Going Nowhere Fast
Rabbi David Bar-Hayim
Machon Shilo - Torah La'am VeLaaretz
Israel is lost and directionless. Its political leaders lack vision and aspire to nothing.
Judaism is lost and directionless. It rabbinical leaders lack vision and aspire to nothing.
Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky once illustrated his criticism of mainstream Zionism with the following analogy: “I see a man limping down the street, using only one leg, even though it is apparent that nothing is wrong with the other one. I turn to him and ask: ‘Why don’t you walk on both legs?’ He replies: ‘Is there something the matter with the one that I am using?’”
Jabotinsky referred of course to the policy of “one more dunam, one more goat”, whereby the Zionist Establishment focused on building up the land piecemeal, living from day to day, all the while refusing to enunciate its vision, the goal for which it was ostensibly striving: a sovereign state for the Jewish people in their historical homeland within clearly defined borders. Thus the most fundamental issues – what kind of state were the Jewish people demanding, where would its borders be, and within what time frame? – remained unaddressed. Jabotinsky’s insight was that the leadership preferred it that way, like a man who opts to use only one of his legs.
The result of this (lack of) policy was that the typical Zionist spoke fervently of the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel but could not explain, even to himself, where the borders of his beloved homeland lay or on what basis he defined that territory. In the end, observed Shabtai Ben-Dov, it was the acceptance of the armistice lines of 1948 that “clarified” for most Zionists where the Land of Israel for which they had fought actually was. It was only “logical”, therefore, for one time Education Minister Shulamit Aloni to refer to Hebron as “Hutz Laaretz” (overseas), and for the post-Six-Day-War Left to view a return to the very heart of our homeland as an “occupation”.
I once came face to face with the results of just such a Zionist education. The year was 1993 and I was doing reserve duty on the Jordanian border. Four of us were in a command car patrolling the border, and the discussion turned to then Prime Minister Rabin’s stated willingness to negotiate with the Syrians about relinquishing the Golan Heights. The driver announced that he supported handing over the Golan for peace, at which point I asked him: “Tell me, all other considerations aside, to whom does the Golan belong, us or them?” He thought for a moment and replied truthfully “I have no idea.” Why would he? Was he, a product of the State school system established by Ben-Gurion, ever taught what territory the Jewish people claimed and why?
Israel’s political leaders are just like that driver: they truly don’t know where we belong or why, nor where we are supposed to be headed. Everything is negotiable, nothing is clear, the future is a black hole.
Israel lost its way not in 1967 but in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, before there was an Israel, by thinking small, by refusing to see the big picture, by denying the Jewish nation’s destiny. By choosing mediocrity over greatness.
Israel and Torah Judaism: Missing in Action
The same can be said for Judaism. Have you ever noticed how some religious Jews refer to themselves as “Lithuanians”? Or that there is a Jerusalem suburb named “Poland Heights”? Treat the reality of over 5 million Jews living as a sovereign nation in their homeland for the first time in 2000 years as a continuation of Dvinsk, Minsk or Pinsk; insist that Jews in the Land of Israel must all behave, in terms of their customs and Halachic practice, as if they were still in Warsaw, Sanna or Marakesh; preach that the divisions of the Diaspora must be maintained today and for all time, thus perpetuating a seriously flawed Galuth mentality indefinitely; convince yourself that the Judaism of the Galuth is the real McCoy, that there is nowhere to go from here – and that’s precisely where you’ll go. Nowhere. No greater purpose. Nothing.
When the Beth HaWa’adh beth din (Jewish court) of Machon Shilo announced last year that all Jews in Israel may consume kitniyoth (rice, corn, legumes etc.) during Pesah, some thought that it was all about doing whatever is convenient. Not so. It’s about getting Torah Judaism back on track.
At the core of any authentic conception of Torah Judaism is its Halachic system. Halacha is the practical implementation and realization of those values and concepts that the Torah teaches and that the Jewish nation holds dear. An Halachic system always reflects the philosophy and vision that a particular ideology aspires to actualize in the real world. Halacha is never neutral; it is either a help or a hindrance. It either drives the Jewish people upwards and onwards, or it weighs it down and holds it back.
One who refrains from eating rice, or soy beans, or corn starch on Pesah is not a better Jew than one who does. Halachically there is no question that it is permissible. On the other hand, one is not required to consume these items on Pesah, or at any time during the year. So what’s the problem? It focuses the mind on a non-issue. And the more meaningless Pesah stringencies are promoted, the more meaningless Judaism becomes.
Galuth Mode or Geulah Mode?
Human beings are limited. We cannot be different people at one and the same time. A Jew can function in either Galuth mode or Geulah mode; you can’t have both. If we concern ourselves with maintaining our Galuth-based identities, we have no time or inclination to wonder how it is that each Pesah we beseech Hashem that next year we might participate in the Pesah sacrifice and yet do nothing whatever to actualize this deep-seated aspiration in the real world. We have to make a choice: authentic, full-flavoured Torah, or a pale, watered-down substitute.
Judaism’s rabbinical leaders are just like that reserve duty driver: they truly do not know who and where we are or where we are supposed to be headed. They have no clue how to move on to the next stage. They are unsure of themselves, vague and uncertain about everything, preferring the familiar, downtrodden Galuth version of the Torah for the majestic, vibrant and uplifting Torah of the Land of Israel, the Judaism of Abraham, Moses, David and the Maccabees. Little wonder that when Jews once again controlled the Temple Mount in 1967, the rabbinical establishment had nothing to say other than to forbid all Jews from going there. If the truth be told, they breathed a sigh of relief when it was tossed back to the Moslems like an unwanted bone.
Judaism lost its way not in 1967 but 2500 years ago when the Jewish nation declined to take up the offer of the Persian emperor Cyrus to return to its homeland. By thinking small, by refusing to see the big picture, by denying the Jewish nation’s destiny. By choosing mediocrity over greatness, Galuth over Geulah. From that day to this, as R. Yehuda HaLevi wrote in his masterpiece The Kuzari (2:24), “our prayers for redemption are like the mindless cawings of rooks and ravens”.
If we think small, we shall indeed be so, particularly in the eyes of our enemies.
If we think big, we shall indeed be great – in the eyes of Hashem, in our own eyes, and in the eyes of the whole world.