Head of the Hagshama Department, World Zionist Organization (WZO)
Currently celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of its establishment, the State of Israel is a great and revealed miracle granted by HaKadosh Baruch Hu to Am Yisrael. I would like to discuss two significant points, which – in my humble opinion – underline the State of Israel’s centrality within the Jewish people’s heritage and future.
Am Yisrael’s task is to sanctify Shem Shamayim (the Name of Heaven) in this world. As we recite in our prayers:
“We shall sanctify Your Name in this world, just as they sanctify It in heaven above.”
Am Yisrael’s return to its land constitutes a kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of the Name of Heaven). Aliyah and settlement in Eretz Yisrael are pivotal means of sanctifying HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Name in this world. The nations of the world observe the Jews’ return to their land – after two thousand years of harsh exile, pogroms, and the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were killed – and watch as Am Hashem builds a thriving State, quickly and effectively. This is kiddush Shem Shamayim.
Kiddush Shem Shamayim is manifested by the Jewish people returning to its land – as a nation and as individuals. One who makes aliyah sanctifies HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Name in this world.
The navi Yechezkel refers to galut (exile) as a chilul Hashem (a desecration of the Name of Heaven); Am Yisrael’s sins cause Hashem to exile them from holy Eretz Yisrael. In contrast, the Jewish people’s return to Israel is a kiddush Hashem:
“And I will sanctify My great Name, which is desecrated among the nations, which you have desecrated among them; and the nations shall know that I am Hashem… when I will be sanctified through you before their eyes.” (Yechezkel 36:23)
In the subsequent p’sukim, the navi describes a kiddush Hashem:
“And I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the lands; and I will bring you to your soil… And you will dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you will be a people to Me, and I will be a God to you.” (Yechezkel 36:24-28)
In Netzach Yisrael, the Maharal explains that Am Yisrael’s native land is Eretz Yisrael. When the Am HaNivchar (loosely, the Chosen People) is located in the place where they belong, a kiddush Hashem is in effect. But when Am Yisrael is dispersed in exile, a chilul Hashem is in effect, chas vishalom.
The Gemara (BT Yoma 86a) states:
“What is chilul Hashem?… Abaye said, ‘As we learned in the baraita: “You shall love Hashem your God” (Devarim 6:5) – [You must ensure] that Shem Shamayim become beloved through you. [This means] that one should read and learn and serve Torah scholars, and one’s transactions and dealings with people should be in a pleasant manner. What do people say about him? Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah; fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah. Woe onto those people who did not learn Torah. Ploni – who learned Torah – see how pleasant are his ways; how refined are his deeds. Regarding him it says, “And He said to me, you are My servant, Israel, in whom I take glory.” (Yeshaya 49:3) However one who reads and learns and serves Torah scholars but does not conduct his dealings and transactions faithfully and does not speak pleasantly to people, what do people say about him? Woe unto Ploni who learned Torah; woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah. Ploni who learned Torah – see how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly are his ways. And regarding him it says, “When it was said of them, these are the people of Hashem, and they went out of His land.” (Yechezkel 36:20)’”
The pasuk teaches us that the chilul Hashem is that Hashem’s nation is not in its land. The nations of the world see the Jewish people in exile, and that is a chilul Hashem. Hence, a kiddush Hashem is brought about when Am Hashem returns to its land.
The Gemara (BT Ketubot 111a) states:
“R’ Elazar said, ‘whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael lives without sin.’”
Even on a simple level, this statement indicates that there is a deep connection between Am Yisrael and its homeland.
Yet, there is another aspect to aliyah as well. Aliyah serves as the Jewish people’s lifeboat – in general and in particular. Yosske Shapira once wondered what would have happened if the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain would have fallen when the State of Israel did not exist? Where would the hundreds of thousands of Jews have gone? Undoubtedly, they would have scattered throughout the world and assimilated. The State of Israel preserved their Jewish identity.
By virtue of its existence, the State of Israel preserves Am Yisrael’s Jewish identity. Even non-observant Jews are exposed to and are a part of their Jewish culture and heritage. They experience the festivals in one form or another and feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. They are off from work on Shabbat, which is the official day of rest (even if it is not observed strictly according to the Halachah). They are part of the State of Israel, where legal holidays are observed on their Hebrew dates. Finally, they are part of the Jewish people, and the risk of assimilation is immeasurably small. The State of Israel is the only country in the entire world which protects the Jewish people.
Each day, we thank Ribon HaOlamim for the privilege of sanctifying Shem Shamayim through aliyah and settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Moreover, we are truly grateful for the State of Israel, which was established miraculously and which – by virtue of its very existence – preserves our Jewish identity and prevents assimilation.
May we merit seeing the fulfillment of, “you shall return each man to his land, and you shall return each man to his family.” (Vayikra 25:10)