Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
September 2nd 2011 -Volume I, Issue 39–3rd of Elul 5771
It is perhaps one of the most simple gravestones I have ever seen. One would think that for a man who almost indisputably had the greatest hand in establishing the modern State of Israel, we would find a monument or plaque filled on both sides commemorating his life and his accomplishments. Yet for Israel’s first and longest reigning Prime minister, the man who headed the Hagana and united all the diverse military factions, the visionary who oversaw operation Magic Carpet bringing thousands of Jews from Arab countries home to Israel, who in his early life was the head of World Zionist organization and the Jewish Agency, and who personally oversaw the flourishing of the Negev and the establishment of Israel’s national water carrier , the three line epithet on his modest grave was all that he wished it to state.
David Ben Gurion
*Alah Artzah 1906
*moved up to Israel
All he had done, all that he had accomplished in his simple eyes it all paled compared to his most significant accomplishment. He was a Jew that moved to Israel. It was how he wished to be remembered. It was what gave him all the inspiration he needed to build our national homeland.
This week my family and I celebrate our first “Aliyah”-versary. We came as a family of seven with children and we moved to the North. It’s a time in life when many advised it would be difficult. Your children are the wrong age. Finding the right schools would be difficult. The North is a hard place to live. It’s far away from everyone (we moved from Seattle Washington so that really wasn’t too much of a concern). Making a living is hard, the culture is different, the bureaucracy is crazy, housing is unaffordable, the reasons and arguments not to come were strong. Yet compared to what those early settlers had to go through, today’s Israel is a veritable Garden of Eden. They, as their ancestors before them for hundreds of year, came to Israel by foot, camel and dangerous seas to a country that was full of swamps, disease, poverty and daily dangers from the hostile neighbors that have always sought to destroy us. They came, as did we, because we felt that this was our home. This is where we would be connected in the deepest way to our history and our destiny. They came because just as much as Israel needs us we felt we needed it.
The past few weeks Parshiyot describe the significance of the land of Israel. Last week Parshat Re’eh describes the promise and the beauty of the land and our religious mandate to rid it of all forms of Tuma’ah and idolatary. Eretz Yisrael is meant to be more than a national homeland it is the Holy Land (thus the title of this weekly E-Mail J), a land where God’s presence can comfortably dwell. Next week’s Parsha will discuss the various mitzvot of the land Israel. According to the Ramban-Nachmanides all mitzvot were only given to be preformed ultimately in the land of Israel. It is only here that they can be experienced in their fullest spiritual expression. And then we have this week’s Torah portion the center of this triumvirate; Parshat Shoftim which delineates the establishment of a Jewish society in Israel, the creation of a Torah justice system, its officers, its religious army, and its righteous kings.
This is perhaps the most challenging of all the commandments. In our tragic 3000 year history of being a nation there has been not more than a few hundred years when we have succeeded in creating this holy society. We have conquered land, we have expanded our borders, and we have even rid the country at times of idolatry. We have also been observant of our commandments. There have always been an enduring portion of the Jewish people who have observed Shabbat, the holidays the prayers and rituals that make up Jewish life even in the harshest of conditions. Yet our greatest failure has been to create this society of a nation of God in our Promised Land. The world needs a place which would serve as a role model of what it should look like if only His presence would be reflected in the nation of Israel.
As someone who now lives in Eretz Yisrael this is failure is constantly on my mind. What can and should I do to bring that Divine presence back? The early Zionists, like Ben Gurion planned plotted and strategized in order to build a modern state, to achieve UN and world recognition and to create a country that would be a light to the world not only in terms of the advancement of technology, wisdom and development but also as a secular humanistic ethical society built on principles of kindness, justice and democratic principles. And to a large degree they were and are phenomenally successful in achieving their goals. Israel does stand out as that nation that shines not only in the primitive Middle East but in the entire world as a leader in all of those areas. But it is still not a Nation of God. And that’s not their fault- that wasn’t their training or upbringing. It’s ours…It’s mine and yours who know better and who can do better.
We have entered the month of Elul. In a few weeks we will be standing before God and reflecting on our lives. Interestingly enough Rosh Hashanah is not a time when we pray to a large degree for any of our personal requests for the upcoming year. Although our sages tell us it is the day when we will be judged. Instead the repeated theme of Rosh Hashana is for the return of Kingship of God to the Holy Land. To have his presence once again rule the world as it was meant to be. We daven on the most important day of the year not for long life, health, Shalom Bayit, marriage, our children, or even for a better livelihood. We pray for the big picture. For the day to come when we may live a life that is a fulfillment of our chosen mandate.
If this is the focus of what will be our prayers on Rosh Hashana, then these days of Elul are meant to be the preparation for those prayers. We are in a time when we each have to start asking ourselves what we could be doing more to bring about that ultimate day, not only for ourselves and our families but for the entire nation. Just as Ben Gurion the hero of the modern state of Israel gave his entire life so that his Aliyah La’Aretz would be one that left this country in a better place than it was before; a step closer to the ultimate Redemption hopefully. So to must we plan and actualize our dreams and the hopes and prayers of all the generations before us and the will of our Father in Heaven to once again restoring the Malchut Shadai- the kingdom of heaven to his holy city. May that day come soon Be’Ezrat Hashem
Have a truly amazing Shabbat
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Kibbutz Sdei Boker- Established in 1952 in the negev the Kibbutz is best known as the retirement place and “dream home” of David ben Gurion and his wife Paula. It is said that he came here early in his career and was taken by the kibbutzniks literally living the dream of bringing life to the desert in fulfillment of all of the prophecys of our ancestors. Today one can tour the Kibbutz and tzrif Ben Gurion where he lived worked, and mostly wrote letters to young children from around the world who asked him the simple questions of what life in Israel was all about.
In one of the letters he is quoted as saying
The desert provides us with the best opportunity to begin again. This is a vital element of our renaissance in Israel. For it is in mastering nature that man learns to control himself. It is in this sense, more practical than mystic, that I define our Redemption on this land. Israel must continue to cultivate its nationality and to represent the Jewish people without renouncing its glorious past. It must earn this – which is no small task – a right that can only be acquired in the desert.
When I looked out my window today and saw a tree standing before me, the sight awoke in me a greater sense of beauty and personal satisfaction than all the forests that I have crossed in Switzerland and Scandinavia. For we planted each tree in this place and watered them with the water we provided at the cost of numerous efforts. Why does a mother love her children so? Because they are her creation. Why does the Jew feel an affinity with Israel? Because everything here must still be accomplished. It depends only on him to participate in this privileged act of creation. The trees at Sde Boker speak to me differently than do the trees planted elsewhere. Not only because I participated in their planting and in their maintenance, but also because they are a gift of man to nature and a gift of the Jews to the compost of their culture.
May we all soon merit to see the fulfillment of that dream….