Herzl Died Twice

Until the Six Day War, we were much more protective of the Herzlian vision; since then, we have broken faith with it. We failed as a paradigm, and no doubt caused Herzl another broken heart.

Herzl Day is behind us now, the state ceremonies and learned symposia are over, and from above the mount named for him, the "state's visionary" is asking about the fate of his vision. It would be interesting to know whether Binyamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl is comfortable, or turning over in his grave.

When he was already very ill, he wrote to David Wolfson, "I am going through a treatment for the heart. My mother does not know. She thinks I am just resting here. Don't do anything foolish when I am gone." There is no doubt that we did foolish things, and Herzl has long since been dead.

Two days before he passed away, he told one of his last visitors, "send my regards to the Land of Israel. I gave my heart for my people." He knew how to give. Do we know how to receive? One hundred and two years after his death, the Jewish people have provided an answer, and the answer is apparently that before 1967, we knew more, and since 1967, we have known a lot less. Until the Six Day War, we were much more protective of the Herzlian vision; since then, we have broken faith with it.

The Zionist enterprise is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. Its origins were so spectacular that many both in the country and outside it, including David Ben-Gurion, were tempted into believing that the gentiles would follow our guiding light. In his day, Herzl also believed so.

The complete vision is always more perfect than the sum of its daily parts. But in 1967 it was smashed, and now we know how difficult it is to put those pieces back together. Is it still possible? In 1967, we were not heroes, we did not conquer our ambitions, and thus we conquered territories along with their inhabitants, and Israel was no longer proposed as a paradigm for the world. In his book Altneuland, Herzl wrote: "We are conducting an experiment for all of humanity. Thus we want to be first in everything that involves love of humanity, and as a new country, to serve as an experiment and as a paradigm." We failed as a paradigm, and no doubt caused Herzl another broken heart. Herzl died twice.

Herzl, as was his wont, was ahead of his time when he expressed his views on the matter of the occupation, which he also foresaw. He wrote, "it is not the land that is the country, but the people who are included in it by sovereignty. The Jewish People is the personal foundation, the land is the physical basis for the state, and of these two elements, the personal is the more important." Let those words be a reminder to all those who forgot or never knew it.

In the last 40 years, we have invested our material and intellectual resources in the "physical basis" of the country and not in its "personal foundation." We have swallowed territory we cannot regurgitate. Israel of 2006 is shrinking in spirit because it inflated in size; we expanded borders and narrowed our horizons.

Herzl also warned lest the "republic of aristocrats" turn into a theocracy: "The theocratic urges of our clergy must not be allowed to raise their heads." Contrary to his recommendation, we have not been wise enough to keep the clergy in the synagogues, just as we have not been wise enough to keep the army in its barracks.

And we did not keep the military men out of affairs of state. "They must not be allowed to intervene" - another warning from Herzl - "lest they cause difficulties at home and abroad." It is not difficult to guess what Herzl would have to say in his sermon from the mount about a government with too many generals and a General Staff that over the generations has produced too many politicians.

Herzl's vision was not mistaken. From the start, Herzl did not believe in our "purity," because we are no different than the rest of modern humanity, and because "in liberty we shall develop a degree of hubris." As Herzl said, he was not a utopian like Thomas Moore. Nonetheless, he believed our people would develop "an enormous pull toward the sublime." It did not happen. The slopes down from the Swiss Alps to the Judean plains turned out to be to slippery, with sin lurking all the way.

The prophet Ezekiel, another visionary, did not despair as he looked out at the valley and saw the dry bones. He believed that a wind would arise and they would come to life. It is a shame that there is no Ezekiel among us to prophecy about the bones of his visionary colleague.