We are living between two festivals that make two very different assertions of Jewish identity. One is “Yom Ha’Atzma’ut” (April 22-23); the other is Shavuot (May 23-25).
Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is usually translated as “Israeli Independence Day,” but it would be more accurate to call it “Day for Standing on One’s Own Feet, Day of Affirming One’s Own Essence” because etzem means “bone, skeleton, internal essential structure.”
What does it mean for the people of Israel to be named "Yisrael" or "godwrestlers"? "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Alexander Louis Leloir. Credit: Creative Commons.
Shavuot has been observed for about 2,000 years as the anniversary of the Revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.
During these weeks, the most recent Israeli elections culminated in final agreement on a hair-thin governing coalition of 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The resulting government is by far the most right-wing – politically, economically, and religiously – in Israel’s history.
Since the State of Israel claims to be “the Jewish State,” and since its actions certainly affect the world’s understanding of the Jewish people (and for many Jews, our understanding of our selves), it is hard for Jews anywhere to ignore the meaning of these recent changes. Since I have invested my life in drawing upon the past wisdom of the Jewish people, shaping its present, and transforming its future, I certainly cannot ignore these events.
In this I am hardly alone. There have been myriad analyses and essays about the elections and the new government. Almost all have focused on the political implications – for Israelis, for Palestine, for the Middle East, for the United States.
I feel drawn to think and feel in a different dimension. So what I have written below looks into the moral and spiritual meaning of the election in the light of Torah. From the standpoint of the Shavuot we are approaching, what is the meaning of the Yom ha’Atzma’ut we have recently passed? What is our own essence, what are the feet of our own on which we hope to stand?
So I raise these questions:
- “What does it mean, deeply and fully, for the People, as well as the State, to be named “Yisrael,” “Godwrestlers”?
- What have been the different effects of post-Holocaust-traumatic-stress on Israeli and American Jewry?
- Why does the Torah repeat so many times the command, “Treat strangers with justice and love, for you were strangers in the Narrow Land”?
- What are the relationships among love, admiration, and idolatry directed toward the State?
What actually happened in the recent elections and negotiations toward choosing a new government? The Israeli electorate – especially the majority of its Jewish majority – voted for a racist government. This government is racist toward the Palestinians whom Prime Minister Netanyahu (truthfully, at last) said he will never permit to govern themselves. And it is racist toward the Israeli citizens of Palestinian culture — whose desire to vote to change their lives — VOTE, not riot — he used as a justification for rousing a right-wing racist outpouring of voters for himself.