Israels true power must come from justice within


Numbers 33:1-36:16

Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4

To be Jewish means to wrestle with God. Israel is the one who wrestles with God and prevails because it is through the willingness to struggle that we discover our true selves. Jacobwrestles with this strange man or angel and comes away marked and changed. Had he failed to wrestle, however, he would have faded out of history. We would never have known the story of Jacob.

For 2,000 years Jews lived outside of history. The moral dilemmas associated with administering a state were the challenges of other nations. We dwelt among them and sometimes even became of them, but we left the problems of government, of war, of kings, to those in whose midst we dwelt.

It is this exit from history that prompted Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, to say, “Divine providence has kept Israel out of history because sovereignty required wars to uphold that sovereignty. Wars require slaying the righteous along with the wicked. Now that the League of Nations has made warfare obsolete, the time has arrived for a redeemed Israel.”

Leaving aside his mistaken optimism about the League of Nations, he demonstrates how political redemption means a return to the problems of history. The Hebrew word geulah (redemption) means to be lifted away from a place of persecution and poverty and brought out to freedom. It is in this sense that God redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt.

What Rav Kook forgot about, however, is the Hebrew word yeshua (salvation). David prays to God for yeshua while living in a free Israel. He has enemies and he must struggle with the challenges of a dangerous and frightening world. At the same time he is in control of his own destiny. As Soloveitchik would say, he has the ability to speak.

We have finally, after 2,000 years, gained the ability to speak. We are a redeemed people back again in history, struggling with the challenges of the world.

As we read this week about the steps toward Israel, the steps that lead us into the promised land, I am reminded of our need to return to biblical wisdom to guide us in this new world of power after generations of powerlessness. The Torah will warn us of the avarice of kings and suggest a morality of war. We are instructed to respect property boundaries and how to establish just courts.

The Torah is hopeful because it offers instructions on how to pursue justice as a people are ready to enter a promised land. Justice shall you pursue — because through justice geulah (redem-ption) becomes yeshua (salvation).

Israel is strong, with the mightiest military in the Middle East. Yet despite all the power, despite our ability to speak in the annals of history, our struggles are far from over.

Like King David, I pray to the God of my salvation. The God who helps in the world of history, in the challenges we face from Hezbollah and Hamas and the new type of warfare they have innovated. I know, too, that this God of salvation listens only when my prayer is focused on justice and not vengeance, on mercy and not hatred.

Israel today still faces serious and ongoing challenges and risks to her continued survival. We wrestle to find a path that includes justice and mercy; only then can we be brought from geulah to yeshua — and have a victory in which we remain a people who wrestle with God and pursue justice.

For Israel to remain our sacred homeland, Israelis have to maintain a firm commitment to peace. Jewish power means drawing on our wisdom to learn how and when to act, and how and when to reach out a hand in peace. When you go out to war, says our sacred tradition, first you call out in peace.

May God protect the land of ancestors, and may God protect also the soul of our people.

Rabbi David Booth is the spiritual leader at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. He can be reached at [email protected].