Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
This week we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. As always, the occasion will bring out its philosophers, analysing the meaning of Israel and assessing how far the Jewish State has fulfilled the Zionist ideal.
There is something else they often forget to remember. The Torah pinpoints it for us. “When you have come into the land,” it tells us, “and shall have planted all kinds of trees…” (Lev. 19:23). Coming into the land means more than ideological debate and philosophical analysis. It means acts, facts on the ground, practical expressions of great ideas and ideals. Not just for Israelis themselves; that’s obvious. But for Jews everywhere, for whom a program of practical Zionism was formulated as long ago as the second century by Rabbi Meir.
Said Rabbi Meir, “He who is firmly implanted in the land of Israel, who speaks the holy tongue, who eats his food in purity and reads the Shema morning and evening – he is assured of life in the World to Come” (Jer. Shabbat 1:3).
To be firmly implanted in the land of Israel means Aliyah for oneself or one’s children. At the very least it means visiting as often as possible, not just to fulfil the Biblical command to “see the land, what it is” (Num. 13:18), but to breathe the air and sense why the sages said that every Jew who sets foot there, if only for two paces, will inherit eternal life.
To speak the holy tongue means being at home with Hebrew. We have our own language: should we not all make the effort to make it our own? I once spent all night at Lod Airport, greeting planeloads of Russian immigrants. They did not quite know who I was, and one youngish man, presuming that I was an Israeli government representative, solemnly addressed me in a flowery speech in Biblical Hebrew which he must have composed for his arrival. Not that the rest of us need to compose speeches in Hebrew, but nor should it be a totally foreign tongue for so many Jews.
Eating food in purity had a ritual connotation for Rabbi Meir. In a metaphorical modern sense, it means bringing Israeli products into one’s home and one’s life. It means backing Israel and buying Israeli. It means bringing the feeling of Israel into the furthest corners of the world.
Reading the Shema morning and evening has always been part of Judaism. But in this context it has an extra dimension. We who live in these miraculous times, having seen the phoenix of Israel rise after the ashes of the Holocaust, must perceive a religious dimension in the events we have witnessed so dramatically.
We must tell the world that this is something which the Lord has done (Psalm 118:24). We must proclaim with the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is a unique God!”
This is practical Zionism.