Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 67 - Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

As we turn 75 and look forward to our future together, there is one value that keeps on reverberating in my mind, a value without which our future is in question. The value is “Zimzum” (Self-Contraction). 

Zimzum entered our value lexicon through the teaching of ha'Ari z"l, in the 16th century. Zimzum was a quality that the infinite God adopted for Godself, in order to allow space for the finite world to come into existence. Without this act of self-contraction, God's infiniteness, which by definition consumes all space, would have precluded anything finite from living by God's side. As an act of grace, God embraced self-limitation, thus allowing all other existence to be.

For 2000 years our people dreamt, hoped, and prayed to come home. Israel is the carrier of millions of dreams and aspirations, and part of the intensity of life in Israel is the direct result of the passion which accompanied our yearning and vision of the home we would build here. But as we dreamt of a Jewish home, we often forgot that at the same time other Jews were dreaming as well, and their dreams differed from ours, and were often in direct conflict. We can sing together in our anthem of our "tikvah bat alpayim le-hiyot am hofshi be-artzeinu" - a 2000 year old dream to be a free people in our land - but we never articulated nor reached any consensus as to what we meant by being a free people. Beyond political freedom, the real issues of freedom which touch on citizens inalienable rights to equality, dignity, and freedom of religion, to name but a few, divide us into a multitude of tribes and ideologies.

Exacerbating the challenge is the fact that we also never fully internalized that our dream was not shared by 20% of our fellow citizens who are not Jewish and for whom our coming home was nothing short of their catastrophe.

How do we accommodate multiple and conflicting dreams, ideologies, and narratives?  It will require deep moral commitments together with complex political compromises. But it all begins with Zimzum. When we are all willing to self-contract our certainties and tribal self-interest regarding what is best for Israel's future, we make room for others to live by our side. 

Zionism entails the decision to live together. If each one's truth takes up all the space, we can live, but not together. To be with the finite, God chose Zimzum. To live with all our people, we must do the same. All the rest will follow.


Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is the President of Shalom Hartman Institute.

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