What connects us to Israel? What is the core of our relationship with the Jewish homeland? Is it Zionism, the great Israeli food we have when we visit, a pride in the achievements of the Jewish people, or is it something deeper? Recently, I had a conversation with an Israeli government official. He had been putting in a major effort to shore up the support of for Israel amongst the some of the liberal end of the Jewish community. These people were upset about a host of issues. Some want Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians. Others are distressed by the fact that the religious issues in Israel are in the hands of the Orthodox.
I told him, “Don’t worry about me. I may not support all the government policies. In particular, I do not believe that having two states is a solution. In fact, we already tried two states: we have one terrorist state in Gaza run by Hamas, and another terror regime in Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah.” I told him, “Israel is in my soul. It goes to the core of my existence as a Jew. No matter what, I am still with you.”
In the Torah portion Genesis that we read a few days ago we encountered the very first explanation of Rashi, the premier commentary of the Torah. Rashi, the tenth century sage Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, is not interested in polemics. His prime focus is helping us to comprehend the essential understanding of the text, what’s called “Pshat,” the basic meaning of the Torah.
He asks an intriguing question: why do we have the Biblical narrative about creation? The purpose of Torah is to give us a way of life; the story of creation does not achieve that. He explains the reason the Torah starts with Genesis is to teach us an essential lesson: “G-d created the world and gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. When the nations of the world come to you and say ‘you stole this land,’ you should tell them that G-d gave it to the Jewish people.”
Prior to the establishment of modern Israel, Britain, which controlled the territory convened the Peel Commission to explore the question of Palestine’s destiny. David Ben Gurion, who would later become the first prime minister, testified. Lord Peel said to him, “You come from Poland. What gives you a right to the Land of Israel?” He responded, “The very Bible I swore an oath on to give my testimony to you today.”
Israel does not belong to the Jewish people because the UN voted in 1947. It is not ours because Herzl started Zionism a century ago. Nor is our connection to the Jewish homeland dependent on the support of the Security Council. It is a Jewish Land because it was divinely ordained. It’s G-d’s gift to the Jewish people.
The modern political rhetoric of the Arabs and their supporters around the world echo the complaints that Rashi mentions a thousand years ago. However, we are not robbers. It is our land, and our connection to it goes to the core of our soul and identity.
And yes there is much to quibble with. There are polices that some of us do not support. But all of this is irrelevant to the essential connection we have to the homeland of the Jewish people.