The portion begins kedoshim tihiyu, You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy. So God is and the people of Israel ought, should, could, must be or by right are holy – depending on how you translate the verb. The same can be said of the land of Israel.
When I was in the Navy and stationed in Greece, I worked on a base where most people held very high, very sensitive ‘top-secret’ clearances. Accordingly, special permission was required to travel to places or countries deemed to be “of security risk.” In the1970’s, one of those countries was Israel.
When I inherited the collateral duty of monitoring these clearances, I discovered that the Catholic priest attached to our base had, over the years, organized and led numerous trips to Israel but none of the participants had ever requested or received the required authorization to travel. When I brought this lapse to his attention, the priest explained, “Oh, we don’t need them. We’re not going to Israel. We’re going to the Holy Land.” I explained to him that there was a political entity called Israel, and as long as this Jew was the base Security Officer he, too, would have to recognize that reality.
The Hebrew Bible calls the land of Israel admat hakodesh, the Holy Land (Zecehraiah 2:16) and the land is sacred to four of the world’s great religions. All of that is true. However, let us not forget that last Wednesday evening we celebrated the state of Israel’s Independence Day, marking that momentous moment 71 years ago when the modern-day miracle and political entity of Israel was proclaimed.
Today, there are some, perhaps many who still seek to overlook, undo or overturn that reality but thank God, ohd yisrael chai – Israel still lives and for any or all of its shortcomings Israel is the one and only Jewish state on this planet and remains a vibrant liberal democracy at that.
When the Torah ascribes holiness to the land – as I tried to explain in last week’s blog – and calls the land kadosh, it signifies that this particular expanse of real estate has been singled out, set aside for a special relationship. The Bible and Jewish tradition ascribes that relationship as one between God and the physical landscape. Jewish history is testament to the ongoing relationship between the people and its land.
Relationships can be close or distant, positive or negative, intense or indifferent, passionate or detached, strained or sustaining, but if you are in a relationship the connection remains real and constant. And so it has remained for us since the year 70CE.
I for one have never lived without the reality of a Jewish state, and I try never to forget just how much of a blessing that is. On this Shabbat closest to Yom Ha’atzmaut - I and we can, must, should, or by rights ought at least to take a sustained moment to acknowledge with prayerful gratitude our continuing relationship with a holy land and a Jewish state. And while we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for all those who worked to bring the reality of a modern Israel into being. Nor let us forget all those who - in whatever many and diverse ways -labor still to sustain the country through their work, creativity, contribution, service and sacrifice.