nation is on a grand meta-historic journey which is connected to spiritual powers and moral heritage invested in the Jewish people. These assets have sustained Jews through the centuries and brought them home to the Land of Israel.
THIS BELIEF in the power of Jewish history animated by ancient faith, explains much about Israel today. It explains the willingness of Israelis to sacrifice for independence. It explains their drive to succeed in the arts and sciences and to share their advances with the world. It explains their resolute attachment to Jerusalem.
It explains why Israeli leaders sometimes stubbornly refuse to accept rational calculations of diplomatic cost/benefit that are politely (and sometimes impolitely) impressed on them by allies. It explains why Israelis can shake-off the bleak and sinister prognostications advanced by both friends and enemies.
It explains why those who consider history only in terms of national politics and international relations underestimate or misjudge Israel. They apply temporal yardsticks of measurement to Israel but fail to fathom the processes at work behind the curtain of current affairs.
They are confused by Israel’s deep sense of historical mission, which blurs the lines between imagination and reality, between the possible and the feasible. They fail to understand that Israel is guided by an astral calculus that is not always perceptible.
As Ambassador Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Herzog (1921-1972) said, “In the sweep of history, there have been greater battles, larger transfers and emigrations of populations, bigger construction and technological projects, more eminently impressive displays of might. So, in secular terms, Israel is not that big a deal. But as vindication of spirit, as validation of tenacious faith, as proof of the Jewish People’s right of return to its indigenous home, Israel’s establishment and advancement is a very big deal indeed.”
“In the sweep of history, there have been greater battles, larger transfers and emigrations of populations, bigger construction and technological projects, more eminently impressive displays of might. So, in secular terms, Israel is not that big a deal. But as vindication of spirit, as validation of tenacious faith, as proof of the Jewish People’s right of return to its indigenous home, Israel’s establishment and advancement is a very big deal indeed.”Yaacov Herzog
Herzog continued: “History knows no parallel to the prophecies of the Bible, which foretold the break-up of a people into a thousand pieces across the world yet destined to persevere for centuries and return to their indigenous homeland. This is a defy-all-odds saga of metaphysical union spanning centuries between a people, their God, and a land.
“This is the celebration of a nation, who at the moment of ultimate nadir, of devastating Holocaust, rose from the ashes, armed with little more than conviction and a historical consciousness that promised renewal, to stake claim to their ancestry. This is redemption, providential consolation,” he concluded.
THE REDEEMED WORLD described by Isaiah is not yet upon us. But that just means Israelis must work harder to create it.
On Independence Day in 1999, Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein told his students (also in Yeshiva Har Etzion) that it was up to them to ensure that the framework for national renaissance created in the State of Israel would be “vibrant, value-driven, and meaningful,” less it become, God forbid, “fossilized and hollow, an outer shell without inner content.”
Quoting Psalms 22:32, “They shall come and tell His righteousness to a born nation,” he said: “We need to have a feeling of destiny, of mission, of individual holiness and national holiness... We must create our state not only as a national, political, sovereign, civic entity, but as an entity rooted in (redemption from) Egypt and Sinai, in the Torah of the prophets, in the ideology of the sages – a nation born with faith and values. We must birth it, we must accompany it, we must shape it, and we must build it.
“It is this task that should animate us, as we ‘tell His righteousness’ in giving us the State of Israel.”
The writer is a senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy and National Security. The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns over the past 26 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.