Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yom Ha’atzmaut: Longing for More than Freedom

As my wife and I looked out our back window this evening and enjoyed a substantial fireworks display showering the Judean Hills with color and light, I felt overcome with gratitude. What an incredible gift the State of Israel is, and what indescribable merit we have to live here and raise our family here.

The haunting tune to Hatikva pops into my head, and I start to sing the last line: “to be a free nation in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

They are moving, but I find them unsatisfying. The 3,500 year journey of the Jewish people was never about freedom for freedom’s sake. We always stood for greater values: to be a light to the nations, to prepare the world for the presence of God.

The miraculous nature of our unfathomable return to our homeland should not make us forget the greater purpose of the Land of Israel. Rabbi Judah HaLevi in his seminal work The Kuzari uses the metaphor of a grapevine and vineyard to describe the unique nature of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

The grapevine represents the people of Israel, a unique nation with spiritual gifts to contribute to the world. The vineyard is the Land of Israel, and is the only ground that can fully actualize the potential of these grapes. True, we can survive in a hothouse, i.e., exile, but we can never fully actualize our spiritual potential there. We can never be truly close to Hashem in exile.

As I sit on the hilltop of my ancestors this evening, I can’t help but feel that this gift of freedom given to the Jewish people after 2,000 years must have a greater purpose. There are many free nations in the world, but we must look at ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation, and ask, now that we are planted back in our home soil: what are the real crops that we should produce and give to the world? According to our tradition, the fruits of our labor must focus on bringing us and the world truly closer to Hashem.

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