Yom Ha’atzmaut 5761: Bless the People Who Do Not Give Up

Bnei Akiva service at Finchley Synagogue

April 25, 2001

This address was delivered in 2001 in Finchley Synagogue, as part of Bnei Akiva's annual service for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut.


Kavod Harav, Rabbi Mirvis. How honoured we are to be in this, your community to which, in the last few years, you have brought such spectacular gifts, and to pay tribute to the rock solid support that you have given to the State and the people of Israel in these last difficult months - you and this community - and we are proud of the example that you have set.

Kavod HaShagrir Medinat Yisrael, we say how much we welcome your presence in our community and how much we wish you success in all you undertake. And if I can add, on a personal note, bearing in mind your unusual personal history. The fact that a Satmar chassid should have a grandson who is an ambassador for the State of Israel tells me that the Almighty is not without a sense of humour.

Rabbonim mechubadim, Vice President of the United Synagogue, Mrs Jo Wagerman, President of the Board of Deputies, Lady Jakobovits. Of course, on an occasion like this, we extend a very special and heartfelt welcome to Arieh Handler, one of the very, very few people still with us who was present with David Ben-Gurion when the State of Israel was proclaimed 53 years ago. Arieh, as always I say: Halevai we should be as young as you!

To all the chaverim and chaverot [friends] of Bnei Akiva, I want to say to you how proud we are of you. What an absolutely unforgettable experience we had at your National Weekend in the freezing wastes of Wales not long ago. Not only did you get Arieh and I dancing on the tables, you even managed to get the Welsh police to do likewise!

Friends, with young people like the chaverim and chaverot of Bnei Akiva, we look forward to our future with confidence. And to you, the chavrei Bnei Akiva yourselves, I say to you: never lose that fire, that passion and that faith. We need it now and we see it in you.

Friends, the Gemara in Brachot says a very difficult and profound thing. It says that shalosh matanot tovot natan Hakodesh Baruch Huh leyisrael: that God gave three precious gifts to the Jewish people - vekulam lo nitnu ela alyedei issurim - and each one of them was given in and only through suffering. Ve'eilu chen - and these are they -Torah - our marriage contract with God; Eretz Yisrael - the Land of Israel; and Ha'Olam Haba, the world to come.

The question is: Why? In a book published relatively recently, a full 60 years after his death, Rav Kook zt"l gave a very simple explanation. He said that anything natural, anything - bederech hateva - does not need to be acquired through pain. But anything which is - mei'al hukei hateva - which is above nature, which is supernatural, by definition strains against the limits of nature or of history and therefore it involves pain. It is obvious that Torah and Ha'Olam Haba, by their very definition supernatural. But what we recognise today is that that applies no less to the Land and to the State of Israel.

The existence of Medinat Yisrael is certainly mei'al hukei hateva. When in all of history did a people return to its land after an exile of 2000 years? When in all of history did a people gather to itself the reins of independence and of power after two millennia of powerlessness? When did a people return to zerah shel historia - to the arena of history - after a distinguished historian, Lord Toynbee, called us as a people "one of the fossils of history". This is mei'al hukei hateva. This is above and beyond the natural.

When did so small a country, surrounded by so many enemies and so much hostility do what Israel has done? Transform an entire people, our people, mishvut legeula, u'mimavet lehayim - from exile to redemption and even from death itself to new life. When did a people rescue so many threatened communities? When did a nation the size of Israel absorb so many human beings? When did a people like Israel show so much indomitable courage, not only in waging war, but also in pursuit of peace? All this is mei'al hukei hateva. It is beyond the natural.

Tonight we say - and not only say but also feel to the depths of our soul - what we will say in a moment in Hallel: Even ma'asu habonim - the stone the builders rejected - the nation despised by the world - hayeta lerosh pinah - today stands tall and proud. We say: mei'ayt Hashem hayeta zot - this can only be from God. Vehe niflot beayneinu - and it is wondrous in our eyes.

Sadly, tonight we see the other side of that talmudic equation: kulanu lo nitnu ela al udei issurim - these great and supernatural gifts.

In the last year, Israel has paid a very high price in issurim. We have seen a seven-year pursuit of peace collapse into violence and terror. In the last 12 months alone, 182 Israelis have been killed and so many thousands injured. Israel has found itself, after offering more concessions than anyone believed possible to achieve peace with its neighbours, betzara he l'akov - at a time of distress for the Jewish people and to our brothers and sisters in Israel, we say - imachem anakhnu betzara - we are with you and we will always be with you in your distress as well as in your joy.

At a moment like this, a message should go out, not only to us but from us to the world: Who is suffering as a result of the rejection of Israel's offer of peace? Of course, her people, her economy, her children, suffer. But does anyone gain? Do Israel's enemies gain by violence and terror? By rejection and rage? Nobody gains! Do the Palestinians gain through seeing their people die, their economy wither, their children poisoned by hate, their very hope destroyed for a generation if not for more? Does the Arab world gain by rejecting peace, by rejecting Israel's right to exist, by rejecting all that Israel has to offer?

And let me ask: Does the world gain by cold-shouldering a country that has more to teach and offer the developing world than perhaps any other in the world? What nation formed since the Second World War has done more to teach humanity about how to develop agriculture or medicine or technology or education? What country of Israel's youth and size has done more to help nations in distress through famine or natural disaster - whether in Bosnia, or Turkey or Kosovo? What country has more nobly sustained under incredible pressures and a wholly inhospitable environment the principles of democracy, a free press and an independent judiciary?

You know, they used to tell a story of a men who, in a time of great distress and poverty, went around his medina teaching community after community the principles of tzedakah. When he came back, the chassidim asked him : "How did you do? Did you succeed?"

And he said: "I half succeeded."

"What do you mean, you half succeeded?" said the talmidim.

"Well," said the Rebbe, " I persuaded the poor to take. Now I just have to persuade the rich to give."

Can you image this irony? Israel wants to give - and we have to persuade the world to take!

Friends, sinam mekalkelet et hashemrah. It distorts the human heart. It destroys our capacity for rational decision. To our great sadness, we have to say: More than Israel's enemies inflict suffering on Israel, they inflict suffering on themselves.

Yet today, precisely as we feel those issurim, that suffering and that pain, so do we feel the omanah tovah - this great gift which God has given us in the form of the State of Israel, which has transformed Jewish life in Israel and on every continent.

What challenge lies ahead for the people of Israel? This is a very simply-answered question. It goes to the very heart of what Bnei Akiva and what religious Zionism represents.

There were times in the past when the strength that Israel needed was economic strength. There were times when it needed military strength. Times when it needed political strength. Today, Baruch Hashem, it has all those things. I have to tell you: what have Israel's enemies been saying all along? I'll tell you. They say: Look at Israelis. Have you ever looked at Israelis? Baruch Hashem, Israelis are wonderful people, they say, but they have no patience no savlanut, no sitzfleisch. They drive like meshugannes! The rarest thing in all of nature is an Israeli queue! So what shall we do? We'll make life hell for them for 53 years and then we'll make life hell for them for another 50 years and they'll say: Nu, let's go to Miami. - or Mei-ami - as it is said in Ivrit.

And then they say many hundreds of years the crusader state was a blip on the screen of history to say never was a calculation. A people who waited 2000 years for its Land, a people who waited more than 2000 years still waiting for its Mashiach - does not give up. A people who gave the world the concept of hope, a people that names its national anthem Hatikvah, does not give up. A people that knows that matanot tovot - that great gifts - only come through suffering, does not give up.

And, therefore, tonight I say to our brothers and sisters, the Palestinians: For your sake if not for ours, and for your children's sake if not for yours, think again and take this hand we extend to you in peace, and make peace yours as well as ours.

And we say to the Jewish people in the Jewish State - Am Yisrael bemedinat Yisrael - Chazak, chazak venitchazek: You be strong; we will be strong, and let us strengthen one another. And to Hakodesh Baruch Hu we pray: Ribbono Shel Olam, You who in the last 53 years have answered so many of our prayers, please answer the last and greatest prayer of all. Bless Your people, Israel.