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A National Narrative for Israel

 

 
 
"I (Allah) gave the persecuted people (the Children of Israel) dominion over the Eastern and Western Lands (the east and west sides of the Jordan River), which I had blessed. Thus was your Lord's gracious word fulfilled for the Israelites, because they had endured with fortitude. And I destroyed the edifices and the towers of Pharaoh and his people."
- (The Quran, Sura 7:137, "The Heights")
 
 “We have a wonderful country, wonderful youth, marvelous people, a marvelous tower of Babel of the world’s cultures, and there is hope and vision. All we need is a clear direction.”
- (Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut in space)
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Wanted - A Narrative to Live By
 
A clear direction. This, said Ilan Ramon, is what is missing.
But so far, nobody in Israel has been able to come up with a formula that shows the way.
Here is my attempt.
 
Growing Tired of Fighting to Stay Alive
 
The State of Israel has existed for 65 years. In that time, we have fought four wars of survival. We have had neither the time nor the wherewithal to take stock and determine who we are and why we are here.
 
Israeli society is fractured, with a schizophrenic domestic and international policy. The width of the spectrum of ideas, and the magnitude of the gaps between opinions, effectively paralyzes decision-makers. Everyone is pulling in a different direction.
 
With no consensus on what our national purpose is, and why we are here in Israel and not anywhere else - there are no agreed-upon initiatives for setting a course for the future. As a result, we react to the challenges around us without thinking, and we respond with half-baked, stop-gap solutions.
 
And what’s worse - Israelis are tired. The Israeli State was built largely by secular Zionists. But their ideology has run its course. They didn’t expect to be fighting for survival for decades. Their secular ideology didn’t prepare them for THAT scenario. The only people with hope for the future seem to be the Jews with faith.
 
That seemed interesting. Maybe faith-based Judaism could be used to develop a positive path for the nation. So I set out to use the analytic method I describe below. And ‘lo and behold’, I arrived at the following ten principles that could be shaped into a cohesive national narrative:
 
•                Know how to handle failure, and understand how to turn failure into success.
•                Use our power of blessing to improve the lives of the rest of humanity.
•                Make the Land of Israel as promised to our ancestors our national home.
•                Act not just as individuals, but also as the collective Nation of Israel.
•                Develop a mechanism for passing our values to future generations.
•                Know how to manage as a nation in Exile.
•                Make the Torah and its commandments the framework for our behavior.
•                Search our souls to see where we can improve.
•                Work to return to the source of our national life - God and His expectations
                  of us. 
•                Return to live in Israel, the center of our individual and national existence.
 
And here is how I got there.
 
Going Back to the Book
 
Believing Jews take their inspiration from a deep and ancient well, one largely familiar and revered by more than half the world’s people: the Bible. (According to Wikipedia, 51.6 percent of the world’s population in 2013 are adherents to religions that revere God and the Bible.) So I decided to apply their worldview to the complex puzzle of the past, present and future of Israel.
 
Creating the World - Moving Towards Perfection
 
 “In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 1)
 
Everyone has heard of the Story of Creation. What few know is that even God Himself started off on the wrong foot, so to speak. According to the great 16th-century master of the esoteric Jewish tradition, Rabbi Isaac Luria - at first, the world proved unable to hold the intensity of the primordial light that God poured in as a token of His greatness and goodness. As a result, the world blew up, and God had to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, to recreate it in a way that could better withstand the intensity of His light.
 
Failure and Recovery are Built-In
 
So we see that from the very beginning, the world was constructed by advancing, followed by retreat, and then advancing again. Since God Himself started over, rebuilding to make things better - it makes sense that we mortal beings, who were created in the image of God, must also at times start over and repair things. Jewish tradition calls this process teshuva (repentance).
 
The existence of teshuva in the world guarantees that things can, and must, be fixed. What’s more, teshuva makes it legitimate and even quite natural to stumble, fall, dust oneself off, and get back up one’s feet again in order to move ahead.
 
These are important principles to understand, because they underlie the entire narrative of the Bible, and within it - the narrative of the Nation of Israel.
 
Creating Humankind - With Imperfections
 
The Bible goes on to explain that after creating the world, God created the pinnacle of creation - human beings.
 
“And God the Lord formed Adam, dust from the ground, and blew into his nose a spirit of life; and Adam became a living being.” (Genesis, Chapter 2, Verse 7)
 
But Adam didn’t remain in his pristine, original state for long. Adam screwed up, going against the one commandment that God asked him to do. By eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam brought evil directly into his own body and soul, into the very genes that he passed along to all of humanity.
 
After the Fall - Another Try
 
God was not pleased. But God, it seems, is no quitter. So He waited. And after ten generations, another good man appeared on the scene: Noah.
 
“And Noah found favor in the eyes of God. And these are the descendants of Noah; Noah was a righteous man, simple in his generations. Noah walked with the Lord.” (Genesis, Chapter 5, Verses 8, 9)
 
But look what happened. Right after saving everything from the Great Flood, Noah also slipped off the path. He planted a vineyard, made wine, got trashed - and all sorts of nasty things happened as a result.
 
Third Time Around - The Seed Takes Root
 
God reassessed, and decided to try yet another time. Once again, he waited ten generations. This time, he hit the jackpot. Abraham the Hebrew appeared on the scene. Abraham, by the way, is the common ancestor of the three monotheistic world faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
 
"And God said to Abram: 'Get up and go, from your land and your birthplace and from the house of your father, 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, and there will be blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you, I will curse; and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.' And God appeared to Abram, and said: 'To your descendants I will give this Land.' And he [Abram] built there an altar to God who had appeared to him." (Genesis, Chapter 12, Verses 1-3, 7)
 
God was so pleased with Abraham, he gave him two things: the power to bless other people, and ownership of the Land of Israel. Since Abraham is the progenitor of the Nation of Israel, we see that we, his descendants, have inherited these qualities. So: our collective narrative can include the power to bestow blessings, and the Land of Israel as our home.
 
Isaac and Jacob
 
Abraham’s wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac, a righteous man the son of a righteous man. God continued His blessing strategy with Isaac. (Muslims believe that it was Ishmael, Abraham’s son from another wife, who was Abraham’s continuation. But I’m not going to go there for now. In any event, Muslims revere Isaac as well.)
 
God was on a roll. Isaac fathered two sons: Esau, known as Edom, and Jacob, also called Israel. After some initial uncertainty, Jacob emerged as the continuation of Abraham and Isaac.
 
"And here, God stood above him and said: 'I am GOD, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land on which you are lying - to YOU I will give it, and to your descendants. And your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You will burst out, westward and eastward and northward and southward. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you, and through your descendants.'" (Genesis, Chapter 28, Verses 13-14)
 
(According to ancient Israelite tradition, Jacob’s twin brother Esau, a.k.a. Edom, is the ancestor of the Roman world, the Christian faith - and the entire Western civilization. Christians don’t like hearing this, but this has been Jewish tradition for nearly 2,000 years.)
 
Creating Israel - From Individuals To a Nation
 
Jacob had twelve sons. Each received a portion of God’s original blessing to Abraham. The brothers together became the twelve tribes of Israel, the physical root of the Israelite nation.
 
Once Jacob morphed into the Twelve Tribes of Israel, we have two more elements to add to our narrative. Our national storyboard must be based not just on the character of individuals, but also on the existence of a collective: a nation. And, we must have in our narrative a mechanism for passing the values of righteousness from one generation to another, and onward to all future generations.
 
Exile, Torah and Return
 
The Biblical story continues. In response to a famine, Jacob, his twelve sons and their families left the Land of Israel for Egypt. There, they became very numerous, but were eventually enslaved by the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh. As Jews recite every year in the Passover Seder, God eventually took the Jews out of the slavery of Egypt. They left Egypt en-masse in what is known as the Exodus. God then brought them to the Sinai Desert where He gave them the Torah, the five books of Moses also called in Greek the Pentateuch - the first part of the Bible. And then, God brought them to their real destination: the Land of Israel, the land He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give to their descendants.
On their way to the Land of Israel, the Israelite nation had serious mishaps. But eventually, they made it to the Land that had been promised to their ancestors.
 
This brings us two more entries to our list of elements for our narrative. First, we must know how to survive without our land, in exile, even though our real national life must take place IN our land. And secondly: we can look for guidance towards our own national owner’s manual: the Torah, which our ancestors received at Sinai.
 
The Biblical Escape Clause
 
Now it is important to know that God built into the Torah a catch-all escape clause. When the Jews received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, they were told they must keep God’s commandments of the Torah, including refraining from worshipping anyone or anything other than God Himself - or else. The final straw of the ‘or elses’ was: Exile. Expulsion. Getting kicked out of our land, and being sent to live among the rest of the nations of the world. Furthermore, without us present to tend it, the Land, God promises, will be a wasteland, and no other nation could make it give forth its full produce.
 
Once in the Land of Israel, the Israelite nation began to mess up again. We worshipped the idolatrous gods of the nations that surrounded us. God sent prophets to warn us to get our act together, but we didn’t listen. And after a few hundred years on probation, and endless exhortations to shape up from the Hebrew Prophets who were sent with the mission to knock the people back in line - the Nation of Israel was eventually expelled from the Land of Israel into the long and painful curse called exile.
 
"And it will be, when all these things happen to you - the blessing and the curse - that I gave before you: then you will return to your heart among all the nations that God your Lord pushed you there. And you will return to God your Lord, and you will hear his voice, like everything I command you today: you, and your children, with all your hearts and souls. And God your Lord will return your captivity, and will return and gather you from all the peoples where God your Lord scattered you there.
Even if you will be pushed away to the ends of the Heavens - from there God your Lord will gather you, and from there He will take you. And God your Lord will bring you to the Land that your forefathers inherited, and you will inherit it; and He will be good to you, and make you more numerous than your forefathers. And God your Lord will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your descendants - to love God your Lord with all your heart and all your soul, for the sake of your life." (Deuteronomy, Chapter 30, Verses 1-6)
 
Keep in mind - God is promising here that no matter how problematic our history becomes, two things will always remain true:
 
•     God will not forget us in exile
•     God will eventually bring the entire nation back to the Land that He promised for them.
 
It is this later promise in the Torah that provides the final pieces for completing the puzzle that is our national narrative. There is a secret contained in this promise. The Torah states that no matter what, we will return: first, to our original selves, and second, to the Land of Israel. Ultimately, the ancient Jewish Sages explain, we will return to God and to His Land - by hook or by crook, whether we wish to - or not.
 
So where is our free will here? Well, if we choose, we can go with the flow; and if we wish, we can act against the grain, perhaps slowing the fruition of the promise. But we cannot stop it from happening.
 
That promise, made so long ago by God to his people, is happening now. The return of the exiled nation of Israel to Zion, to Israel, to the Land that God promised for us, is the central and most exciting story of world history for the past 250 years, ever since this process got underway in earnest.
 
What’s the Solution?
 
Can the Nation of Israel find its way? The answer is a clear YES. It’s easy - all we need do is connect to the narrative, instead of working against it. The narrative contains our purpose and our national raison d’être. We are in the world to bring God’s blessings to the rest of humanity. And the place where we must do that is in the Land of Israel. When we take this upon ourselves, we are doing what God intended for us in the first place.
 
Where to From Here?
 
Some nations of the world have been inspired by this process, while others have done everything they can to oppose it. Nevertheless, the return of the Israelite nation to the Land of Israel is happening, one Jew at a time. No-one can deny this, and nothing - not even the most detailed nuclear plans of the Iranians, or the greatest attempts by the Americans or the Europeans to stop Israelis from building homes in the Land of Israel, nor even the naysayers within Israel itself - can stop this process. Why? Because this is not really about US. This process is the fulfillment of what was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And when God promises, he is not like a human being, who may, or may not, deliver. God delivers what He promises, because God is God.
 
So where does that leave us? Well - all we need do is get with the program, beginning with believing in the truth of God and His promises. We then can continue by accepting as reality the modern-day historical fact that the Jewish People is returning en-masse to the Land that they were forced to leave so long ago. And it means that we, the Jewish nation in Israel, must realize and internalize that we are here not just for ourselves, but rather to bring real solutions to a hurting world, to the masses of billions of human beings who need our blessings.
 
This means devoting our national resources to medical, social, and technological research to find the answers to humankind’s problems. If we were truly to turn our collective energies to this, we would certainly find ways to bring the world back into the harmony in which it was created. Before humanity dropped that original ball, the world existed in ecological harmony. It was human beings who upset the cart.
 
And what can the rest of the nations do? Well, it is easy for them as well. They can help us achieve our calling, instead of working to trip us up. Three thousand years of anti-Semitism have only made the Jewish People stronger, more resilient, and better equipped to handle the challenges of surviving and thriving in a tough world. Perhaps this is one of the hidden purposes of anti-Semitism: to prepare us for that day when we emerge into the foreground and begin to perform our forefather Abraham’s work, that is, to channel God’s blessings to all the nations of the world.
In practical terms, the international community would do well to become true partners in the miracle of modern-day Israel. Instead of fighting us, either directly or by proxy; in place of trying to limit the borders of our land by backing a make-believe nation’s spurious claims to our inheritance from God, the Land of Israel - they can help us develop and settle all of our country.
 
Pitch in, and your investment will pay off exponentially. Get with the program, and you will find the blessing you have always been craving. And if you believe that we have the power to mess things up, you better believe that it is built in to the fabric of the world that we can fix it.
 
So help us God. (That’s what the faith-based Jews always claim, anyway. Maybe they’re onto something ...)
 
This Tu B'Shvat marks the author's 26th anniversary since making aliyah and his first post as a blogger for The Jerusalem Post. 
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