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Another look at Herzl, Jabotinsky and Zionism

By Tuvia Brodie
5/12/2014, 2:05 PM

In this week’s Torah portion, B’hukotai (Va’yikra 26:3-27:34), the G-d of Israel speaks to the Jewish people. His message is simple: if you follow my commandments, I will bless you.  If you reject me, I will do the same to you.

G-d’s blessing takes many forms. Rain will appear in its proper time. The land will give produce. Prosperity will be so great we will still be busy threshing grain when the time comes to harvest grapes (see The ArtScroll Chumash, commentary, Va’yikra 26:5).

We will eat bread to satiety. We will dwell securely in our land. We will have peace. When we lie down, none will frighten us.

A sword will not cross our land. Our enemies will fall before us.

We will be fruitful. We will increase.

But if we reject G-d, He will treat us in a like manner—although unlike us, He will never abandon us, only punish us.

His punishment takes many forms. The heavens above Israel will become like iron. The land will turn to copper. There will be no fruit or produce. Cities will be ruined. The roads will be desolate. 

Conquerors will come. They will dwell upon our land (commentary, ibid, 26:32).

We, meanwhile, will be struck down before our enemies. We will be scattered among the nations.

Those who hate us will subjugate us. Jews who become scattered will become weak-hearted in the lands of their foes. These Jews will flee before the sound of a rustling leaf as one ordinarily flees before the sword. They will flee even when there is no pursuer.

Jews will become lost among the nations. The lands of their enemy will devour them.

Jews among those nations will, in other words, lose their sense of self-worth. They will become frightened of the gentiles. They will become cowards.

We saw this cowardice a hundred and twenty years ago when Theodore Herzl began to dream of a Jewish national homeland. Herzl spoke often of his dream. He wrote about it. But his Jewish audience was scattered among the nations. They were lost.

The Jewish elite cringed before the sound of a rustling leaf. They feared their own Destiny. The lands of their enemies had devoured their hearts.

They declared Herzl to be insane. He was ill. He had lost his mind. The idea of gathering the Jewish people into a single national homeland was seen by some as “intended to eliminate the Jewish people—not its physical existence, of course, but its identity” (George Yitschak Weisz, Theodore Herzl: a new reading, Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem, 2013. p4-5).

The cowardly Jewish elite rejected Zionism. They said any restoration of the Jewish national sovereignty would require Jews to abandon their religion (ibid, p6, footnote 15). A month before the first Zionist Congress meeting (1896), the Union of Rabbis of Germany published a manifesto to declare that the establishment of a national state in Palestine ran counter to “the Messianic prophecies of Judaism” (ibid, p6). In Hungary, Herzl accomplished the seemingly impossible: he got two sworn enemies—the Liberal and Orthodox Jewish communities—to join together to reject Zionism as “a dangerous spiritual folly” (ibid, p7).

Jewish leadership today suffers from the same cowardice. In Israel, Tzipi Livni, Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert, Yitzchak Herzog and others all declare—in one way or another—that Zionism is a dangerous folly. Zionistic ‘settlers’ are not just insane; they are, as Leftist anti-Israel writer Amos Oz has recently put it,  ‘neo-Nazis’.

Exile, and its bastard-child, the exile mentality, have turned Jews world-wide into cowards. Exile has devoured Jewish self-identity. It has melted Jewish courage.

This week’s Torah portion predicted all of this more than 3,000 years ago. We have sinned. We have been exiled. We have become cowards.

But this Torah portion also predicts that Zion would once again rise. G-d promises here that He will never abandon us. He promises our return—to religion and land.

That is what has happened. We have returned. Despite the cowardice of Jewish leadership, we return to G-d and land. We build Israel. The Jewish elite has been unable to stop us.   

A hundred years ago, Jewish leaders rejected Herzl’s Zionism.  Seventy-five years ago, Jewish leaders rejected Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Zionism, even as he predicted that super-progroms were coming to Europe—and the lives of 5–7 million Jews were at risk.

The Jewish elite didn’t care. They rejected Zion. The lands of their enemies had devoured their hearts.

But we, the Jewish people, were not cowards. We heard Herzl. We heard Jabotinsky. We did not reject Zion.  

Unlike our elite, we the Jewish people understand Zion. Unlike our leaders, we turn to Zion; Israel’s population figures prove it.

Unlike our elite, we embrace Zion. We know Zion is our Destiny. We know that Destiny is close—very close.

 We know something else: our Destiny comes from us—not our elite.