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Israel- Cause and Effect

04/27/2023 04:20:25 PM


Just over a week ago, I had the privilege of observing Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance day, in Israel. It is remarkable to see the 10AM memorial siren bring huge segments of the country come to a stop. People emerge from their cars and stand at attention, remembering the overwhelming losses of 80 years ago. A week later, the country halted again as Israelis commemorated Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen, and then turned to the joyous celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, but I was already on my way home to observe those days with our community here.  There is a natural temptation to see these three observances as sharing a thread. Could it be a coincidence that one of the worst destructions in our history be followed by a long-prayed for restoration, less than three years later?

Many people suggest that the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel are historically linked, but there is great peril in this view. The Talmud (Ketubot 110b-111a) describes the state of Jewish diaspora and exile as part of God’s plan for the world, cemented by three promises. Two of the promises were that the Jews promised not to return to the land of Israel until the Messiah came, and that the nations of the world were bound not to oppress the Jews “too much.” Some rabbis suggested, based on this teaching, that the Holocaust was punishment for Jews attempting to create a state before the coming of the Messiah. I reject this view categorically. The Jewish people are not to blame for the destruction of a third of our number.

Perhaps another way of understanding the causality is that the Holocaust reflected a breaking of the agreement that the Jews not suffer too much in exile, and that after that, the commitment not to return to the land of Israel was nullified. Similarly, there are many who say that the nations of the world offered the Jewish people a state out of guilt for not having stopped the Holocaust. This line of reasoning would indicate that the state was compensation for the death of the Six Million. However, this view, too, is dangerous, because it makes our nationhood contingent on our suffering.  It denies a much longer and deeper connection. The Jews were not colonizers or strangers on Israel’s soil. They were returning to a land that had always been the focus of their dreams, where for generations pioneers had been making a desert bloom. Jews deserved a place of their own, like every other nation, even before becoming victims of historic atrocities.

There is tremendous danger in seeing Zionism as the cause of the destruction, and almost as much in seeing the converse.  Perhaps a better view is taken from our Torah portion this week. We read a combined portion “Aharei Mot- Kedoshim.” Aharei Mot literally means “after the death” and it describes the instructions given to Aaron as to how to enter the tabernacle following the deaths of his two sons, consumed by fire. Kedoshim means “holy” and talks about how each person (not just the priests) must lead an ethical, holy life, being honest in business and behing kind to all, even the stranger in our midst.   

The existence of Israel is not a reward for the Holocaust, or an external gift.  It is our response- that when faced with tragedy and destruction, we choose to rise to a higher level. If Israel is a consolation prize or an entitlement, it comes with no further responsibilities- we can live it in and run it without ethical obligation. Aharei Mot-Kedoshim tells us that Israel is indeed our right, earned not through the suffering of the Holocaust, but through the sacrifices of those who fought for its survival, and that it must continue to be earned, not by suffering, but by living up to the standards of the covenant.  

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784