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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Building Israel with a Spear in One Hand

Megillah 20

Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle tells the story of Israel’s incredible rise to the top of the hi-tech industry in the world.   The Jewish state has by far the most start-ups per capita and currently ranks number three overall after the US and China.

And yet, there is no comparable country in the world that has endured its entire existence under the threat of annihilation by its neighbours.  Israel has survived war after war in a region that refuses to acknowledge its basic legitimacy as a country.   At this very moment, we find ourselves in a bitter battle with an enemy whose entire raison d'être is to wipe us off the map.

How does Israel flourish in such a terribly hostile environment?

The Mishnah lists a number of mitzvos that must be performed during the day including the second Megillah reading and Bris Milah.   One should not perform these mitzvos until sunrise, but if one did them any time after dawn, one has still fulfilled one’s obligation.

How do we know that dawn is the beginning of the halachic (Jewish legal) day?

When the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they met with resistance from the local Samaritan population who made multiple attempts to thwart their efforts.  The Samaritans were not indigenous to Israel; they had been transplanted to the country by King Shalmaneser in order to replace the exiled Jewish population and were far from enthused by the return of the original inhabitants of the Land. 

Nehemiah held high office in the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes.   Upon learning of the difficulties of his brethren in the Holy Land, he requested permission of the king to ascend to Jerusalem to assist them in their efforts.  Permission was granted; he arrived in Jerusalem and set about organizing the repair and reconstruction of a massive fortification wall around Jerusalem.  When the Samaritans saw the renewed Jewish effort, they attacked.  The Book of Nehemiah tells the story of our perseverance to build and defend at the same time:

“Those who built the walls and those who lifted and carried the burdens would do their work with one hand, while one (hand) held a weapon . . . We were carrying out the work, while half of them were holding the spears from dawn until nightfall . . . at night we were on guard and by day we worked.”  From here, Rabbi Zaira derives that the Torah’s “day” begins at dawn.

The State of Israel’s predicament of building under the most hostile of conditions is sadly not a new phenomenon.  Although G-d promised the Land to the Children of Israel from the beginning of time, we have had to earn it in blood, sweat and tears.  We built a country under extreme adverse conditions the first time we entered under Joshua, the second time we entered under Nehemiah; and this third time is unfortunately no different. 

And yet we have flourished.  Israel today is an oasis in a region of despots and poverty.  First we made the desert bloom; but then, lacking an abundance of natural resources, Israel has managed to become a world leader in human capital.   With one hand we built while the other hand defended our national borders.   

May the Almighty grant our soldiers swift and lasting success on the battlefield so that they may return home as quickly as possible and get back to the task of making Israel the most prosperous, incredible country on the planet.

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