Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Miracles Are Not Made in One Day: Celebrating a Jewish State
Prof. Eugene Narrett
Every year during the month of Iyar, sometime in May, debate resumes in Israel about whether those who love and seek the sovereignty and settlement of a Jewish state at least in all the land west of the Jordan should celebrate the official independence day Iyar 3 (this year, May 8) . Given the failure of every government, increasingly obvious since 1967 and in place with the official Zionist leaders by 1930, to fulfill this promise, some argue that to celebrate the existence of a State that works with the enemies of the Jewish people to frustrate redemption is confusion and self-contempt. Others still see the day, for all the failures of all the governments as a miracle, the beginnings of the truly sovereign Israel that the greatest sages say will mark the redemption .
Surely Jews do not celebrate the governments perhaps not even the quasi-Jewish state established by those governments. Those who love Israel and its role in the world should celebrate a significant step in the achievement of Jewish sovereignty because miracles are not made in one day.
May 14, 1948 (3 Iyar 5708), when David Ben Gurion read the Declaration of Israel’s independence was a great day, an eventful day, a disappointing day and part of a miracle unfolding for a very long time. The expulsion of the British occupiers took almost twenty-six years of explaining, urging, appeals to justice, scholarship, organization and armed resistance by many people. Many of them opposed and even hunted by the official Zionists who played ball with the Brits. Steady building of the yishuv proceeded during twenty-eight years of incitement by British officials and officers beginning in March 1920 . The miracle that was more apparent that day in May surely included Aaron Aaronsohn, the resourceful and self-sacrificing members of Nili who made possible the British-Australian-Jewish conquest of the Turks and Germans, the Jewish Legion and its main promoter, organizer and officer, Zev Jabotinsky, the pioneers of the 19th century, their daily heroism and labor, the heroic sanctity and aliyah of Rabbis Moshe Chaim Luzzato and Chaim ben Attar in the 1730s …the Jews who in defiance of their own government and the Quartet, the powers of the world are rebuilding Homesh day by day; all those who throughout the ages, since the war for independence led by Bar Kokhba, the Maccabees; the return to Zion under Ezra and rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; the resistance to Babylon and Assyria… miracles are the work of many souls and much time, discernment, doubt, hope and self-sacrifice. Everyone has a part to play and for the miracle to reach full ripeness, everyone must do their part. The redemption of Israel is a vast work of the art of making a holy life; it has a cast of millions, a span of millennia and is celebrated everyday Jews perform mitzvoth, be it planting a date tree or blades of wheat, praying the morning prayer in the promised Land. All else is practice, necessary but inadequate, “the chirping of small birds” .
One could write a book on the miracle of Jewish history, memory, courage, faith and hope but here we will look at a brief strand of signal events that show how the renewal of Jewish sovereignty in the Promised Land.
The sages teach that the first redemption, from Egypt is the pattern for the final redemption when Israel regains the sovereignty it rejoiced in on the shore of the Reed Sea (Yam Suf, Exodus 15). “This is my God and I will build him a sanctuary; the God of my father, and I will exalt Him. Hashem is Master of war; His name is Hashem” .
But the miraculous destruction of the armies, arrogance and denial of the Almighty by Pharaoh did not begin at the sea, whose miracle was accomplished through the forces of nature, human emotion, faith and deeds, but rooted centuries before that signal event in world history. When Moshe returned from his forty years tending flocks for Jethro, he had to accept the providence of the Eternal and gave full play to his plausible human doubts and fear. He knew and witnessed the degradation and decimation of the Hebrews in Egypt. It also was necessary for the Hebrews to hear his words, recognize the code of remembrance (pakod yifkod, pakod pakadti) passed long before from Joseph to his brothers and from them through their generations. These beaten and beaten down slaves had to remember, affirm and follow a fellow speaking in the name of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob for all that followed to ensue (Genesis 50:24-5, Exodus 3:15-19). And Pharaoh had to be gripped by his lust for power and supremacy for the drama to play out as the Highest Wisdom knew: humans addicted to power are not rational; they cannot read “the writing on the wall.”
And these words, this promise by Joseph, so long treasured in memory and actualized in faith (emunah, from amen) did not begin as he lay dying. The unification of the brothers, shevet achim gam yachad, even in a foreign land, required that Jacob descend to a slave empire from the land of freedom; even the enormous incentive of seeing Joseph could not put him at ease about this, only a direct assurance from the Highest, ‘speaking’ to Jacob’s faculty of knowledge, the form of the soul (Genesis 46:1-5). And the re-union of the brothers required their prior separation, quarrel and jealousy, which hardly seemed like ingredients in “a great deliverance” (lifleitah gedolah, Genesis 45:4-13), but it was. Joseph had knowledge and some traits that his brothers could not but fear and detest; they even disturbed Jacob: “what, are we to come – I and your mother and your brothers and bow down to you to the ground!?” (ibid. 37:9-14). Yet Jacob sensed providence in the tensions and despite the obvious risks, sent Joseph to his brothers after taking him for “deep counsel” “from the depth [valley] of Hebron to Shechem – Elon Moreh, a geographic line of holiness, history and providence that is central to Israel’s ultimate redemption, as now all the nations (the “Quartet”), led by the powers of Esau seek to preempt .
The miracle of strife, grief, repentance, love and reunion that set the stage for the terrible oppression foretold to Abraham (Genesis 15) required Jacob’s lonely persistence, drawing only on the example of his forefather’s lives, principles and teachings to see him through the manipulations and threats of Uncle Lavan to found and nurture his family, to appease, fend off and remain distinct from the deceitful, appetitive and murderous Esau and return to his fathers’ settlement in “the fields of Mamre, Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron” (ibid 23). Beyond this heroism stretch the fields of Isaac’s persistence and restraint, courageous self-sacrifice and the insight, unshakable faith and bravery of Abraham from his formative proclamation of the living God in Mesopotamia, Ur Kasdim, the land of the Chaldeans which remains in turmoil to this day, his graciousness to his nephew and to all wayfarers, and his prowess and bravery in battle (Genesis 14:10-16) . It is for this grace and courage, this loving kindness and strength that Abraham was chosen and with specific offspring (Genesis 21-2, “please take your son, your only one, whom you love – Isaac,” 26-8, “nevertheless, he [Jacob] shall remain blessed!” 35, passim); these qualities of seemingly superhuman persistence, remembrance, honor and faith imbue all Israel, however clouded at times and denote its history, the history of a living, developing miracle. Because it is the proof of miracle and of the design of the Creator, of the coherence and grace of the world that the powers of the world, that worship their own works and fantasies want above all to blot them out from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered anymore” (psalm 83) buried beneath the big lie of “Palestine” and a “Palestinian people” soon to be submerged in a Middle East Free Trade Association, itself merged into the Mediterranean Peace and Prosperity Zone itself interlocked with the EU and NAU, a new Tower of Babel on the way to global tyranny and fragmentation, for the “force and fraud” of tyranny are always a step away from anarchy, and it is from this combination of tyranny and disorder that David prayed for deliverance through Solomon and his seed and that the Eternal One formed Israel as an alternative model. “He” knew that it would be a battle in which every evil impulse of human nature would rise up in rebellious longing to join the animal world and bury the sparks of our responsibility, dignity and freedom, the essence of Yom Kippur and the Jubilee year, the return to one’s patrimony being the foundation of freedom and the charity and national consciousness that attend it (Leviticus 25).
The miracle continues to unfold: it can be only by heroism and self-sacrifice, undermined in our days, not for the first time, by the appeal, blackmail and bribery of Yavan-Edom. Battles, literal battles must be fought, for a pre-occupation with books, particularly books of empty wisdom, like astrology “abolished our kingdom, destroyed our Beit HaMikdash, prolonged our exile and brought us to our present predicament,” wrote Rambam . They imagined that these wisdoms were glorious and beneficial and they did not study warfare and land conquest…therefore, the prophets called them fools, and they certainly were fools for they followed vanities that cannot avail nor rescue…” (cf. 1 Samuel 12:21). Rav Teichtal comments “we should use the natural means that become available to us [to re-conquer the land, re-establish the kingdom and rebuild the Temple] then Hashem will send us heavenly assistance. “Each stage [of redemption] has its own time,” he adds, “like the rising of the dawn. This is why the Davidic dynasty is called “sun” as it says, “his throne shall be like the sun before Me” (cf. psalm 89:37).” The sun will not rise before dawn, Rav Teichtal notes; “God will bless the man who is zealous for His Name” and begins with all means to bring on the dawn and day of Israel’s redemption. “Therefore, the gedolim and shepherds of Israel must lovingly accept any opportunity for redemption and strive to bring it to completion” . “Settling Eretz Israel is an extremely precious mitzvah. It is the sum-total of all other mitzvoth and encompasses the entire Torah…our nation’s entire existence depends on it…for if Jews would not live there, the Torah would vanish, God forbid” .
The great and martyred Rav Teichtal did not know the extent to which Great Britain and America interdicted the aliyah which the League of Nations had mandated that Britain facilitate. He did not guess, in his fervent love and desire to awaken and save that a group of Jews would become so hostile to their fellows and to Torah that they would ally with foreign interests to uproot and crush Jewish settlement and a Jewish State. Despite these horrors, human choices that have complicated redemption with pain and confusion, the Jewish people, the Children of Israel continue to show cohesion that is a miracle of shared purpose and of some segula, precious quality of soul in their history and awareness of the Creator and purpose. Our time is one that uniquely tests these qualities as they approach possibility of great fulfillment. That is why they rush to blot out the past, to bury Israel.
From a different perspective, Dr. Daniel Pipes captured the contemporary situation well as Israelis and Jews everywhere wonder whether or how to celebrate the founding of the State, by the wrong people and with purposes that were partly wrong but that harnessed long pent energies to accomplish miracles: “for all its achievements, the Jewish state lives under a curse that other polities never face: the threat of elimination. Its remarkable progress over the decades has not liberated it from a multi-pronged peril that includes nearly every means imaginable: weapons of mass destruction, conventional military attack, terrorism, internal subversion, economic blockade, demographic assault, and ideological undermining. No state faces such an array of threats; indeed, probably none in history ever has…”
No, none ever has or will; the attacks upon the restoration of renewal are attacks upon the humanity, memory and nature of human beings and the possibility of a humane society of abundance and peace. So yes, celebrate 3 Iyar 5708 but also grieve its misdirection and bad leadership; celebrate what was gained despite needless costs and celebrate what can be done when Israel has a proper flag, a banner featuring the Menorah, testifying to the Creator for which all hunger, and the lions of Judah to indicate the specific place from which the knowledge, gratitude and service denoted by the Menorah are to be realized. And if it is Israeli sovereignty then that must mean Jewish sovereignty that is celebrated and fulfilled . Know above all that the miracle to celebrate is the Hebrew discovery that we are far more than clever animals, that there is a Creator, purposefulness and a purpose eloquently described in the Hebrew Scriptures and that human intentions, words and deeds can realize the miracle everyday like the steady lightening to luminescence and brilliance of the dawn, Kokhav Ya’akov. This process of realizing the miracle was addressed by Rav Kook in his comments on Tehillim 126, “we were like dreamers”; the dreams, hopes, remembrance and efforts to live the dream prepare the road for the people to flow to the holy hill and the ultimate and ongoing celebration that is the antithesis of the descending dark road down which the powers are taking the world. There is a choice and we all have a part to play.
1. The Hebrew calendar integrates the solar and lunar cycles. Days and weeks are marked by the earth’s rotation around it own axis and around the sun; festivals and months are measured by the cycles of the moon, -- its orbit around the earth. The sanctification of each month and Sabbath are like the mother and father of Jewish sanctification of time and the three pilgrim festivals plus Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the annual sanctifications of the entire nation done together in their time. Approximately once every three years a new month (a second Adar, “strength” and joy) is added to the calendar so that Pesach (“Passover”) always occurs in the spring, as is stipulated (Exodus 23:14-15, 12:14-28) and their basis in the land persists, Sukkoth for example being both the fall harvest festival and that of the sanctification of the altar and the joy of Israel’s holiness, modeled for all nations. Pesach is considered the first month in the annual cycle of holiness as the birth of the nation at and on the way to Sinai inaugurated its mission of sanctifying the ‘everyday’ world. The creation of the natural human world and human history begins with the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) on Rosh Hashanah.
2. Rambam Hilchot Melachim 11:1-4 and 12:1-2 on Rav Shmuel in Sanhedrin 99a3 and Brachot 34b; Hilchot Teshuva 9-10. The point is that the final redemption is a process, its duration influenced greatly by the actions, or failures to discern and act of human beings, even the Messiah. “One should not presume that the Messianic king must work wonders and miracles, bring about new creations within the world, resurrect the dead or perform other similar deeds. This is not true” (11:3); “the main difference is our liberation from subjugation to foreign kingdoms” (12:2). If a king, appointed by a council of 71 sages, “fights the wars of God, defeating all the nations around him” (against the enemies of Israel, land and people), “is learned in Torah and observant of mitzvot we may consider him the Messiah. If he succeeds in the above, builds the Temple in its place and gathers the dispersed of Israel he is definitely the Messiah (11:4).
3. See Shmuel Katz, Days of Fire (Doubleday 1968) for 1939-48 and his two volume biography of Zev Jabotinsky, Lone Wolf (NY 1996) for in-depth treatment of the 1914-40 period beginning with the efforts to secure permission to form a Jewish Legion to fight for the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from the Turks. For multi-faceted Jewish efforts spanning four continents in this period and covering fields of diplomacy, science, agriculture, war and espionage see Katz’s The Aaronsohn Saga (Gefen 2000; English 2007). Katz (1914-2008) is the great historian of modern Israel beginning with the birth of Jabotinsky in 1880. See chapter four of his Battleground (1983, 3rd revised edition) for a short history of Jewish continuity in the land and one grasps the lengthy process involving millions of people that began producing notable fruits by the 19th century.
4. Rav Chaim Ben Attar (1696-1740) of Livorno Italy made aliyah with his congregation in 1736 and built a synagogue in Jerusalem. Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ramchal (1706-46) author or Derekh Hashem, Daas Tevunos and many other great works made aliyah in 1743. Nachmanides, the Ramban, author of the magisterial symposium-commentary on the Books of Moshe, the heroic expositor at the Disputation of Barcelona made aliyah in old age in 1267 soon after the desolation of Eretz Yisrael by the Mongols, oversaw renewal of the Jewish community there and built a synagogue.
5. Rav Yehuda ha Levi (1080-1140) in his Kuzari 2:24; the Rav made aliyah from Spain where he was a distinguished scholar and liturgical poet and was murdered in Jerusalem to sanctify God’s Holy Name.
6. Exodus 15:2-3, passim. Note regarding the pronouns and human qualities (emotions, actions) attributed to the Eternal One, the Highest Wisdom (HaChakhma HaElyonah as Ramchal denotes the Eternal) that Rambam explains the familiar Jewish wisdom that “the Torah speaks in the language of man” (Yesodei HaTorah 1:9, 12, cf. Berachoth 31B, Ketubot 67a). It uses “metaphoric imagery” (mashal). “Does He have a sword? Does He need a sword to kill?” Rambam asks rhetorically. “His power is not the power of a body; form and separation are not relevant to him…He is unified and there exists no unity similar to His in the world… He has no image or form…’Can you find the comprehension of God? Can you find the ultimate of the Almighty?” [Job 11:7]. It is not within the potential of a living man to comprehend this matter in its entirety. Neither sleep nor waking, silence nor speech, joy nor sadness, anger nor laughter in the human understanding are appropriate to Him” (ibid. 1.7, 9-11, 2:1-6). The Tanakh speaks in “prophetic visions and parables” in our attempt to grasp how the Highest Wisdom feels in the world to us. Our “essential nature, the soul of all flesh…is the form of man who is perfect in knowledge which knows and comprehends immaterial ideas…knowledge is the form of the soul [HaDaat shehi tzurat HaNefesh] and it is this form of the soul, which does not require a body…which comprehends knowledge above matter, knows the Creator and will exist forever. This is the form of man “in our image and likeness” [Genesis 1:26] (ibid. 4:8-9, the “life energy,” chayyot HaKodesh that is our essential being, our DNA and cosmic plasma around which the complementary body and soul (guf and neshama) were formed in the garden (ibid. 2:7, Genesis 2:7). This explication by Rambam (Maimonides) of the essentials of the Eternal One and of man is a key stage in fulfilling the miracle of redemption when its knowledge will purge the nations of their fantastic conceptual dross, enable them to speak a pure language and live in peace with Israel whose integrity (shaleim) alone will bring forth peace (shalom) as the etymology, scripted by the Highest Wisdom denotes.
7. The sages note that Hebron is a mountain with a series of peaks so ask, what can the phrase “mai-emek Hevron,” (the depth of valley of Hebron) connote. Their consensus is that Jacob took Joseph to the double cave (Machpelah) where Abraham and Isaac, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah were buried to imbue his words with their strength and their wisdom for what Jacob expected would be a very long and momentous journey of strife, enduring love, contrition and reunion, all as part of the complex path by which through our free will and humanity we take various ways to arrive at the fulfillment of Wisdom when “ripeness is all.” See Ramchal, Derekh Hashem 2.3.5-7, passim
8. See Ramban’s discussion of the comments of Rashi and the sages on this passage of the combined honor and graciousness of Abraham to the defeated kings of Sodom et al, his pursuit and defeat of the five kings, and his rescue of Lot, “he deployed against them by night, smote them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus,” Ramban, Bereishis Volume I (Mesorah 2004), 326-31
9. Iggrot Shonot, quoted by Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, Em HaBanim Smeichah: On Eretz Israel, Redemption and Unity (Jerusalem 2000; English translation, Rav Moshe Lichtman), 272
10. Ibid. 266-70
11. ibid. 236-7, quoting Rav Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer) and Rambam in Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh
12. Arabs who increasingly use the day to commemorate their “catastrophe” (defeat in 1948) and to attack Jews, in Israeli know that the issue is Jewish sovereignty which is what Israeli sovereignty must become. Judaism is not democracy (neither is the American Republic meant to be) though it has democratic aspects. Neither can a Jewish state be multicultural, a fractured polity with multiple identities as now is the case.