Last night Jews around the world completed the counting of the Omer in preparation for the celebration of Shavuot tonight.
In the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, a special barley offering (the Omer offering) was brought on the second day of Pessah to mark the commencement of the reaping of the new grain. With the Omer offering began the counting of 49 days until the giving of the Torah.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the greatest figure of 19th century German Jewry, describes the significance of that counting to Shavuot: "When Israel has already reached the goal of national endeavor, when it already has freedom and independence, land and soil... at the stage where others cease to count, there Israel first begins to count... And it goes on counting up to that day when it celebrates that gift [i.e., the Torah] for the sake of which it received freedom and independence."
The message to the Jewish people was clear: for the sake of the Torah do we possess Land and independence; without the Torah we will lose them.
The Omer offering celebrated the abundance of the Land: It could be brought only after the conquest of the Land; and with the destruction of the Temple, our ability to bring the offering terminated. Nevertheless, the rabbis decreed that the counting from the original date of the Omer offering until Shavuot should continue even after the destruction of the Temple.
That counting from the time when the sickle was first put to the crops in Eretz Israel served throughout the Exile as a bitter reminder of the loss of our Land. More important, the counting until Shavuot reminded us of the reason for that loss: because we worshipped "the gods of the earth" - the Land and political independence - as ends in themselves and not as gifts for the sake of the Torah.
"Judah was sent into Exile because it prized Land and soil as the bulwark of its freedom and belittled the Torah," writes Rabbi Hirsch. "The Exile cannot therefore end with the same delusion." Possession of the Land, Hirsch reminds us, is conditional on the performance of specific duties.
RARELY IN the past 53 years has Jewish possession of our ancient Land seemed so tenuous. The old Zionist conceit that we are masters of our fate has been exploded. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon all but admitted that Israel has no choice but to comply with American wishes.
If we have not quite reached the stage of depending, like Blanche DuBois, on the kindness of strangers; we are, at the very least, depending on the kindness of friends. Nor is it encouraging that some of those friends in the State Department have drawn up a list of sanctions to be imposed in the event that Israel is not sufficiently compliant in accepting an independent Palestinian state by the end of 2003.
By now it is abundantly clear that any resemblance between the road map and President George W. Bush's speech of June 24, 2002, is purely coincidental. There exists not one shred of evidence that anything resembling a Palestinian democracy will exist by year's end. Forget the Palestinian refusal to confront terror groups, including those within Fatah. The Palestinian Authority has not even stopped in its official media and schools the incitement against Israel and Jews, the promotion of the cult of martyrdom and death, and the portrayal of all of Israel as "occupied" Arab territory. To undo the damage of more than a decade of brainwashing will take years and, as yet, no start has been made.
Something unnatural is taking place before our eyes. Anyone who listened to Prime Minister Sharon throw the word kibush - occupation - in the faces of astonished Likud ministers and Knesset members last week, like a five-year-old who has just discovered the effect of naughty works on adults, must have wondered whether a dybbuk was speaking from his throat.
Most Israelis have no desire to rule over 3.5 million Palestinians, and would part with large parts of the biblically promised Land in order not to do so. And most of us would like to hope that the road map and the resumption of diplomatic talks with the Palestinians mark the beginning of a road to peace.
Yet even possessors of the most rose-tinted glasses must, after the experience of the past 32 months, still worry that we have signed off on a Palestinian state whose citizens will continue to dream of our destruction and who will be in a better position to act on those dreams with a state of their own. There is, after all, always one thing worse than ruling over the Palestinians, and that is having them rule over us.
FOR ALL the precariousness of our situation, it would appear that Rabbi Hirsch's warnings are not being taken much to heart, certainly not by our government. Indeed, the government seems to have adopted a policy of de-Judaization.
Leading the charge, predictably, is Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of Shinui. As Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein noted last week, Poraz seeks to sever the connection between Judaism and citizenship. He would offer immediate citizenship to selected gentiles who, in the Interior Minister's opinion, would add luster to the Jewish state by their presence - athletes, artists, etc. Then he would deny automatic citizenship to those who convert to Judaism while already residing in Israel.
If in the latter case, he were only guarding against spurious conversions for the purpose of gaining citizenship, Poraz would be providing a valuable service. Yet that is clearly not his purpose, as he makes no distinction between the chief rabbinate's regular conversion courts and any others. Rather Poraz would move us towards his old Meretz ideal of a "state of all its citizens," Jewishness be damned.
Poraz's Shinui colleague Tommy Lapid applauds Poraz for his selective refusal to enforce the laws against the public sale of bread on Pessah. "Bread, not matza, is the symbol of our freedom this year," Lapid proclaimed in Ma'ariv. In the Jewish State, according to Lapid, Pessah no longer celebrates our freedom to serve God but our freedom from Him.
Even more disturbing was Prime Minister Sharon's May 9 interview with The Jerusalem Post, in which he revealed that he excluded haredi parties from the government because he does not want too many questions being asked about the religious identity of new immigrants.
The more than half a million non-Jews who entered Israel in the '90s, even with haredi parties in the government, did not satisfy Sharon. He would like to bring a million more. The proliferation of churches and missionaries, the request by one northern IDF base for 600 New Testaments upon which to swear in soldiers, the appearance of Israel's very own neo-Nazi website (in Russian), and the sale of classic anti-Semitic material in the largest Russian-language bookstores accord, in the prime minister's view, with the interests of the "Jewish State."
As far as Sharon is concerned, anyone willing to live in Israel and bear arms in its defense is a Jew. He would turn Israel into a mercenary state. (At the very least, the prime minister should read Gibbon as a cautionary tale about states that depend on mercenaries.) The only result of this process of de-Judaization will be to further alienate Diaspora Jewry, whose commitment to Israel is, in any event, waning.
Even the most secular American Jew will not be impressed that bread is sold today in the Israeli public square. If he craves being surrounded by people eating bread on Pessah he will find no shortage of them in America. And were Sharon's vision of a million non-Jewish immigrants to be realized, Israel would become a land of strangers, sharing no common history, to Diaspora Jews.
Even those who would ignore the warnings of the old rabbis should nevertheless take no comfort from the efforts afoot in Israel to cut us off from our roots.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Shavuot
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