Chaim Weizmann and the Heart of the Matter

Zionists today, both with and without kipot, are driven by the same spirit that drove Avraham Avinu so long ago, and Chaim Weizmann so recently, as in the fascinating story below.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

In 1886, twelve-year-old Chaim Weizmann (who in 1949 became the first President of the State of Israel) was living in Pinsk, in order to obtain a high school education.

The future world-acclaimed chemist, whose work on  explosives during WWI was rewarded by a grateful Great Britain with the Balfour Declaration of England’s favoring a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, was, in 1886  a  mere child from the tiny shtetl of Motele.  

Chaim was basically alone in the “big city” of Pinsk( population about 25,000, with Jews comprising some 90%). One day, young Chaim heard that the Eisenberg family was leaving Poland to make Aliyah (emigration) to Palestine, the Holy Land. The entire populace was abuzz with the news, and many Jews went to say good-byes to Rabbi Abraham Eisenberg and his family.

Chaim didn’t know the family. However,  there was magic in the notion of Jews making the age-old dream of Aliyah come true. So Chaim determined that he too must see the people who merited this great adventure, the realization of the millenia-old Jewish dream. Thus, he soon found himself in front of the door of the Eisenberg house. However, being the twelve-year-old that he was, and already a gentleman, later to become his trademark, he was reluctant to “intrude” on the family.

So instead of knocking on the door, Chaim contented himself with looking through the keyhole. What he saw changed him for life: a brightly lit dining-room, a happy family, and at the head of the table, a beaming Rav Avraham, his face shining with a happiness and holiness that left a life-long impression on Chaim.

In 1907, now married, he made his first trip to the Holy Land. He did find an apartment for his mother in Haifa, but was unable to find himself a home; no area in the Holy Land “felt right”.

In 1930, now the leader of the world-wide Zionist movement, he again searched the entire length-and-breadth of the Land, and found no area in which he felt comfortable enough to settle, not even in Jerusalem.

It was only in 1934 that, shortly after deciding that Rehovot was to be the site of a new science center( this later became the Weizmann Institute), he visited a hilltop on the eastern side of the town. From it, he could see the Judean hills to the east, and the Mediterranean coast to the west. This was it, his heart told him; here was the place that he felt he could finally stop his wanderings, settle down and build his home in Eretz Yisrael.

Dr. Weizmann sent an emissary to inquire as to who was the land’s owner, and if he was willing to sell the hilltop. To the doctor’s amazement, his middleman returned with the news that the owner was willing to sell, and that the land belonged to none other than the family of Rabbi Abraham Eisenberg, formerly of Pinsk, the man whose happy Aliyah had made such an impression on the young Chaim, nearly half a century earlier (the story was told to me by tour-guide Hughie Auman).

“You are the Lord Almighty, who chose Avram, took him out of Ur Kasdim, changed his name to Abraham, and found his heart faithful to you. And You established the Covenant with Abraham to give him the land of the Canaanites, and the Emorites,  Prizites, Jebusites(who lived in the area of the future Jerusalem),and Gergushi, and to give it to his descendants” ( Shacharit, daily morning prayers, from Nehemiah 9,verses10-11)

Lot is essential to Mashiach.
This week’s Haftorah talks about Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father). Taken from Isaiah chapter 40, the Haftorah  describes the one who “roused himself from the East”, namely, Avraham. The prophet describes how the Almighty “gives to the tired strength (Koach), and might to the powerless…and  those who put their hopes in Hashem, will regain their strength, grow wings like eagles, run without fatigue (to their Land), and go( yelchu) without getting tired”.

The word for “go”, yelchu, comes from the same root as Lech Lecha, G-d’s command to Avraham to “go”, which opens this week’s Torah reading.

To Rav Matis Weinberg, “GO” connotes Avraham’s, and thus every Jew’s, unceasing, untiring drive for self (“Lecha”)-development, and with it the unfettered development of all Creation (since,as I’ve written in Shlach: A Woman’s Place is in Eretz Yisrael, 6/22/05, the strength that we are dealing with is the power with which the Almighty created the Universe, and which he transmitted to Israel, through Sarai/Sarah, to conquer the Land).

For Avraham Avinu is truly an“Av Hamon Goyim”, a Father to all the Nations: History is the parallel flowering of progress for Israel and all the Nations.

This is particularly true of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, who is featured prominently in our Parsha. Lot is essential to Mashiach and thus to the final destination of the process of “Lech”, of History. For without Lot, there is no Moav, no Ruth the Moabitess, and no King David and his line of kings-including the Messiah.

 Rav Avraham Yithzchak HaCohen Kook also describes this power. He tackles the question of whether it is better for a Jew, a follower of the Almighty, to be of a weaker nature (for thus, presumably, he would more naturally follow the “religious” mandates of the Torah), or a stronger one. Rav Kook comes down unequivocally in favor of the latter writing,

“For just as a person who is physically strong delights in strenuous bodily activities, so too in the realm of the spirit: the requirements of Torah and Mussar are no yoke to one with a great soul. On the contrary, he is not depressed or angered by them, but actually demands spiritual challenges, as his healthy soul finds happiness in these activities. Moreover, such a soul finds no rest until the nation stands in its full development, with its physical and spiritual powers totally developed”.

This is the strong Jewish heart that is to make the Land of Israel and (in partnership with all nations) the world, flower. Zionists today, both with and without kipot, are driven by the same spirit that drove Avraham Avinu so long ago, and Chaim Weizmann so recently. They want to build and develop, and are sick and tired of the whiners and losers of the Left. J

Just as the young Avram ceaselessly and honestly questioned and fought the idolatrous “ truths’ of his age, our young Zionists are thoroughly disgusted with the nonsense of  “demography”, and the idiocy of viewing “Palestinians” as a nation,  “terrorists” as “negotiating partners”, and Jew-killers as “politicians and Prime Ministers”.

Listen to the drivel of a Tzippi Livni, or the hateful rantings of Peace Now, and wonder how young Jews will grow up to develop, with Koach, the courageous heart of an Avraham, to rebuff the threats of our modern Nimrods.

Would a 21st-century Chaim Weizmann, looking through a keyhole at the  the sight of  PM Netanyahu  hugging Gilad Shalit, be inspired with  a life-long love of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael ? I doubt it. But thousands are listening to the words of this week’s Parsha and have rejected the idea that Zionism is past its peak, with nothing more to do than  to open more  shopping-malls and call  “ business as usual” the “ new Zionism”( as our Left has done).   

The point of Lech Lecha is always going, never reaching the goal until the end of History.
For if one thinks the latter, he has truly missed the point of Lech Lecha: always going, never reaching the goal. Because the goal will only be reached at the end of History.That defines a true son of Israel, one with the heart of an Avraham.

As Rav Weinberg says: one who possesses such a heart is a true  son of history’s first iconoclast, for whom every “closed theory”( as Bohr and Heisenberg claimed for Quantum Mechanics) and “tired of fighting”- Kadima moaning was nothing less than Avodat Zara, idolatry.

Avraham Avinu knew that the name of this game is “Lech Lecha”- never being satisfied with today’s paradigms, beliefs and accomplishments.

So wherever you are, dear Reader: Lech Lecha- Let’s “GO”.

 Addendum: I just can’t resist passing on one more Chaim Weizmann story, this one from one of Israel’s most irresistible Apikorsim, the late Tommy Lapid. The story appears in the biography of Lapid by his son Yair Lapid ( English version, page 86): Tommy Lapid felt that Avraham Avinu urge, and, fed up with his native Yugoslavia and its stagnating Communist society, made Aliya in 1948 at age 17- only to land right in the middle of Israel’s War of Independence. He was immediately drafted, but, pressured by distraught parents, Ben Gurion had decided that all 17-year-olds stay in Army bases behind the front lines. Thus young Tommy entered the base lunchroom, for his first meal as a recruit- and he was appalled to see a giant picture of Lenin filling the back wall of the room. He turned to a fellow Oleh (immigrant), and said in Hungarian: “ For this I survived Eichman in Budapest, and for this I escaped the Communist hell of Yugoslavia- for a country with a portrait of Lenin hovering over my every meal?”

His buddy replied: “ Relax, Tommy. Relax. That’s a picture of the leader of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann”.