Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 20 - Rabbi Aharon Stern

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

Those who look at the people residing in Zion, can feel a mix of joy and sadness. On one hand, your heart rejoices and is grateful for such an impressive revival of the Jewish People, filled with smart and creative people, who share such an impressive rebirth. But on the other hand, it is not possible to ignore a dark existence at the foundation of this revival. The people themselves are full of excellent virtues but there is a thread that is missing, that inner spiritual factor that captures everything together, and without it, instead of being one united flock, there are many flocks because they do not succeed to come together. 

What does this resemble? To the powerful impression of a gigantic waterfall, which waters fall from up high, making a great noise. Only the heart knows that its falling is the reason for their power, and if there will not be a body of assembling, it will disperse and at the end, become exhausted and powerless. 

“...and on that day they will ask, “Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?” (Deuteronomy 31, 17).  A tall building built with great effort turns out to be dilapidated because its aspiration to be tall becomes oppressive to its foundations. Wonderful colorful beads need a thin strong thread, but mainly a soft and flexible thread that can weave them together. 

I would like to suggest our sages’s advice as a healing option: “A man will always be soft as a reed and not hard as a cedar” (Taanit 20). In its heart, the reed knows that during a storm it needs to bend, in a way that its weakness becomes its strength. The cedar on the other hand, is mistaken by its strength and bravery, which at the end lead to its breaking. Although the cedar is resistant to regular wind, it is not so to a storm. For its heart's sake, the strength of the cedar lies only in itself, such complete solidarity with its strength and its validity, does not allow it to express weakness, which is so needed in order to persist. 

In the words of Y. C. Brener: “I am strong enough to be weak”. There are things that require a brave decision to be weak. For a mix of such powerful determined people, an extra measure of weakness is required, as an all binding foundation. Such strong difficult opinions, being hurled as catapults are seven storms that have become a mine for us. It is not so, because above all, not the strength but the weakness and the softness are our shared essence as Jews and as humans. 

My dear country, it is so difficult to say, but there is time to be strong and other times to be weak. You were taught to always be strong, therefore it is so difficult for you to be weak and soft. But please, “A man will always be soft as a reed…”.


Rabbi Aharon Stern

Rabbi Aharon Stern is “Baal Teshuva”, a student and teacher of Torah and Jewish thought, does research and teaches at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

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