My teacher’s father, Rav Yehuda Leib Halevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, kept a special Shabbat knife in his cabinet. It had a special etching on its handle that read, Medinat Ysrael (State of Israel), and Baal HaSulam used it only to slice the challah as he blessed Hamotzi on the eve of Shabbat. He cherished Israel, and prayed for it to become what he believed it should.
Today we are celebrating our 68th Independence Day. Our country started poor, tiny, and highly dependent on its allies. Almost 70 years later, Israel is still small, but it is far more robust, confident, populated, and technologically advanced. It has even become a military regional power. But has Israel become independent?
A Worldwide Boycott
If we go by Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, being independent means that we are not subject to control by others, and do not require or rely on something or someone else. Judging by our international status, we clearly do not fit the category. Not only are we dependent on other countries, but our dependence is being used against us as more and more institutions, organizations, and countries are boycotting Israel politically, academically, and economically.
It is not as if Israel is the only country that is dependent on others for its survival. In truth, no country on the planet can argue independence. In an era of globalization, self-sufficiency is a fabrication of politicians and power-hungry rulers, who flaunt the word before the crowd at times of mass festivities. They call out, “We will maintain our independence and our sovereignty today, tomorrow, and hereafter,” when in truth, no country can survive alone, especially not Israel, whose very right to exist is being questioned daily.
In a sense, even UNESCO’s recent declaration that Israel has no historic claim on Temple Mount is a type of boycott. And judging by the overwhelming majority that supported the decision, it will not be difficult for the organization to pass a similar declaration concerning Israel’s historic right to Jerusalem, and subsequently to all of Israel. From there it will be only a matter of time before the UN Security Council decides to cancel the 1947 resolution to give the Jews a home in Palestine.
The Future Is in Our Hands
You could argue that if this is the case then there is no cause for celebration. I think there is. As bleak as things may seem, Israel has more potential for prosperity than any other country. Despite the threats, it is the only country in the world whose future is in its own hands. If we pursue the role for which we have been given sovereignty, we will become the nations’ favorite, instead of our current situation.
Only If We All Unite…
Pursuing our role means living as is required of the Israeli nation. Our people was established as a nation on the basis of mutual responsibility and love of others. Unity was our motto, and as long as we were able to maintain even a trace of it, we were able to maintain sovereignty over the land. And once we lost our union, we were also exiled from the land.
Throughout the ages, our sages were keenly aware of the importance of unity, as were our leaders in the early years of the state. David Ben Gurion wrote, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus, 19:18) is the superior commandment in Judaism. With these three words, the eternal, human law of Judaism has been formed… The state of Israel will be worthy of its name only if its social, economic, political, and judicial structure are based upon these three eternal words.”
A.D. Gordon echoed Ben Gurion’s words when he wrote, “‘All of Israel are responsible for one another’ … [and] only where people are responsible for one another there is Israel.” And finally, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, reviver of the Hebrew language, added, “We have yet to open our eyes and see that only unity can save us. Only if we all unite … to work in favor of the entire nation, our labor will not be in vain.”
On Light and Independence
However, Israel’s unity was never intended to be a goal in and of itself. When we united and became a nation, it was not in order to be a lone star faintly sparkling in pitch dark sky. We were intended to be “a light unto nations”—to show the world the way to unity. The Book of Zohar writes (Aharei Mot), “‘How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to also sit together.’ …You, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part … and by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
This sense of Jewish purpose to correct the world has pervaded the Jewish mindset throughout the ages. Martin Buber wrote, “We want the state of Israel not for the Jews; we want it for humanity. The construction of the new humanity will not take place without the special power of Judaism.” And Rav Kook adds likewise: “Israel’s purpose is to unite the entire world into a single family.”
Today, wherever we turn, the world is blaming us of some wrongdoing. The only thing we need to do about it is unite. Our sages and our scriptures were right; world peace depends on our unity, as it is written (Sefat Emet [Language of Truth]), “The children of Israel became responsible to correct the entire world.”
It turns out that our strength, and therefore independence, and the world’s strength and independence depend entirely on our willingness to unite. If we choose unity, in order to convey it to the world, we will see a dramatic change for the better. This will be the beginning of our being “a light unto nations.”
If we unite, the mutual dependence that is burdening the world will turn to mutual support. We will not need to teach the nations about unity; they will simply feel that this is how it’s meant to be. And just as now the more they hate each other, the more they turn against us, when they unite, the more they love each other, the more they’ll turn toward us.
So this Independence Day, let us finally begin to be Medinat Ysrael. Let us be a country that is united in mutual responsibility, whose people strive to love their neighbors as themselves, and wish to pass that unity onto the entire world.
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