Those who are regular Synagogue attendees will know that at the moment we are reading and making our way through the Book of Devarim.
This is basically Moshe’s farewell address to the tribes of Israel as they encamp on the borders of the Promised Land. After forty years in the wilderness and with a new generation ready to settle the territory promised to our Patriarchs, Moshe is cognisant of the fact that he will not be leading them there. He is therefore trying to ensure that the lessons encountered since the Exodus from Egypt are learnt and that the nation is ready, physically and spiritually to inherit the Land which is flowing with milk and honey.
Joshua, the designated successor, has now to unite the people into a unified nation capable of not only defeating enemies but also establishing a society based on the Torah values and laws taught by Moshe. Those individuals who reported negative things about the Land and inculcated a fear of the challenges which needed to be overcome, thus resulting in a forty-year journey, have died and those born in the desert are now poised to fulfill the ultimate goal of the Hebrew nation.
As I read and studied this stirring account of the first mass aliyah in Jewish history, sitting in a synagogue in Efrata, a town which has been such a central focal point from the time of Abraham and Sarah and then later on in the Kingdom of Judea, I could not but be moved by how the texts we are reading resonate so vividly today.
First and foremost is the fact that those of us who made the long trek from the furthest corners of the globe faced the same challenges as our ancestors did millennia ago. Getting here was easier but the obstacles, doubts and faith needed to survive and flourish were no less daunting. Just as the spies who brought back negative tales and discouraged the Hebrews from entering the Land so did many of us face those who tried to talk us out of it and repeated negative reasons for staying put.
Today, as back then the prospect of facing enemies whose sole purpose is to thwart and kill us presented an obstacle to be tackled and defeated.
As we continue over the next few weeks to read the rest of Moshe’s morale boosting farewell speech it is useful to apply some lessons to the current situation. Amazing as it may seem these are eerily relevant.
What should stand out is the ultimate destination. The whole focus of the Jewish People’s destiny is to be experienced and played out here in Eretz Israel. This is where we were always supposed to be. Even though Jews eventually found themselves exiled in foreign places the central core of our belief remained, namely an obligation to eventually return to our home when conditions permitted. Like the community in ancient Babylonia which became so comfortable and assimilated that when presented with the opportunity to return to Judea most refused to do so there are many today in a similar situation.
Jews living in countries which have murdered them on a regular basis and have a history of discriminatory practices are living on borrowed time. Although they may be tolerated at present the rising tide of Judeophobia should serve as a warning signal. Even in places where Jews have been tolerated there are worrying signs of an insidious deterioration as ancient poisons bubble beneath the surface.
As in the time of the Biblical spies we have groups and individuals who can be classified by the “three D’s.”
They are doubters, deniers and delegitimizers.
Doubters will always find negative reasons for avoiding visiting the Jewish State. Living here is unthinkable and never having ever visited they are easy prey to any and every piece of fake news propagated by the media and similarly disaffected groups. Disassociating ones self from Israel has become standard behaviour for those rapidly assimilating and gravitating to the outermost left fringes of the political spectrum. Millenials with not the slightest speck of any Jewish knowledge and others whose “progressiveness” endows them with sympathy for every cause except that of their own people are in the forefront of the army of doubters when it comes to celebrating the miraculous resurrection of Jewish sovereignty.
Deniers have been with us since antiquity. There have always been those who have denied that the Land of Israel was a central part of our history. Whether hankering for the “wonderful” life back in Egypt or comfortably assimilating in various places of exile these deniers strove to divorce the Promised Land from Judaism’s core. Progressively denying Israel’s unique centrality whether as a result of religious reform or conversely because the Messiah has not yet arrived are two sides of the same coin. The former try to minimize or eliminate the Israel connection while the latter, in their narrow-minded zealousness, fail to acknowledge that we have been presented with a Divine opportunity to fulfill prophetic visions.
The end result is that ample ammunition is given to all those in the international community who are looking for any opportunity to vilify us and deny our connection to this land.
The inevitable corollary is that the deligitimizers are once again in full flight. If we deny our own historical destiny and express doubt about the necessity for living here then we should not be surprised when others enthusiastically promote a narrative which portrays us as “colonialists,” “illegal settlers” and “illegitimate” inhabitants.
As we wind down another Jewish year this is an ideal opportunity for paying closer attention to the final words of advice given by Moshe as the Children of Israel stand on the threshold of nationhood and prepare to take possession at long last of the territory destined to be our eternal home.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.