Yom Ha’atzmauth is the 60th anniversary of a marriage that has lasted more than 3,500 years. This may sound like a paradox but this is the inescapable truth about the land of Israel and the Jews. No marriage has been so long, so deep in its commitment and so overwhelming in its love as the one between the Jews and their homeland. But no marriage has been so painful nor so tragic, for the partners were forced apart by the Roman Empire nearly 2000 years ago. The bride and the groom pledged unconditional love but were not re-united for another 1878 years. But for all these years nothing absolute nothing could emotionally separate the partners even when they lived thousands of miles away from each other. This marriage was not depending on where the partners physically resided but were their souls were dwelling.
For that to happen the Jews metaphorically and in an unprecedented way, lifted the land of Israel from its native soil and transformed it into a portable homeland taking it with to all the corners of the earth. Only in 1948 were the land and its people physically reunited.
The founding of the State of Israel then is not the beginning of the marriage between the Land and the Jewish People, but rather a reaffirmation of nuptials that took place thousands of years ago between God and Abraham the Hebrew. The State of Israel was not established in 1948 but rather in the year 70, on the day after the Romans exiled the Jews.
But no marriage can be taken for granted. Not even after 3,500 years. When a bridegroom offers his new wife a ring as a sign of commitment, he knows that this is only the first installment of an ongoing pledge. No marriage can endure if both partners do not constantly re-invest in their relationship. The moment a marriage is counted in years rather than marked by shared striving for new opportunities, it has come to an end. Only a mission – a common dream – can sustain a marriage and only something greater than itself will allow it to succeed. Marriage is a single soul dwelling in two bodies, but a soul that has lost its purpose loses itself.
Ironically, the people of Israel today are struggling to stay spiritually wed to their land. Rampant materialism and militant secularism have eroded Israel’s sense of Jewish identity and the historical consciousness that gives meaning to its national existence. Growing numbers of its people lack Jewish self-understanding and question why they should live in this country at all. It is true that the wonderful Israeli soldiers are ready to sacrifice their lives for our country. But how long can this continue when Israel is nothing more than just a country? People are willing to die only for that by which they have lived. And human beings can live meaningful lives only when they know that there is something eternal worth dying for.
It is thus crucial to identify the element that bound the partners together for these thousands of years. And that is unequivocally the mission to be “a light unto the nations,” as pronounced by the prophet Isaiah. The marriage was created to give birth to a wellspring of religious and moral teachings that will suffuse mankind with the knowledge that life is holy and that God awaits man in order to redeem His world.
This then is the task of the Land and People of Israel: To elevate the human race so that it becomes a link between the divine and the earthly. For life is a mandate, a privilege – not a game or a mere triviality. The Jewish people married the land in order to create a model society that is emulated by all mankind.
It is the rabbis who consecrate a marriage. But that is only part of their task. As pastors, their responsibility is to ensure the marriage’s success and to tend to it if it flounders or gets bogged down. This is the task of Israel’s religious leadership today: Religious leaders must transform the Jewish People by creating a spiritual longing for its unique mission and thereby restore their marriage to its full potential after the long and difficult separation.
Real religious leaders should not be “honored” or “well-respected.” Rather, as men of truth they should stir unprecedented awe among Israelis and all Jews. Their towering personalities should arouse fear, but simultaneously attract with their overflowing love.
The hour requires strong and resolute religious and moral guidance. The religious leadership must extricate itself from the morass in which it is stagnated and, in an unprecedented initiative, steer the ship of an inspiring, rejuvenated Judaism in full sail right into the heart of Israeli society, causing shockwaves that impact on every aspect of life. Like the prophets of old, the religious leaders must generate a spiritual revolution, triggering an ethical-religious uproar that shakes the very foundations of the State. Their failure to do so is nothing less than a tragic dereliction of duty. Israelis are waiting for such a move and will respond overwhelmingly.
Only then will the Jewish People re-engage with its land. Only then can the Jewish people stay eternally married to its land. Only then will no third party dare to interfere in its matrimonial bond. This is Israel’s hope and future.
May God bless Israel!
Rabbi Lopes Cardozo’s new book: For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People is already for sale in Israel’s bookshops and will soon be available in the USA, Canada and Europe.