DIVREI TORAH

NITZAVIM: DOES ISRAEL INSPIRE YOU? IF IT DOESN’T, THEN YOU MAY BE LESS GIVEN TO INSPIRATION THAN YOUR CHRISTIAN NEIGHBORS.

OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: NITZAVIM: DOES ISRAEL INSPIRE YOU? IF IT DOESN’T, THEN YOU MAY BE LESS GIVEN TO INSPIRATION THAN YOUR CHRISTIAN NEIGHBORS.

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

Dedicated for the refuah sheleima of Moshe Leib Halevi ben Alta Sheindel.

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There are miracles happening in Israel now.

Do those miracles inspire you?

If they don’t, then you may be less given to inspiration than your Christian neighbors - because they’re inspired by those miracles.

This Christian inspiration is documented by an eye-opening survey that documents that 82% of certain evangelical Christian groups tell pollsters that the “Promised Land” – Israel - “was given to the Jews by God.” [1]

When you first see this survey, you wonder: Don't these beliefs refute the millennia of Christian antisemitism that “damn” us to a landless “wandering” existence?” Isn’t such a “damning” landlessness the basis for Martin Luther’s bone chilling statement that: “Even if they [Jews] were punished in the most gruesome manner so that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted… in the millions…they are the devil’s children, damned to Hell.”[2]

So many Christians, though - as we’ve just seen – now reject this damnation. This, despite the difficulty of reversing millennia of theology.

But then you realize. Our miraculous return to Israel makes those statements about Jewish “damnation” untenable.

And those statements are rendered even more untenable by an Israeli resurrection that – on some level – miraculously fulfills prophecies that were recorded thousands of years ago.

It’s the pesukim in our parsha that Bible-studying evangelicals know well: “Hashem will gather you from the nations among which he scattered you... if your scatterings are at the far edges of the world…from there he will gather you.”[3]

Millions of Jews have, indeed, returned to Eretz Yisrael from the “far edges of the world.” The exceptionalism of this return – no other nation returned from exile to its native land – only magnifies its wonder.

Christians also know that it isn’t just our return to Israel that is miraculous. It’s also our survival there. Rational people expected early Israel’s ragtag army to lose the 1948 Independence War. And that expectation – as per the following - continued after the war: “Even … after Israel achieved its independence, the CIA predicted that the Jewish state wouldn’t survive for more than two years.” [4]

But we didn’t just prevail. We prospered.

Christians also know that Israel’s genesis right after the Holocaust fulfills other Torah prophecies - the famous prophecies about redemption after wars and suffering.

Perhaps they’re struck by how Israel’s founding population of about 600,000 evokes the approximately 600,000 Jews who founded our nation when we left Egypt.

And they’re probably amazed at the resurrection of modern Hebrew – no other “dead” language was ever resurrected. As a renowned philologist notes: “the process of Hebrew's return to regular usage was unique; there are no other examples of a sacred language becoming a national language with millions of first language speakers.”[5]

This recognition of the miraculous – both for Christians and us - doesn’t mean that everything Israeli reflects Messianic perfection.

Much about modern Israel doesn’t reflect that perfection.

But didn’t our other national in-gatherings also begin imperfectly?

Those imperfections manifested themselves in the dependence of how: Our second commonwealth’s in-gathering was orchestrated by the non-Jewish King Cyrus. Our second beis ha-mikdash that was built exclusively by non-Jewish workers.[6] And our first beis ha-mikdash was partly built by non-Jewish workers.[7]

These imperfections make the Midrash wonder: “all the miracles that happened (during the second commonwealth) through King Cyrus, couldn’t they have happened though Daniel or through another righteous person?.” [8]

This Midrash is noting that “divinely guided” national and spiritual resurrections – like our prior return to Israel and the building of the batei mikdash – can be tainted by “imperfect beginnings.” Given that, modern Israel’s “imperfect beginning” shouldn’t preclude us from seeing it as a “divine in-gathering.”

Those “imperfect beginnings,” though, both in ancient and in modern Israel were meant to lead to rising tides of spirituality.

And that may be happening today in how Israel’s imperfections are receding behind a tide of spirituality.

That rise is documented by a 2012 survey that establishes that 80% of Israeli Jews believe in God, 70% believe that Jews are a "Chosen People," 65% believe that Torah and mitzvos are God-given and 70%-75% keep significant levels of kosher.[9] [10]

These numbers are the highest they’ve ever been in modern Israel. And these numbers – and this surprises people - are higher than they were in prewar Poland. [11]

The revival of Israel, then, is also a revival of religiosity. Which makes the divinity of that revival even more obvious.

Miracles are, indeed, happening in Israel now.

They inspire our Christian neighbors.

Shouldn’t they also inspire us?

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message, for information on his live or zoom shiurim, his shul in Montebello or to have him as scholar-in-residence in your community. Rabbi Weber will be scholar in residence at the Hudson Valley Hotel for the Yomim Noraim & Sukkos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000.

[1] Pew Research Center, 2013 Survey of US Jews

[2] Martin Luther, “Of the Unknowable Name”

[3] Devarim 30:3-4

[4] Mackubin T. Owens, “Israel: A Revolutionary Miracle in Palestine,” March 1, 2010

[5] Daniel Bensadoun, This Week In History: Revival Of The Hebrew Language, Jerusalem Post, October 15, 2010

[6] Yoma 72a

[7] Ibid.

[8] Midrash Shir Ha-Shirim 5

[9] Avi Chai Foundation Survey, quoted in Haaretz, Jan 27, 2012

[10] The reality is really far better than those numbers indicate. That’s because the survey included the 15% of Israelis who immigrated from the Former Soviet Union – whose irreligiosity stems from their atheistic Soviet upbringing. It’s not those immigrants but, rather, their children who will define Israel’s future. And those children will likely reflect the norms of the traditional society in which they are being raised. Deducting those immigrants raises the percentages: 90% of Israelis believe in God, 80% believe that Jews are a "Chosen People," 75% believe that Torah and mitzvos are God-given and 85% keep significant levels of kosher.

[11] See “Polin: Studies in Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 33: Jewish Religious Life in Poland since 1750” and Rav Avigdor Miller on Jewish life in pre-war Europe.

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