On Israel’s 75th Anniversary

On Israel’s 75th Anniversary

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

Apropos of the wonderful weekend we spent with Rabbi Dr. Daniel Gordis, this week’s Torah portion is Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, a double portion. In Acharei Mot, we follow up on the death of Nadav and Abihu, who perished as a result of the “eish zarah,” the alien fire they brought into the Tent of Meeting. Their sinful deed was punished by death. Their father, Aaron, remained silent. The lesson is difficult, but Torah teaches that God holds those who are close to God to a higher standard.

Such high standards are what the next portion, Kedoshim, explains for us. The Holiness Code in Leviticus 19, begins with these words, “You shall be holy for I, God, am holy.” Two interpretations suggest that, first, we will be holy in the future when we fulfill mitzvot, commandments, both ethical and ritual. Or, second, we are already holy, as God is holy. The imperfect grammatical form suggests that we will be holy in the future even as we are in the present.

Either way, a lesson we can draw from these texts and interpretations provides some clarity on matters in Israel, today. The protests against judicial reform and other social ills are like the alien fires that are being imposed on the people. The massive protests and general unrest in Israel point to a similar undoing of what was commanded the people. Today, Israel functions with a Declaration of Independence and Basic Laws, which have governed the pluralistic, religious, economic, social, and democratic ways the people have enjoyed. New proposals will undo them; they are not what the people want, and they undermine the hopes of Israelis to live under, not one brand of Jewish life, but many brands, including cultural, political, secular, and religious brands of Zionism.

If the alien offering is made, then the foundation of Israel will suffer. Some call it an inflection point and others, including Rabbi Gordis, call it nothing less than an existential moment as Israel celebrates its 75thanniversary. The hope is that the commandment “to be holy” will bear up under the pressure. To be holy is to be set apart for a special purpose. The special purpose is nothing less than this generation’s obligation to bear witness to an eternal Covenant, and to the legacy of Israel’s Founders. They left us with what no one for 2000 years could have imagined would be again. The State of Israel, a sovereign nation, thrives and should continue to thrive long after we are gone, too. But if we don’t heed the call to be an “Am Kadosh,” a holy people dedicated to the strength and sovereignty of Israel, then we will have failed the Founders and their dreams for all our children in the future.

David Ben Gurion famously said, “To be a realist in Israel, you have to believe in miracles.” But, first, Talmud taught that we shouldn’t put ourselves in a dangerous position and then pray for a miracle. Let’s heed the lesson from Torah, the teaching from Talmud, and enjoy the wisdom of Ben Gurion who didn’t fail to believe in miracles, but who never took a moment for granted to see what was at stake and how much it would take to preserve it.

Let’s honor our covenant by being a holy people dedicated to Israel’s democracy and wisdom, its pluralism and peace.


On Israel’s 75th Anniversary 3