To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,
There are many faces of Judaism and the book of its origin - The Bible. A face of compassion and a face of cruelty, a face that is looking at the families of the earth while being a blessing to them, and a fiercely defiant face: “the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth”. (Deuteronomy 28, 1)
The first generations of Zionism, for its nuances and trends, chose to stick with the biblical line, the one which weaves the divine presence (Shechinah) being renewed in Zion, with the belief that many gentiles will come together for the sake of God. (Zecharia 2, 15).
The vision of returning to the modern Zion was understood not only as a vehicle for setting up a new, fresh, vibrant Jewish society, but also as a milestone for liberation of all nations, redemption of all people and establishment of a great human partnership. Many Jewish Zionist thinkers, secular and religious, socialist and nationalists from left and right, supported this vision. There was poignant disagreement among them, but only regarding the proper criteria for creating such a masterpiece society and about how it will bring light and hope for all.
Years later, David Ben Gurion determined the term: “Light unto the nations”, paraphrasing the prophecy calling for the Return to Zion, when the People of Israel will be “light unto to the nation”: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42, 6-7) and “...I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”(Isaiah 49, 6).
As the State of Israel turns 75, the estrangement from this vision hues and cries. The Prophetic exhortation came true: “This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves”. (Jeremiah 2, 5) From the commandment to do everything in our power to create “a nation of people” and a masterpiece society, we remain with twisted pretentiousness of hallucinations about Messiah, as if the Messianic conquest will result in being a light unto the nations, including to those who will be trampled, oppressed and dispossessed by it.
Twisting the idea and it perpetuation by evildoers, has no power to dim the light of truth in it. The commandment is for our entire life. The hope is a hope of truth. Only when we will place at the center of our national identity the “principles of freedom, justice and peace, following the vision of the prophets of Israel”, the responsibility which each nation carries for the well being of the entire humanity and the existence of the divine creation, our national rebirth will be valuable, meaningful, and will last for many generation to come.
Rabbi Professor Yehoyada Amir is a professor (Emeritus) of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, a theologian and a Reform Rabbi. He was the head of the Israeli Reform Rabbinic seminary for 10 years, and head of “Maram” (Rabbinic council of Israeli Reform Rabbis) for 4 years. His research and philosophy seek to expose the deep roots of Jewish and contemporary Israeli existence, as part of a unique total human existence.