Rav Hirsh (1808-88) Wrote on Israel Today

A Torah scholar's truths can be applied and give guidance decades after he is no longer with us. The Frankfurt-based Rabbi, founder of the "Torah im Derech Eretz" movement, is an example.

Menachem Ben-Mordechai,

Judaism Menachem Ben Mordechai
Menachem Ben Mordechai

In times of chaos and injustice, our wisest men provide clarity and direction.

The national character of the Jewish People is a leitmotif in the writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt"l (1808-1888). "As long as the Jewish national organism is dispersed in exile, it is sick," Rav Hirsch notes in his perush to the Siddur. Sefer Tehillim is likewise "Israel's national collection of hymns" (perush to Tehillim 25:1), with our daily prayers being "the expression of Israel's collective religious-national thoughts" (Horeb).

One hundred years after Rav Hirsch's birth, the Haifa-based Arab newspaper al-Karmil opposed Jewish settlement of Eretz Yisrael. One hundred years after his death, Am Yisrael had restored its sovereignty, defeated numerous armies, and risen to become a major global power. How does Israel today compare with Rav Hirsch's vision of Jewish nationhood? (It should be noted that Rav Hirsch was not a Zionist in the modern sense of advocating the restoration of Jewish sovereignty through mass settlement of Eretz Yisrael. However, he aided the growth of Jewish life in Israel through actions like raising money for settlements and urging support for the pioneers of Petach Tikva.)

On the one hand, Israel's achievements in certain spheres are extraordinary: technological innovation, scientific and medical research, agricultural ingenuity. How many people benefit from Israel every day without knowing it?

But the measure of a nation is more than its amount of brilliant scientists and inventions. The following is also part of Israeli life:

Periodic destructions of Jewish communities under cover of night and even on Shabbat, following on the 2005 expulsion of 8,500 Jews and the destruction of numerous synagogues

Brutal raids on holy places like a yeshiva and a beit midrash, whose holiness exceeds that of a synagogue (see the Rambam in Hilchot Tefilla 11:14)

Police dereliction ranging from chronic rock attacks against Jews to rampant child molestation, whereas rabbis are arrested and persecuted for affirming halachic convictions

Judicial repression of religious freedom, reinforced by police violence against Jewish worship and similar prosecutorial infringement

Ongoing desecration of holy sites such as the cemetery at Har Ha-Zeitim and archaeological butchery at Har Ha-Bayit, while Jewish worshippers have been murdered and attacked at other holy sites

Jews in southern Israel repeatedly attacked by rockets, their families traumatized and feeling like second-class citizens

Hundreds of murderers released in 2011, which simultaneously rewarded Hamas, betrayed bereaved families, and endangered the country

This list is hardly exhaustive. Given the above, it is clear that Israeli society is not sure which way to go.

In sharp contrast with the current reality, the following observations by Rav Hirsch illuminate the path to national health and peace. May these holy insights become internalized and realized:

"The concept of 'justice' is for your conduct what the concept of 'the Unity of God' is for your mind. As the latter forms the basis of your thoughts, so the former is the basis of all your enjoyments and actions...Justice, therefore, is the sole guiding principle of your life. And though we conceive of your life's task as justice and love, love itself is nothing but justice." (Horeb)

"Only if they devote themselves to the Torah with all their might will the people of Israel enjoy freedom and independence in this land. A rich land 'flowing with milk and honey' tends to produce a population of weaklings...Everywhere, and at all times, let this warning be heard: Only on the basis of the Torah will Israel flourish; if it throws off the yoke of the Torah, Israel will go to physical and social ruin." (On Bereshit 14:1)

"The Lord conferred statehood upon His people so that they might defend the enforcement of justice and preserve the truth contained in our Law as handed down by transmission. If the Jewish State will carry out this mission, it can be sure of Divine support against all enemy powers, and no other nation will dare attack it. But if the Jewish State should cast off its task and destiny or put it to wrongful use, it will thereby become a nation at the mercy of fate just like all the other states of the world, and God will withdraw His protection from it." (On Pirkei Avot 5:11)

"Man must be able to put his trust in the opinions, words, and deeds of his fellows. He must know that his brother's mind recoils from wrong and is dedicated to the welfare of others. He must be sure that his brother will not say or promise anything other than that which he feels to be true or possible of fulfillment to the best of his knowledge and that his deeds are in conformity with his words..." (On Tehillim 12:2)

"Whether the seeds of evil are allowed to proliferate in the soil of a nation depends upon public opinion and its attitude toward justice and injustice. Where a general respect towards righteous and good actions prevails, while base and evil deeds are regarded with contempt and condemnation, there the germs of evil, from which crime and injustice on a large scale grow, cannot thrive. But where public opinion condones illegal and immoral behavior, there baseness and evil are allowed to come to the fore; the lawless rise to the top and become the leaders and tonesetters of society." (On Mishlei 20:26)