Since I have spent the past two weeks outside of Israel I have come to the conclusion that the only way to truly see and appreciate Israel is by stepping away from it a little bit, so to speak – to see it from afar. Those of us who are blessed to live in Israel, many times on a regular daily basis gain a very myopic view of the country, its struggles and accomplishments. The rabbis in their usual incisive and pithy way phrased it as follows: “Those to whom miracles occur are unable to recognize the miracles that befall them.”
The nature of human beings is to concentrate on the details and not see the larger picture in historical or societal perspective. Midrash points out to us that one of the great facets of the personality of our father Abraham was that “he saw the place from afar.”
Up close, Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, is not too impressive. It certainly is not the Matterhorn or Mount Everest. Yet, like its sister mountain, Sinai, it is the mountain as far as civilization and human progress is concerned. From afar and in historical perspective it towers over all other hills and peaks.
Well, it is not only Mount Moriah that must be seen in perspective but it is the land and state of Israel also that must be seen in perspective. Up close it is a country surrounded by hostility and sometimes violence with serious economic, social, religious and diplomatic problems and shortcomings. But viewed overall, from a distance and with perspective, it is the miracle of the ages shining before our befuddled eyes.
The struggle of the Jewish communities in the Jewish diaspora to somehow survive and remain Jewish is a monumental one. Even in the safe and secure strongholds of Torah life, in Orthodox neighborhoods, this struggle is omnipresent and challenging. In spite of all of the noise, furor and turmoil surrounding the social issues – and they are social issues, not religious ones – of religious Jewry in Israel, the difficulties and challenges to a religious lifestyle in Israel are infinitely less than they are anywhere else on earth.
Except, that when one is living in Israel and engaged in the daily unceasing problems of life generally and Jewish life particularly one has no basis of comparison nor any true sense of proportion and perspective. There is a lot of extreme rhetoric scattered about on all sides and emanating from all of the different groupings that constitute the diversity of Israeli society.
Since our memory of the past has been distorted, if not even erased by the Holocaust and by the uprooting of Sephardic Jewry, we have no true basis for comparing what Jewish life really was like a century ago and what it is like today. We cannot see ourselves from afar and thus “the holy cloud over the mountain” is not visible to us. The prophet therefore describes us as “a people walking in darkness.”
One of the current crazes engendered by our far-too-smart-phones is taking a photograph of one’s self at some type of event - a “selfie.” What we need today is a good “selfie” of all of us Jews regarding the land and state of Israel.
When one visits an art museum – and there are some amongst us that actually do such a thing – one should not view the masterpieces from too close a distance. If one stands too near to the work of art, only scattered gobs of paint smeared on cloth canvas will be visible. By stepping back a little and then viewing the painting, only then is the genius of the artist’s talent and inspiration revealed before our eyes. Though the artist painted the picture from up close, that artist intended his or her work to be viewed and appreciated from afar.
The Talmud boldly states that “there is no artist as is our God.” He also apparently wants us to view His works from afar, from a perspective, with historical accuracy, wonder and appreciation. I think that is certainly the case and crux of the matter regarding the land and state of Israel and its reestablishment as the Jewish nation-state and homeland.
A greater emphasis on perspective, historical and religious, is certainly one area of our educational systems that can and should be improved upon. Honest analysis, accurate facts, less fantasy and fictitious storytelling and a greater concentration on the whole rather than the disparate parts of Jewish and Israeli society would help calm the stormy waters of controversy in the Jewish world.