20 December 2010

Determination and defiance

To shape the legend of the modern Jewish people in their new homeland we cannot simply reject and renounce the exile and the two millennia of diaspora; we need to harness the story and sling it into the service of the Jewish people's future role, whatever it turns out we think that role ought to be. 
The narrative of the Jewish diaspora is one not of individual courage and certainly not one of sterling leadership and glory; rather, the diaspora is the story of the people's courage and dignity. The story of the diaspora is the story of defying God, not of submitting to Him. His is the narrative of the Jewish people’s exilic fear and weakness of will. 
“And upon those who are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursues. And they shall fall one upon the other, as it were before a sword, when none pursues; and you shall have no power before your enemies. And you shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up." Leviticus 26:36-38.
While some of the Bible’s ominous foretelling has clearly come to pass, in the end the people's overall exilic experience, despite their leaders' confusion and weakness, should be seen as one of determination and defiance. The Jewish people survived in exile not as a result of the rabbinic regime but in spite of it. The biblical regime was too much alive in the Jewish people's soul for it to give up the ghost to foreign influence. The Jewish people survived the long exile not because they "didn't change their names, dress or language;" they survived the long exile because they did not submit to "avodah zara, shfichat damim and gilui arayot," and because they stayed faithful to the dream of their land. 
That national courage has made the Jewish people not only excellent and creative and clever; it has made the people also gentle in their power and humble in their might. There is something the Jewish people in their homeland are trying to prove to the world, to demonstrate and illustrate to the world – that respect in the council of nations must be earned and that reverence to a higher power and the stewardship that that implies is the source of a generous people's strength and wealth.

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