1999This week's Parsha begins with purity laws revolving around the miracle of birth. Often this Parsha falls within the week when Yom Ha'atzmaut is celebrated. The pangs of birth are formidable ? many mothers will attest to that -- but the rewards, if all goes well, are precious beyond measure.
Birth and the Brith of a Nation
The Midrash Vayikra Rabba on this parsha has many midrashim which recount the miracle of birth. For instance: "Rabbi Simon said: The abdomen of a woman consists of many cavities, many coils, and many bands, so that when she sits in labor, she does not cast the fetus all at once. There is a popular saying: 'When one band is loosened, two bands are loosened.'"
The thinkers who envisioned a return to Zion and laid the philosophical and actual framework for a State of Israel engaged in the pangs of a different birth.
A.D. Gordon was a great Zionist thinker. He was considered by many to be the spiritual father of Labor Zionism. He was certainly the one who advanced the cause of Jews returning to farming to reclaim their spiritual essence. As a new dreamer of Zion, Gordon had to envision a new purpose for Jews as Jews. In the following excerpt he grapples with this question, by defining what binds us together.
Read what he says, and see if modern-day Israel reflects his thinking in any way.
A. D. Gordon (1856-1922)
"We are told that it is national sentiment that prevents the Jews from assimilating. But what is this national sentiment? What strange kind of nationality is ours, which is not alive but yet will not die? Wherein lies its strength? We have no country of our own, we have no living national language, but instead a number of vernaculars borrowed from others. Religion? But our religion is on the wane, and it certainly cannot be the answer for those who are not religious. What, then, is that elusive, unique, and persistent force that will not die and will not let us die?
It seems that every one of us can answer this question if he is really himself free of all foreign influences and if he is not ashamed to face the matter squarely and be honest with himself.
That answer is that there is a primal force within every one of us, which is fighting for its own life, which seeks its own realization.
This is our ethnic self, the cosmic element, which combined with the historic element, forms one of the basic ingredients of the personality of each and every one of us. The ethnic self may be described as a peculiar national pattern of mental and physical forces, which affects the personality of every individual member of the ethnic group. It is like the musical scale, which every composer uses in his own way. The ethnic self, to continue the parallel, is like choral singing, in which each individual voice has its own value, but in which the total effect depends on the combination and the relative merit of each individual singer, and in which the value of each singer is enhanced by his ability to sing with the rest of the choir. Jewish life in the Diaspora lacks this cosmic element of national identity; it is sustained by the historic element alone, which keeps us alive and will not let us die, but it cannot provide us with a full national life.
What we have come to find in Palestine is the cosmic element. In the countries of the Galut we are compelled to lead an inanimate existence, lacking in national creativity (and, from the point of view of genuine personality, also lacking in individual creativity).
There we are the dependents of others materially and perhaps even more spiritually. There, our ethnic self is forced into a ruinously constricted and shrunken form; having no living source of spontaneous vitality, it must perforce draw on our past and become ever more desiccated, or it must tap alien sources and become blurred, dissolving in the spirit of its environment."
Your A.D. Gordon Navigator
1. What is the ethnic self that Gordon refers to?
2. Is this a religious or secular idea?
3. How does the ethnic self differ from religious belief?
4. What do you think of Gordon's idea for his time? For our time?
Rav Kook was Chief Rabbi of Palestine prior to the founding of the State of Israel. He was well versed in philosophy and science and he was also a poet. His understanding of the centrality of the Land of Israel was part of a religious philosophy which yearned for the messianic redemption. Even though he couches his ideas in religious terms, see if you can find some similarities between Rabbi Kook and A.D. Gordon. Find their common ground and then articulate where they differ.
Remember, both these men lived prior to World War II. They are dreamers of Zion, riding on the coattails of Theodore Herzl. These dreamers' ideas were part of the mandate and spirit of those who were deigned worthy to implement the dream into a reality. It was the ideas of Gordon which provided Ben Gurion with the context for his vision, as it was the vision of Rav Kook which made a secular movement "kosher" for religious sensibilities. Let's imagine these two at a dinner table together. Would they have anything in common? What might they have spoken about?
Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, (1865-1935)
"In the holy land man's imagination is lucid and clear, clean and pure, capable of receiving the revelation of Divine Truth and of expressing in life the sublime meaning of the ideal of the sovereignty of holiness; there, the mind is prepared to understand the light of prophecy and to be illumined by the radiance of the Holy Spirit. In gentile lands the imagination is dim, clouded with darkness, and shadowed with unholiness, and it cannot serve as the vessel for the outpouring of the Divine Light, as it raises itself beyond the lowness and narrowness of the universe. Because reason and imagination are interwoven and interact with each other, even reason cannot shine in its truest glory outside the Holy Land.
DEEP IN THE HEART of every Jew, in its purest and holiest recesses, there blazes the fire of Israel. There can be no mistaking its demands for an organic and indivisible bond between life and all of God's commandments; for the pouring of the spirit of the Lord, the spirit of Israel which completely permeates the soul of the Jew, into all the vessels which were created for this particular purpose; and for expressing the word of Israel fully and precisely in the realms of action and ideas.
In the hearts of our saints, this fire is constantly blazing up with tongues of holy flame. Like the fire on the altar of the Temple, it is burning unceasingly, with a steady flame, in the collective heart of our people. Hidden away in the deepest recesses of their souls, it exists even among the backsliders and sinners of Israel. Within the Jewish people as a whole, this is the living source of its desire for freedom, of its longing for a life worthy of the name for man and community, of its hope for redemption of the striving toward a full, uncontradictory, and unbounded Jewish life.
This is the meaning of the Jew's undying love for Eretz Israel -- the Land of Holiness, the Land of God -- in which all of the Divine commandments are realized in their perfect form. This urge to unfold to the world the nature of God, to raise one's head in His Name in order to proclaim His greatness in its real dimensions affects all souls, for all desire to become as one with Him and to partake of the bliss of His life.
This yearning for a true life, for one that is fashioned by all the commandments of the Torah and illumined by all its uplifting splendor, is the source of the courage which moves the Jew to affirm, before all the world, his loyalty to the heritage of his people, to the preservation of its identity and values, and to the upholding of its faith and vision.
Strengthening of Judaism in the Diaspora can come only from a deepened attachment to Eretz Israel. The hope for the return to the Holy Land is the continuing, source of the distinctive nature of Judaism. The hope for the redemption is the force that sustains Judaism in the Diaspora; the Judaism of Eretz Israel is the very Redemption.
Jewish original creativity whether in the realm of ideas or in the arena of daily life and action, is impossible except in Eretz Israel. On the other hand, whatever the Jewish people creates in Eretz Israel assimilates the universal into characteristic and unique Jewish form, to the great benefit of the Jewish people and of the world."