V’al Kawl Yisrael/ועל כל ישראל /For All Israel
Last night, I shared with you that I’d be speaking over the High Holidays about each of the three “concentric circles of our aspirations.” “Concentric circles of our aspirations” --- That’s Rabbi David Teutsch’s description for how at the end of the full Kaddish we pray to “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” to “The One who makes peace in the heavens” -- that there be Shalom “aleinu,” for us / “v’al kol yisra’el,” for all Israel/ and “ v’al kol yoshvei tevel, “ for all who dwell on earth.
This morning we focus on the second of these three concentric circles – our hope for shalom “al kol yisra’el” – “for all Israel.”
As most of you probably already know, the word “Yisra’el” has several different connotations in Judaism. We might think of the biblical “Eretz Yisra’el”/ “Land of Israel” or the modern “Medinat Yisra’el”/”State of Israel”. Their borders overlap but are by no means coterminous. And just as the borders of Ancient Israel varied throughout the centuries, so have the borders of the modern State of Israel varied over time.
But when the word “Yisra’el /ישראל” is used by itself in traditional Jewish prayers, as in the “Oseh Shalom”, it is shorthand for “Ahm Yisra’el”/ “The People of Israel” or “B’nai Yisra’el”/ “The children of Israel” -- in other words -- the Jewish people. Thus, the word “Yisra’el” here invokes not the plot of land in the Middle East but rather the memory of Jacob, our patriarch Ya’acov, who acquired the new name Yisra’el after his mysterious nocturnal wrestling match described in Torah portion Vayishlach.
Here’s how the Torah introduces the new name “Yisra’el” at Genesis 32: 25-29:
Now Ya’akov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the rise of dawn. When he saw that he could not overcome him, he struck Ya’acov’s hip-socket, so that Ya’akov’s hip-socket was wrenched as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go; dawn is breaking!’ But he said ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me!’ He said, ‘What is your name?’ and he said ‘Ya’acov’. And he said, ‘No more shall you be called ‘Ya’acov’ but rather ‘Yisr’ael’ because ‘Saritah im elohim’ / ‘you have struggled with God’ v’im anashim / and with human beings – and you have prevailed. (Gen. 32: 25-29)
In a sense, we Jews have been wrestling ever since. Wrestling with words of Torah. Wrestling with forces of injustice. Wrestling for our own security and well-being in the world.
Actually, you could say that the wrestling begins even earlier in the Torah, even before the name Israel is introduced. Just take a look at the two back-to-back stories that we read in the Torah on the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah. The Torah reading we were reading this morning speaks of the struggle between Sarah and Hagar over who’s son would be the inheritor of Abraham’s covenant with God. Would it be Ishmael, conceived by Abraham and Hagar ---- or Isaac, conceived by Abraham and Sarah?
Concerning Ishmael, whose near death as a result of being banished from Abraham’s household was described in today’s Torah reading, God proclaims --- “le goi gadol asimenu” “I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21:18). And, indeed, in Islam he is traditionally viewed as the father of a number of Arab tribes, including the tribe from which came the Prophet Mohammed.
Concerning Isaac, whose near death at the Akedah we read tomorrow, God later in the Torah proclaims–
גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, וְאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ וַאֲבָרְכֶךָּ: כִּי-לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, אֶתֵּן אֶת-כָּל-הָאֲרָצֹת הָאֵל, וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-הַשְּׁבֻעָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ.
“Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; I will give all these lands to you and to your heirs, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.” (Gen. 26:3)
Suffice it to say that the majority of the Muslim world in general and the Arab world in general does not accept Biblically-based claims based on texts like the one I just quoted from Genesis 26, as being sufficient evidence of the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish State in the lands once ruled by Kings Saul, David and Solomon.
But it’s important to remember that the modern State of Israel was not established in reliance on Jewish theological claims, but rather on Jewish historical claims. Whatever we may believe or not believe about God, or about the nature of the Tanakh, we know from secular scholarly sources that there were ancient Jewish monarchies in the land of Israel, that most of our people were forcibly expelled from the land by invading forces in ancient times, that small Jewish settlements continued to exist in Israel throughout the centuries, that small numbers of Jews made their way from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel through the ages and that --- with the rise of political Zionism in the late 19th century -- that we returned to our ancient homeland in large numbers.
Indeed, the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel sets out the argument for Jewish statehood in the most secular of language, arguing from the perspective of Jewish peoplehood rather than from any perspective of Divine grant:
ERETZ-ISRAEL (the Land of Israel) was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma'pilim (immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation) and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.
In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.
This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.
The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people — the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe — was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.
Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.
But of course, that’s just our side of the story. Whatever arguments one might make about the origins of Palestinian national identity, the fact of the matter remains that there was a resident Arab population there before and during the mass waves of Zionist immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And furthermore, however one may understand its evolution, the Arab population of the land that would become the State of Israel certainly has a sense of Palestinian national identity today, both within the Green Line and in the West Bank and Gaza.
We all know the history of Arab rejection of the State of Israel, a rejection that came in response to the original establishment of the State, even during the years prior to 1967 when East Jerusalem and the West Bank were occupied and annexed by Jordan, and when Gaza was occupied by Egypt. They sought Israel’s destruction then even though the West Bank and Gaza were not under Israeli occupation. And we all know that, even today, the Hamas leaders of Gaza refuse to imagine anything more than the possibility of, at most, a 20-year-truce in their ongoing quest to wipe out the State of Israel. For all intents and purposes, even if a new Palestinian State were established, its West Bank and Gaza components would for now be estranged from one another. And the Gaza component would still effectively be at war with Israel.
But the West Bank, where day-to-day Palestinian life is governed by the Palestinian Authority, is another story. The Palestinian Authority was created in 1994 following upon the Oslo Accords of the previous year, as an interim entity which was supposed to last for only five years, during which time the final details of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to be agreed upon. Yes, the parties to the Oslo Accords did agree that final status questions would be resolved through bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But that was when this was envisioned as a five-year process. Now it is seventeen years later, and, I must admit, I sympathize with the argument of the Palestinian leadership that negotiations long ago reached an impasse.
I believe that the Palestinian leadership’s decision to seek statehood through the United Nations was a constructive and positive course of action. It’s a course of action that shows a continuing commitment to non-violence on the part of the Palestinian Authority while seeking out new ways of amassing international support for the establishment of their hoped for state.
Certainly, this is not the view of the Netanyahu government in Israel, or of many mainstream American Jewish organizations, or of the Obama administration. I count myself a supporter and advocate of the State of Israel, and I feel spiritually and emotionally tied to it. But I have not found Israeli or American government arguments against Abbas’s application for UN membership to be convincing. I’m glad he went through with it last Friday. And I would hope that US would not veto it in the Security Council.
The argument has been made that the Palestinian Authority’s action at the UN will preclude direct negotiations between Israel and the PA. That seems ludicrous to me. Of course the parties will still have to negotiate on security and borders, on the status of Jerusalem, on the question of Palestinian refugees and on the future of the Jewish settlements -- all of the so-called “final status” issues. But the achievement of being admitted to the United Nations as an internationally recognized state would nevertheless help to foster a sense of dignity and hope for the Palestinians as those negotiations with Israel continue.
The fact that the Hamas terrorists in Gaza oppose Abbas’s initiative is an argument to me in favor of Abbas.
The declaration that that the state would be based on the 1949 armistice lines that were in effect until the 1967 six-day-war is still understood by everyone as a starting point for negotiations. Small land-swaps would need to be agreed upon, not least of which would be an agreement for the Jewish quarter and Western Wall plaza in East Jerusalem to be under Israeli sovereignty.
As former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert so eloquently wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed essay:
The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching offer to Mr. Abbas.
According to my offer, the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new realities on the ground.
The city of Jerusalem would be shared. Its Jewish areas would be the capital of Israel and its Arab neighborhoods would become the Palestinian capital. Neither side would declare sovereignty over the city’s holy places; they would be administered jointly with the assistance of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The Palestinian refugee problem would be addressed within the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The new Palestinian state would become the home of all the Palestinian refugees just as the state of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. Israel would, however, be prepared to absorb a small number of refugees on humanitarian grounds.
Because ensuring Israel’s security is vital to the implementation of any agreement, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and it would not form military alliances with other nations. Both states would cooperate to fight terrorism and violence.
These parameters were never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas, and they should be put on the table again today. Both Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu must then make brave and difficult decisions.
We Israelis simply do not have the luxury of spending more time postponing a solution. A further delay will only help extremists on both sides who seek to sabotage any prospect of a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution.
I would certainly put the Netanyahu government into the category of “extremists who seek to sabotage any prospect of a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution.” Because at this stage of the game, the refusal to agree to a settlement freeze and the refusal to accept the pre-1967 borders as starting points for negotiations, are extreme positions. I believe it would be a positive development if the admission of Palestine to the UN had the result of increasing pressure on Netanyahu to reinstate a settlement freeze and to agree that the final borders will be based on the pre-1967 lines with agreed upon land swaps.
And remember: The Palestinians, in starting from the negotiating precondition that it accepts those green line borders, is already agreeing to a significantly smaller Arab state and larger Jewish state than was called for by the original 1947 United Nations Partition Plan.
Believe me, I am well aware of many of the legitimate counterarguments to everything that I’ve just talked about. And, truly, I know I’m no expert, and I know that I haven’t chosen to live in Israel (though I did actively consider it at an earlier point in my life.), and I know that there are many people in the world who wrongly deny the Jewish people’s age-old ties to the Land of Israel.
But I am sure that your hearts respond as passionately as mine does to the exhortation of the psalmist:
ו שַׁאֲלוּ, שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם; יִשְׁלָיוּ, אֹהֲבָיִךְ.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you be at peace.
ז יְהִי-שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ; שַׁלְוָה, בְּאַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ.
7 May there be well-being within your walls, peace in your citadels.
ח לְמַעַן, אַחַי וְרֵעָי-- אֲדַבְּרָה-נָּא שָׁלוֹם בָּךְ.
8 For the sake of my kin and my friends, I pray for your well-being.
(Ps. 122: 6-8)
I started out these remarks by explaining that when we sing “Oseh Shalom bimromav hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kawl yisrael / May the one who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us and for all Israel --- that “Israel” there refers to the Jewish people world-wide, not to the State of Israel.
But, make no mistake, we need “shalom” for the State of Israel if we want to have “shalom” for the Jewish people. We need the State of Israel to exist and thrive so that no Jew will ever again be without a place to call home were disasters like the Sho’ah to arise again. But, just as, if not more, importantly, we need the State of Israel to exist and thrive so that Jewish civilization itself can be nourished by being connected to its native soil. And so that we, Jews who have chosen to live in the Diaspora, can be inspired by the example of a place where society operates according to the Jewish calendar, where our national language, Hebrew, flourishes, and where the values of our way of life can inform the society as a whole.
The words of the Ahava Rabbah blessing that precedes the Shema in the Shacharit service remind us of our centuries-old vision: “Vehavienu leshalom meyarbah kanfot ha’aretz vetolichenu komemiyut l’artzenu” /“May You bring us together from the four corners of the earth, leading us upright to our land."
Still, it’s not about turning a piece of land into an idol. The Ahava Rabbah blessing goes on to say that this ingathering of the exiles is for a purpose: “lehodot lekha uleyachedkha b’ahavah” “to offer thanks to You, and lovingly to declare your unity."
If declaring the unity of God (“uleyachedkha”) is to mean anything – one thing that it has got to mean is that we who are Ahm Yisra’el (the Jewish people) are called upon to work towards the sorts of societies where each person is treated as b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God. And one step in that process must surely be that the Palestinians achieve that same “komemiyut” / that same “uprightness” and “dignity” – that we seek for our own people.
Let’s get that 2-state solution in place. B’mheira veyameinu/ Speedily in our days. So that in Medinat Yisra’el and in the hoped for Palestinian state – both sharing the land that we know of as Eretz Yisra’el – we will see shalom --- aleinu, v’al kol yisrael, v’al kol yishma’el
ואמרו: אמן (V’imru – Ameyn).
(c) Rabbi David Steinberg 5772/2011