Every Independence Day, I remember that special Shabbat knife that my teacher’s father, Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, kept in his cabinet. The knife had a special inscription on its handle that read, Medinat Ysrael (The State of Israel), and Baal HaSulam used it only to slice the challah as he blessed Hamotzi on the eve of Shabbat. He cherished Israel not because of what it is, but because of what he prayed for it to become.
69 years ago, Israel started as a poor, tiny country, and highly dependent on its allies. Today’s Israel, however, has a strong army, a robust economy, advanced technology, and modern medicine. Yet, for all its progress, one question remains, “Has Israel become independent?”
Far from Independent
According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, being independent means that we are “not subject to control by others,” and are not “requiring or relying on something else.” By this definition, we are far from independent. As recent decisions in the UN General Assembly indicated, we are dependent on the positive view of the world in every aspect of our lives: economic, diplomatic, academic, cultural, and even in defense of our borders.
Israel is not the only country that is dependent on others for its survival. In truth, no country on the planet can claim independence. In an era of globalization, self-sufficiency is a fabrication of politicians and power-hungry rulers who flaunt the word before the crowd during mass festivities. They call out, “We will maintain our independence and our sovereignty today, tomorrow, and hereafter,” when in truth, no country can survive alone, especially not Israel whose very right to exist is questioned daily.
The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity.” The resolution, which opens the door to economic, academic, and other forms of sanctions against Israel, indicates that Israel is not as independent as it sometimes claims it is. Were it not for the election of Donald Trump as President, Israel would be in a far worse international position than it is today. For the moment, Israel has been given a hiatus from international pressure, but unless it moves in the right direction, the pressure will return with vigor.
Unity as a Condition to Sovereignty
When I speak of moving in the right direction, I am referring to pursuing the role for which we have been given sovereignty. If we connect ourselves to our vocation, we will truly become the world’s favorite nation. Connecting ourselves to our vocation means living as is required of the Israeli nation.
Despite the constant threats against Israel, it is the only country in the world whose future is in its own hands. We were established as a nation on the basis of mutual responsibility and love of others. We were declared a nation only after we committed to unite “as one man with one heart.” Unity was our motto, and as long as we were able to maintain even a trace of it, we were able to maintain sovereignty over the land. Once we lost our union, we were exiled from the land.
Throughout the ages, our sages were keenly aware of the importance of unity. The Midrash (Tanhuma, Nitzavim) writes about Israel: “When it is dark for you, the everlasting light is destined to shine for you, as it was said (Isaiah 60), ‘And it shall be to you an everlasting light.’ When? When you are all one bundle, as it was said (Deuteronomy 4), ‘You are alive every one of you this day.’ Clearly, if a person takes a bundle of reeds, can he break them at once? But if taken one at a time, even an infant can break them. Thus, you find that Israel are not redeemed until they are all one bundle.”
The first leaders of the State of Israel were also keenly aware of the paramount importance of unity to the young country. David Ben Gurion wrote, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus, 19:18) is the superior commandment in Judaism. With these three words the eternal, human law of Judaism has been formed… The state of Israel will be worthy of its name only if its social, economic, political, and judicial structure are based upon these three eternal words.”
A.D. Gordon echoed Ben Gurion’s words when he wrote, “‘All of Israel are responsible for one another’ … [and] only where people are responsible for one another there is Israel.” And finally, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, reviver of the Hebrew language, added, “We have yet to open our eyes and see that only unity can save us. Only if we all unite … to work in favor of the entire nation, our labor will not be in vain.”
The Only Thing We Need to Do
Israel’s unity is not a goal in and of itself. We were intended to be the avant-garde, the bellwether, leading all of humanity toward unity. The commandment to be “a light unto nations” means that we must show the world the way to unity. The Book of Zohar writes (Aharei Mot), “‘How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to also sit together.’ …You, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part … and by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
This sense of Jewish purpose to correct the world has pervaded the Jewish mindset throughout the ages. German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre: “Every Jew, no matter how insignificant, is engaged in some decisive and immediate pursuit of a goal.”
Regarding the pursuit of that goal, Martin Buber wrote about the State of Israel: “We want the State of Israel not for the Jews; we want it for humanity. The construction of the new humanity will not take place without the special power of Judaism.” And Rav Kook adds likewise: “Israel’s purpose is to unite the entire world into a single family.”
Today, wherever we turn the world is blaming us for some wrongdoing. The only thing we need to do about it is unite. Our sages and our scriptures were right; world peace depends on our unity, as Sefat Emet writes, “The children of Israel became responsible to correct the entire world.”
It turns out that our strength and independence, and the world’s strength and independence, depend entirely on our willingness to unite. If we choose unity, in order to convey it to the world, we will see a dramatic change for the better. This will be the beginning of our being “a light unto nations.”
If we unite, the burdensome interdependence we call “globalization” will turn into mutual support. We do not need to teach the nations how to unite; we simply need to set an example of it.
French pastor Charles Wagner was quoted in A Book of Jewish Thoughts: “Israel has given to mankind the category of holiness. Israel alone has known the thirst for social justice, and that inner saintliness which is the source of justice.” Just as now when we are disunited, the nations reject us, when we become a role model of unity they will embrace us.
So, this Independence Day, let us finally begin to be what we are meant to be. Let us be a country that is united in mutual responsibility, whose people strive to love their neighbors as themselves and wish to pass that unity on to the entire world.
Happy Independence Day to all!
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