September 23, 2009
But WHY is it important….?
As did Rabbis around the world, I spent some time on Rosh HaShana discussing the importance of our being politically active on behalf of Israel, as she faces the dire threat coming from Iran. The topic came back up over Yom Tov lunch, with each of our wonderful guests reflecting on how vital Israel’s survival is, and how committed American Jews need to be to Israel’s security. Israel’s survival, it was correctly pointed out, is likely synonymous with Jewish survival. As tea and dessert were being enjoyed, in the spirit of reflection of this time of year I posed a question that I hoped would bring the table conversation to a different, deeper, and more “ultimate” place. “In the end, why is important that Israel, and the Jewish people, survive?” I asked.
After half a minute or so of thoughtful silence, everyone began to articulate responses, albeit not in fully-developed form. The phrases “Jewish mission”, “light for the nations”, and “model society” started to bounce around the table, though not necessarily in full sentences just yet. I think that at that moment we were all struck by the contrast between the confidence and eloquence with which we each spoke about the fact that it is vitally important that Israel survive, and the initial struggle we had in clearly expressing why Israel’s and the Jewish people’s survival ultimately mattered.
Once we had all regained our bearings, very significant thoughts emerged. About our continuing historical role of living the Torah, and advancing the vision of righteousness and justice that God communicated therein. And about the significance of being a democratic and human-rights- respecting country in the nasty Middle East. And about the remarkable and disproportionate ways in which Israel has already contributed to the advancement of human knowledge, and has built an inspiring record of offering its expertise in responding to natural and other disasters to others around the globe.
Of course there are cogent and satisfying answers to the question, “Why is important that Israel and the Jewish people survive?” But it seems clear to me that we don’t consider or discuss the question nearly as often as we need to. Which probably means that we are already making important Jewish decisions – about how to run our local Jewish institutions, or about how we select our Israel-based charities – without the big-picture view that these decisions deserve. And the longer we go without directly discussing the question, without introducing it into our schools, shuls, and around our Shabbat tables, the more likely it will become that we will raise a generation that wouldn’t understand the question to begin with, much less know how to answer it. This would bode ominously for us, for Israel, and for the world.
So here’s praying for a year of peace and security for Medinat Yisrael, and a year of deep reflection and thoughtfulness for Jews everywhere.