Monday 17 May 2010

The Start of a Nation

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (Weeks/Pentecost) that will be celebrated during this week marks the occasion when the Children of Israel received the Ten Commandments on their way from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.

The festival has many themes that are associated with it, the dominant one being the significance of receiving the Ten Commandments and, as it is believed, the Torah. This is considered a covenant between G-d and the Jewish people, and is likened to a marriage between the two.

According to the descriptions of the event at Mount Sinai, the entire “nation” was gathered to ensure that each and every member of the congregation was present to personally witness G-d revealing himself, and the receipt of the Torah. This was something that could not be relayed second-hand – everybody had to see it for themselves.

This gathering of all the Children of Israel was a one-time event in history, and also marks the moment upon which the Children of Israel became a nation. So, contrary to popular opinion, the nation of Israel was not created in 1948 when the State of Israel was declared, the nation was created many years before this and even before the arrival in the promised land.

The Israeli nation has survived almost 5,000 years since its creation on that day in the shadows of Mount Sinai. It has survived periods during which we lived in the Jewish homeland, and periods in exile, periods of persecution and discrimination, and periods of relative peace and tranquillity. The one thing that has never been lost or forgotten is the connection to the Ten Commandments and to the Torah which was also established on that day. This is the glue that has stuck the nation together through thick and thin, and has ensured that the nation has remained intact over all those years.

After the Torah, the next most enduring symbol to the Jewish people over the generations has been the link to the Land of Israel. It is not coincidental that the Jews were en route to the Land of Israel when the nation was created and when the Torah was given. For forty years, the Children of Israel sojourned in the desert and did not rest until they finally reached the promised land. For those people, the route to the promised land was arduous and unforgiving. Despite this fact, they never gave up on their yearning to finally be able to set up a permanent establishment when they reached the Land of Israel.

For Jews of today, the route to the promised land is much easier. In most cases, a simple El Al flight is enough to get you there. Nobody will be forced to eat manna along the way, and there is certainly no need to wander in the desert for forty years. The irony is that more people seemed to want to make it when it required greater effort. Now that the effort is considerably less (aside from the cost of an air ticket), there seems to be less desire to fulfil this magical journey than before.

Despite this fact, Israel is a real miracle that has attracted many millions of Jews who have made the decision to live here. Like most other countries, it has its problems to confront. But overall, it is a country that has a real vibrancy about it, and which reflects its Jewish values and heart to all its inhabitants.

This Shavuot, when tucking into your cheesecake or hearing the reading of the Book of Ruth, spare a thought for the moment when a nation was created. This nation continues to live, and to thrive in the Land of Israel, the land that is central to all that Jews stand for. Even though we seek peace with our neighbours, and may even be prepared to accept a two-state solution in our attempt to create peace, it should be clear that the State of Israel will always be a Jewish state, and will be defended by Jews under all circumstances. We are not about to throw away 5,000 years worth of history.

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