Rabbi Chaim Druckman
Rabbi Chaim DruckmanIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of Yeshivat Or Etzion and Chairman of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, was awarded the Israel Prize this week.

Arutz Sheva had the opportunity to interview Rabbi Druckman shortly before the prize was awarded.

Congratulations on receiving the Israel Prize. I would like to open a rather personal question. Is there is a special feeling for the Rabbi? Excitement for the event?

"There's a special feeling. I cannot say that there is excitement, but there is definitely a special feeling. Israel gives national recognition for things done year in and year out by so many for the values we hold dear: Israel, Eretz Israel and the Torah of Israel."

Although the description of the award said that he is the great contributor to religious-Zionist education, many feel it could be said of the religious Zionist movement as a whole. I guess, the rabbi feels the same way?

"I'm happy about it and definitely agree. That's my point: this is official recognition of action for these values - and thank God I'm not the only one that is pursuing them."

The award committee noted that the monetary portion of the prize was awarded to educational and [Army] conversion programs. There is a connection between the two?

"Certainly there is a connection. There are many with a relationship to Israel who wish to come to Israel and be with Israel. From a religious Zionist point of view the army and the state are bound up as one. We must care for our brothers who come to Israel after a long period of physical and spiritual bondage. We have to feel for such people. If any of them wants to become a Jew in every respect, we must help them. These things are connected."

In recent years, after the expulsion from Gush Katif, the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, and other struggles, many in religious Zionist circles are saying these are the birth-pangs heralding the messianic age. Does the rabbi feel this way?

"Of course I feel this way, and certainly it should be regarded as the beginning of such things. I will point out two things, and then add one more thing about them.

Rabbi Joshua Ben Meir, shlita, who fought in the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights, where the difficult fighting brought him to a spiritual and psychological crisis, said that when he was given leave he went home to Jerusalem and could not sleep for two straight nights.

He sought out Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook for answers and strength. He knocked on the door late one night and sensed the rabbi was peeking through the keyhole to see who was coming at such an hour. Then the rabbi opened the door and demanded "get the document!" Rabbi Ben-Meir said.

"Rabbi, I am Joshua Ben-Meir. A document?" Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda repeated: "What about the document? Show me the document!" Rabbi Joshua thought that the rabbi did not recognize him [from the picture] because it was dusty and showed his military uniform, but the rabbi kept asking him for "the document."

Finally, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda explained, "Show me your contract with God in heaven, where you have the steps of redemption. Where is the document in which he told you how he is going to redeem Israel ... " Rabbi Ben-Meir understood that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda saw what was troubling him from the outset, and they continued to talk for sometime. We cannot dictate how God brings the Redemption. It is through the Torah that we understand the meaning of the suffering we endure.

The other event is as follows: I went with a delegation of students in the eleventh and twelfth grade classes to Poland. After we visited the Valley of Death in the extermination camps, on Shabbat, we talked and the students poured out their hearts and said deeply felt and honest things.

Two of them said last Independence Day, which was after the expulsion from Gush Katif and northern Samaria, that they found it difficult to rejoice in the great joy of the nation. They asked themselves, "What is the country celebrating? What are we so happy about?" But now, after seeing what happened to our people in the camps, they understood why we are happy to have a State of Israel, and on the next Independence Day they were overjoyed.

These things inform us what a great gift God gave us. Its like receiving a beautiful vase of flowers, which someone else throws into the mud. You shouldn't thank the one who sent the gift? After all, the problems we created ... but who gave us the precious gift after two thousand years of exile? Because we make trouble we don't admit what God has done for us? That makes no sense. On the contrary, we must recognize what we have been given, accept the difficulties, face them down, and improve. Then we can properly use the gift that God gave us.

Recently, more and more, we hear discussions about religious Zionism needing to stop being a fifth-wheel politically. That its time to take upon ourselves the burden of leadership. Can our generation accomplish this?

It's up to us to unite. If not, we spread our forces too thin. If everyone in the religious Zionist movement would unify behind a single political party great things will happen, but currently there is no chance for this. We must change this reality. We raised sons and daughters who are glorious idealists. But we must focus on the common ground amongst ourselves. Why do we not come together proudly and say what be believe in? Why are we fighting with one another?

There are many who believe that,  in order to lead, parties must compromise and work for consensus…

Reality contradicts this! Where do we see it in the real world? Was there consensus during the evacuation of Yamit? What majority was represented during the expulsion from Gush Katif? Is memory so short?

Finally I would like to return to Independence Day. Is there a way the Rabbi seeks to experience the values of the day?

On this day we ought to thank God in prayer, and bless the Lord for the great gift he has given us as we do on other holidays. That is the starting point, and whoever does not get the point - this day will make him take note that he has another day of freedom. This is a day of spiritual elevation.

We say prayers and rejoice. We feast and we travel with our families to see our land. We go to the synagogue and we learn words of Troah. We learn the relevant sections of Midrash, Jewish Law, and Talmud dealing with our land. We admit to the Lord our joy at the land he has given us.