My wife Dina and I had the privilege to lead a delegation from our Ottawa Jewish community to Israel last month. We joined 800 participants from around the world on the Jewish Learning Institute’s Land and Spirit Israel Experience 2018.
During this most uplifting mission we visited sites and archeological digs that span the full gamut of Jewish history, from biblical times through to modern-day Israel. The noticeable historical pattern that runs through our history never ceases to amaze me. As you navigate through the painful history of the Jewish people, it becomes clear that after every calamity we experienced, we somehow reinvented ourselves. Every tragedy gave birth to new beginnings. At every step of the way, we discovered some hidden strength and spirit that fueled a rebirth of Jewish life.
After the division of the Jewish monarchy after the death of King Solomon came the great era of the prophets. Out of the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian exile came the renewal of Torah in the life of the nation through Ezra who led the people back to Israel and built the Second Temple.
From the destruction of the Second Temple and the terrible massacres committed by the Romans came the greatest body of literature of rabbinic Judaism.
Out of the Crusades, new Talmudic scholarship emerged from the house of Rashi and Tosefot. Following the Spanish expulsion came the revival of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah in Safed.
And, from the most horrible tragedy of all, the Holocaust, came the rebirth of the Jewish people and modern Israel when we were able to settle on and govern our homeland once again.
Our sages tell us that this ability to turn adversity into opportunity comes from a lesson we were taught at the beginning of our history as a nation. Right before we left Egypt, God commanded us to keep a lunar based calendar as it symbolises our journey and our destiny as a people. The waning and waxing of the moon mirrors the ups and downs of Jewish history. The waning moon represents the challenging times when it seems to get darker and darker, like the diminishing moon. But just as the moon vanishes, when all seems bleak and lost, we experience rebirth, newfound life – a new moon has been born.
We have had our golden ages, times of peace. However, we have also had our share of dark times of persecution. As we kept our lunar calendar throughout history, the moon always reminded us that, no matter how dark it gets, we will always find new energies to renew ourselves. We will always come bouncing back with fresh vitality and strength. Our people always felt that even as their moon seemed to have disappeared, it really meant that it would soon be “reborn.”
Seeing Israel today makes it clear that this message continues to fuel its development. You can see it in the creative ways Israel finds to make the Negev desert bloom and in the trees and forests they plant in other barren areas throughout the land. You can see it in the military technologies that Israel develops because it faces hostile armies on all their borders. This technology is then used in other peaceful and productive fields.
The brightest minds of Israel doing intelligence work to protect the country are responsible for the high-tech start-up powerhouse that Israel has become. The reality of war and terror forces Israel to develop medical expertise and world-leading skills in dealing with the aftermath of trauma.
Israel finds ways of turning every challenge into an opportunity and every curse into a blessing. This a lesson that we can all apply to our daily life as we navigate through its ups and down.
Am Israel Chai Vekayam!