Supporting Israel: What Are Our Responsibilities and Opportunities?
Our Rabbis taught: If one sees a crowd of Jews, one says: “Blessed is He who is the wise-knower of all secrets,” whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other.
Ben Zoma once saw a crowd on one of the steps of the Temple Mount, he said, “Blessed is He who is the wise-knower of secrets.…[and b]lessed is He who created all these to serve me.” (BT B'rachot 58a)
As I sat among the roughly 18,000 people filling Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center during this week’s AIPAC policy conference, I was reminded of this blessing found in the Tractate B'rachot. We came to hear American politicians, members of Israel’s Knesset, and, of course, presidential candidates wax and wane on the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and about their commitments to the Jewish State.
This conference may be the closest many of us come to experiencing what it must have been like to make a holy pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. AIPAC’s policy conference has succeeded in bringing together an unprecedented number of people for one express purpose: to show our support for the State of Israel.
Although this year’s conference devoted much attention to the presidential candidates – specifically around the responses to Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s controversial rhetoric – we must take a step back and ask an even bigger question about the place of Israel in each of our lives. The conference’s tremendous turnout, undoubtedly the largest gathering of Jews in North America, demonstrates the importance of Israel to many Diaspora Jews, as it is Israel that brings together the multitudes.
It is certainly important to meet our elected leaders and to lobby in favor of support for Israel, as the Talmud text continues: [Rabbi Yohanan said:] “One should always strive to run toward kings of Israel [to greet them], and not only toward kings of Israel, but also toward kings of the nations of the world...”
Indeed, it is our imperative to meet our own leaders and those of other nations in order to protect our interests and our values, but this must be an ongoing exercise once we return home.
The text goes on to remind us of one of the most powerful moments in our Biblical narrative as experienced by the prophet Elijah. (I Kings 19:11-13): “And He said: ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before God.’ And, behold, God passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before God; but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
After all the pyrotechnics, demonstrations, and supernatural displays, Elijah stood at the entrance of the cave and understood that God’s revelation was specifically at the moment of silence. Today, two days after the fiery speeches, elaborate presentations, and invigorating shows, we can sit back and reflect.
What is each of us going to think, feel and do?
How is Israel going to be a part of our daily lives?
How are we going to stay connected to a place that we often only read about or experience once in a very long time?
How are we going to find that connection without the powerful imagery, but solely through the still small voice?
In fact, the lesson is simple, and can be found in an additional blessing on the same page of Talmud: Blessed is the Merciful One who grants kingdom on earth [that is a] microcosm of the kingdom in heaven, and granted you dominion and love of justice.
We must strive every day to build our society, including an Israel that is, indeed, a “microcosm of the kingdom of heaven” – a community based on love and justice. Coming down off the proverbial mountain and departing from the masses, each of us must do our part to strive for justice – and to do so out of love.
When Jews – “whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other” – come together as they did this week, we must celebrate, of course, but also recognize the power in such a diverse assembly around a common goal, as well as understand that each of us has a responsibility – after the fact. The State of Israel is the single greatest project in Jewish history, and every single Jew has both the opportunity and the responsibility to make sure it reflects the kingdom of heaven.