Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 50 - Rabbi Talia Avnon Benveniste

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

One day, just like that, our story changed. A voice came out of nowhere and called us to go into a new land, in order to fulfill the promise of a redeemed society: “The Lord had said to Abram, Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12).

The Voice was heard not only that one time, but appeared to us ever since, every time when the door of history opened up for a new era. We are making history, here and now. Every day, in every community, with each step and every demonstration. Here, from the heart of history, the reality sometimes seems hard. It slows down the walking towards hope

The Midrash tells a story about a man, who wandered from one place to the other. One day he saw a palace go up in flames. He stopped and asked: “where is the owner of this palace”? The owner looked at him through the flames and said: “I am here, inside the burning palace”. Abraham, who saw this land on his journey, and saw the world, burning, the land of Canaan without a leader. He asked: “this world has no leader?” God looked at him and said: “I am the leader of the world”. Abraham, following God’s commandment, was walking on an unwalked road, towards the heart of society, and instead of experiencing the promise coming true, he found a palace go up in flames. Instead of seeing God’s promise come true, he saw a huge collapse of the foundations of the world that God created.

Sometimes, we see the Israeli reality as a fire that destroyed not only our home, but also our society and our leadership. Yes, our palace is burning. Our place, the State of Israel, the bridges that connect between the present and the future are bound to collapse. We don’t know what will happen and whether they can hold all those who walk on them. Will the bridges collapse as a result of the strong winds that shake us? The plans that were created by the leaders of this country at the very beginning are no longer relevant at this point in time.

As we start our 75th year of Independence, we know that this land encounters many fires. But if we look at its inhabitants for a moment, we will see the beauty of the walkers. If we meet the leader of the palace (God) on our way and ask him: “who is the leader”? God will answer: “You. Us”. We accept the challenge of walking this land, and take on the responsibility to lead it, while understanding that the fires will continue burning. New Ideas will always inflame the previous worlds, but love and devotion will always be there as well, that is the burning fire of action. As long as our actions will be larger and faster than the fire - we will continue to exist. We have an important role in this immortal process.

If we decide not to walk anymore but to run, as fast as we can, we will become the road itself. The society, the country, the future, the promise. We are the land of hope. We carry our faith wherever we go: to be free peoples, in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem. We are privileged to be among the walkers. We are privileged that the road is still open to us. 


Rabbi Talia Avnon Benveniste

Rabbi Talia Avnon Benveniste is the head of the Israeli Beit Midrash for Reform Rabbis at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

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