Of Wheat and Bread - Reflections for Yom Ha'atzmaut 5766 (Ideas #79)

The past twelve months may have been the most difficult for religious Zionism since the birth of the State of Israel.


We are frustrated about the giving away of Gush Katif and angry about how our youth were treated in Amona. Even without these events, many feel a greater ambivalence toward a Jewish State they see moving further and further away from Jewish values. These deep-seated feelings are hard to argue with. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the larger picture, a picture that, while tarnished, still remains a masterpiece of Divine blessing.


In 1948 a new era began for the Jewish people. It was marked by the realization of the necessary political conditions for the rebirth of a truly Jewish society in its holy land: Unlimited Jewish immigration and the right of the majority of the new country's inhabitants to determine its course. Thus, if a majority of Jews still lives in the Diaspora and if the majority of Jews in Israel sometimes turns its back on Jewish values, it is not a result of foreign oppression or domination. As long as Israel exists as a democracy that gives automatic citizenship to all Jews who wish to live here, the future of this nation is in our own hands. This means that it is almost entirely up to us, as a nation, to bring about proto-messianic times.


After politics came defense. In the first three decades of the State, great human sacrifice and more than a little Divine help allowed the young state to establish its basic security. If many Arab states still don't recognize Israel's existence, neither do they dare attack it militarily. Accordingly, two out of Israel's three major opponents of the past, Egypt and Jordan, eventually realized that they were better off making peace with the new Jewish nation, since they had no chance of beating it on the battlefield. 


If the political and military conditions for the Jewish return to its former glory came about in its first three decades, it is only more recently that the economic conditions for such a return are with us.  While there have been growing pains in trying to move to a freer economy, the Israeli marketplace is robust, attracting foreign capital in unprecedented quantities and putting the average Israeli wage-earner on par with those in other advanced nations. As a result, it has become easier and easier for most Jews to come and live in the country of their forefathers without having to make the great financial sacrifices required in earlier years.


If we don't see the glory that we expect in the rebirth of the Jewish homeland, it is not for lack of opportunities. From a Jewish perspective, opportunities are all we can ask from G-d. The rest is up to us.


One is reminded of the Talmud's observation that G-d does not create bread – He creates wheat with the expectation that we will turn it into bread. This observation is ostensibly curious, since in Birkat Ha-mazon we thank G-d for giving us bread. It appears, however, that we are really thanking Him for the necessary conditions with which we can make bread and feed ourselves. Still, the religiously sensitive individual will well up with gratitude – making bread from wheat is child's play compared to creating wheat from nothing. The rabbis who composed the text of Birkat Ha-mazon understood that by giving us wheat, water, heat and human ingenuity, G-d has effectively given us bread.


Creating the Jewish State from a group of dispersed, assimilating and rancorous people scattered throughout the world ranks on the scale of making wheat from nothing. Here too, the religiously sensitive individual should well up with gratitude for the wheat, even if we have not yet perfected the art of making bread.


Gratitude to G-d is a cornerstone of the Jewish tradition. We must not let our disappointment at the actions and attitudes of our Jewish brothers and sisters make us forget the gratitude we owe G-d for the historical opportunities that we witness in the existence of the State of Israel.