After nearly 2,000 years in exile, Israel as a nation was re-birthed in 1948. Sixty-five years later we recall not only the miracle of her existence but the cost of her resurrection. Yesterday was Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day, which is immediately followed by Yom HaAtzma’ut – Israel’s Independence Day. This is to remind us that Israel was birthed out of the ashes of the Holocaust and 2,000 years of struggle and persecution. As we remember Israel’s soldiers who died in defense of our Land we also recall her re-birth as an ultimate symbol of hope – or as the siddur describes it, “the first-fruits of our redemption.”
Yom HaAtzma’ut is a reminder that our hope is not lost. As long as there is an Israel, there is hope. This is exactly the point we sing in Israel’s national anthem, “Our hope is not lost – a 2,000 year old hope – to be a free people in our own land, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.”
In honor of Yom HaAtzma’ut, one particular passage from the Talmud (b. Berachot 5a) is worth mentioning:
It has been taught: Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: The Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through suffering. They are: the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come. Whence do we know this of the Torah? Because it is said: “Happy is the person who You discipline, O L-rd, the one You instruct in Your Torah (Ps. 94:12).” When of the Land of Israel? Because it is written: “Just as a man disciplines his son, HaShem your G-d disciplines you (Deut. 8:5).” And after that it is written: “For HaShem your G-d is bringing you into a good land (Deut. 8:7).” Whence of the World to Come? Because it is written: “For the commandment is a lamp, the teaching is a light, and the way to life is the rebuke that disciplines (Prov. 6:23).”
A similar thought is supported by Yeshua, “But it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mathew 7:14).” Although this passage from Matthew is often quoted only in reference to spiritual redemption, the context is much broader and refers to our spiritual lifestyles in general. After all, this passage appears in the middle of a section on bearing spiritual fruit. We can also apply this idea to our passage from the Gemara above and relate it back to Israel.
As Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai stated above, the way of Torah is not easy. And neither is the path that leads to the World to Come. As Yeshua reminds us, “only a few will find it.” And so is support for the Land of Israel. Not only was it birthed out of suffering, but it exists in suffering, and will only continue to exist through suffering until Mashiach returns. We must continue to speak out in support of Israel. We must defend her to a world that constantly refuses to weigh fairly. I am not speaking of blind support, but educated support. Israel is not perfect. And I will be the first one to speak-up when she falls short. However, our support for Israel is not only Scripturally solid, it is politically defensible.
As we celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, let’s do so with a renewed vigor to speak up and support not only Israel, but our faithful brothers and sisters in the Land who every day continue to make her existence a reality. Let us also work even harder to prepare the way for Mashiach’s return. For Israel and Messiah are interconnected. Our support and rebuilding of Israel is part of preparing the way for Messiah. And may we all witness that day speedily and soon!
Happy 65th Birthday, Israel!