Have we forgotten the mission?

6 Jun

This past week I visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv for the very first time.  It was a moving experience that left me with a lot to think about.

For what purpose have we sacrificed so much for this little strip of Mediterranean real estate?

The founding fathers of the State of Israel opened their Declaration of Statehood on May 14, 1948 with the following words:

ERETZ-ISRAEL was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

What is Jewish Statehood all about?  What is ultimately the mission of a Jewish State?

Some will answer that it is a homeland, a place of refuge for our people.  Others will understand it as a national right, no different than the right of any other nation to have a land that they can call their own.  Others will see it as a source of military might, to defend Jews wherever they are from the destructive forces of anti-semitism.

However, while all of these may be true to one extent or another, I would beg to differ. None of these adequately describes the mission….

As I see it, we are privileged to be the rightful residents of Eretz Yisrael because we have a mission….a mission that requires us to have a land where we can grow an ideal society, from which we can provide guidance, assistance, and most of all, blessing to the world at large:

And God said unto Abram, “Leave your country and your birthplace and the house of your father, and go to the land that I will show you.  And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great – become a blessing! And I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you; and through you, the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

That is the mission.

God’s first calling to Abraham made it clear from the very beginning as to why he and his descendants were destined to inherit the land of Israel.  It was not a gift, a right, nor a compensation – it was for the purpose of completing an eternal mission – to bring blessing to the families of the earth.

With Abraham’s decision to go forth, to inhabit the land, and to enter in the deal with God, it was clearly established that his descendants (that includes us!)were to understand the terms of the agreement: that this Divine partition plan which would ultimately replace the indigenous Canaanite population with the Israelite nation was directly connected to this vital mission!

However, when the Jews in the wilderness of Sinai – some 400 years later – stood at the border of the land, preparing to enter the land – it seems that they had already forgotten the mission – even stranger, when God first appeared to Moses and instructed him regarding the task at hand (Exodus 3:8), He DOES NOT tell Moses to remind the people of the mission – but rather, He promises that he will take them out of Egypt and bring them into the land of Milk and Honey – that’s it! 

What happened to the mission?

Then, as Moses addresses the people, just prior to his death and their entrance to Canaan – he reminds them, using some very harsh words:

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrown them out from before you: ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but rather, it was as because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD will drive them out from before you. Not because of your righteousness, nor because of your worthiness do you go in to possess their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God will drive them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the promise which the LORD swore unto your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.(Deuteronomy 9:4-5)

Moses kind of reminds them here that their possession of the land is connected to the deal God made with their ancestors – which takes us back to the Genesis text above

It seems to me that God refrained from reminding them of the mission at the time of the exodus from Egypt because they just weren’t ready to hear it then. They were escaping oppression and persecution….that was the time to remind them of the benefits, the pleasures associated with having a land of their own – this land in particular.  It would be a while  – another 400 years – before they would settle into the land and be reminded once again of their divine mission –

I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side.
I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations.
You will give sight to the blind; you will set prisoners free from dark dungeons.
(Isaiah 42:6-7)

And so, the modern State of Israel came into existence in the shadow of persecution and oppression – we fought the wars to conquer the land, to reclaim our divine deed to the the “land of milk and honey.”

Although we are here now for 60 years, we are still fighting for our right to exist.

When will we be ready to hear the words of Isaiah?

When will be prepared to focus on the terms of our deal with God, dedicating ourselves – as a nation – to the terms of our initial agreement – searching at all times for ways to bring blessing to the families of the earth?

This is our mission – should we choose to accept it……. 

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2 Responses to “Have we forgotten the mission?”

  1. Henri Thursday, June 7, 2007 at 7:59 pm #

    Last night I had dinner with a well-known Jewish philanthropist in my hometown. His wife and I had graduated Melton together. He asked me about my most recent trip to Israel and then said, “I wish you’d take my wife with you the next time you go. I refuse to go with her.” His reason: Because one of his family members had been told by the Israeli rabbinate that she was not halachically Jewish. I shared with him my choice to support a Progressive Israeli congregation in order to strengthen its voice among Israelis looking for more choices. My response wasn’t an immediate sell…We ponder how Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state. Comments like those of my dinner companion make me wonder even more how Israel can become even a Jewish state. How can we become a blessing to the families of the earth as long as some Jews believe they are not even recognized as family members?

  2. Morey Sunday, June 10, 2007 at 12:07 pm #

    Henri,

    Thanks for your comments.

    The history of Judaism is such that we have never expereinced era where everyone’s interpretation of halacha was the same. The rabbanut of the State of Israel is orthodox, and represents the general consenus among Israeli who have an opinion on such subjects. Of course, this does lead to hurt feelings and alinentation for many others.

    However, two things I want to say:

    1. I am sorry for your friend. He is punishing himself for circumstances that are betond his control. The State of Israel, the Land of Israel, is about much more than who the rabbanut considers to be halachically Jewish.

    2. I do not feel that the people of Israel will ever be in a situation where every member of the global family will be happy and at home with every decision or policy made here. I wish that were different, but it would seem to be the limitations of functioning in a world made up of human beings with multiple perspectives! Nontheless, this nearly 6,000,000 Jews and growing hasve a lot to offer the world nonetheless. I do not believe that we need to wait until we have solved all of our internal social and religious problems and external enemy-related problems in order to reach out and be a light unto the nations. I see no reason that we cannot be working on all fronts at the same time.

    Just my thoughts…..

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