The New Strength of Am Yisrael

by Rav Yair Eisenstock

I was born in Be’ersheva in 1983, and I have been through many special moments of Jewish history . I’ve seen different times in the land: the Gulf War , two intifadas, and even Maccabi tel Aviv’s basketball team win a few championships. I haven’t seen everything, but I have been part of a lot of it.

Growing up, I would often ask myself a simple question: if I could be in any time in the history of Am Yisrael, what period would I choose to be a part of . Obviously whichever place and whatever time we were born is where Hashem wants us to be. But the thought helps us realize our dreams, and what truly inspires us. It helps us know what we really are searching for.

I always felt 1967 would be the period I would most have wanted to be a part of. Not because of the war, not even because of our ability to return to Yerushalim , but because of the atmosphere of our people . In 1948 the soldiers were mostly Holocaust survivors ,and it was a war where the main emotion was one of survival . There weren’t questions of identity, and there wasn’t a feel of spirituality: it was a war simply to live, to have a land, too have a country.  On the other hand, what happened in 1967 is different . People didn’t ask the question, “Where is Israel,” but rather, “Why Israel.” The people in the country  ,were fighting to bring back Yerushalim , not just have the land of Israel . It was a war that made people think of the roots and the connection.

The last two months in Israel have been different, and I think in many ways we returned to those times. We again returned to a period of time that focuses not on the question of external survival, but rather of internal transformation.

Before explaining this connection, I want to try and see how we can understand this idea deeper through the fourth perek of pirkei avot. The opening mishna of the 4th perek is a famous one.

משנה מסכת אבות פרק ד משנה א: בן זומא אומר איזהו חכם הלומד מכל אדם שנאמר (תהלים קי”ט) מכל מלמדי השכלתי איזהו גבור הכובש את יצרו שנאמר (משלי טו /טז/) טוב ארך אפים מגבור ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו שנאמר (תהלים קכ”ח) יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא איזהו מכובד המכבד את הבריות שנאמר (שמואל א’ ב’) כי מכבדי אכבד ובוזי יקלו:

The simple structure of the mishna is: Question. Answer .Proof

בן זומא אומר:

 

Question

Answer

Proof

Intellect

איזהו חכם

הלומד מכל אדם

שנאמר (תהלים קי”ט) מכל מלמדי השכלתי

Strength

איזהו גבור

הכובש את יצרו

שנאמר (משלי טו /טז/) טוב ארך אפים מגבור ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר

Wealth

איזהו עשיר

השמח בחלקו

שנאמר (תהלים קכ”ח) יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא

Respect

איזהו מכובד

המכבד את הבריות

שנאמר (שמואל א’ ב’) כי מכבדי אכבד ובוזי יקלו:

Once seeing the mishna this way , there are many ideas that can be learned (Why these four topics, what is the need for each proof , Why does Ben Zoma give the opposite answer then expected etc.) .

From the structure of the mishna I want to point out one idea. None of the answers relate directly to the question. The opening question is about חכם and the answer is about הלומד. The second is about גבורה  but the answer is about הכובש . The third is about עשיר the answer is about השמח. The fourth is about מכובד and the answer is המכבד.

The answers should have been”חכם זהו… ,גיבור זהו …, עשיר זהו …, מכובד זהו…” . If the question is about a goal , the answer should directly relatie to that specific goal rather to a trait or characteristic that might help to reach the goal.

From this structure a fundamental principle of this mishna can be learned . The question is about the end goal “חכם , גבור עשור , מכובד” but the answer is revealing a hidden idea . The end goal begins with the means that bring one to the goal “הלומד , הכובש , השמח , המכבד” In other words, every great accomplishment begins with the decision of how to get to that goal .

Three months ago Rav Binny and Rabbi Aaron organized a shabbaton for Alumnai in camp Ramah Nyack .We were praying Kabbalat Shabbat in a watch tower . From the Orayta roof I’m used to seeing the Beit Hamikdash and knowing where my thoughts should be focused (יבנה המקדש – ושם נשיר). When I’m dancing in the Old City and I see Jewish faces I don’t recognize, I know what to focus on (עם ישראל חי) . Standing on a watchtower in New York, I wasn’t sure what to look at. I started with the trees and tried to connect them to Gan Eden …it didn’t really work . Then I stared at the sunset and all its colors, but didn’t really work either, since I’ve seen better ones .Suddenly my eye caught a picture of something I’d never see in the Old City: a huge bridge. I just looked at this bridge. I didn’t see Beit Hamikdash or Gan Eden , but I saw a message for life . Why does someone build a bridge? They know where they are , and they know where they want to get to , but they don’t know how to BRIDGE the gap.  The bridge is what gives us the ability to simply reach our destination.

Who doesn’t know where they want to get to? How many of us don’t want to be happy? Are there people in the world who don’t want peace? So if we all know the great goal, why are so many broken and so far away? Simply put, it’s because we don’t know how to build the bridge . We spend so much time talking about the great future without realizing that the greatest redemption is what I do with this moment . Is this experience, friendship, job, university, marathon, dinner I’m making for my family a bridge to my image of the future , or are they an escape  and step away from the goal?

Ben Zoma teaches us his life message: so many of us know how to talk , but very few acknowledge the need to walk . So many are great at theory and have no practice.

Yesterday , July 30th the 3 day of Menachem Av , I went out to breakfast with Zviki (my younger brother) , Tanya (my best friend), my mother and father before Zviki had to go back to Gaza . The waiter saw Zvikah’s uniform, and when we asked for the bill, he said, “choose any desert , on the house , and be sure to come back the way you left.” My mother cried and said,  “I love Israel.”  I was choking up inside , crying from the gesture; it was someone thinking about someone else before themselves , the secret of Eretz Yisrael. But the bracha he gave was the opposite of what I’ve been seeing the last two months since Gilad , Naftali and Eyal were kidnapped . No one is sitting, no one is tired  no one is sitting at home just relaxing this summer no one is “staying the same”. Don’t “come back the way you left,” butrather “build something new , use this time to do.”

These last two months, I feel Am Yisrael has returned to 1967 . The war is much more then the shells that are shot . It is a time Am Yisrael has again started to ask, “What is our identity? Do we live in the land , or do we love the land . To we say Am Yisrael Chai , or do we make sure that Am Yisrael is chai . Do we sleep through the days , or do we revive our ways?”

I wanted to thank our chayalim , who aren’t shooting guns , but changing a nation . They are proud to defend , and their parents are saying we are crying but we believe. The nation is heartbroken but not sad.

For 31 years living in the land ive heard many speak about the fruits, but I didn’t feel we were connected to the roots. Since the 14th of Sivan , when the kids were kidnapped , I personally feel we have relearned what Ben Zoma was really teaching: the greatest goals aren’t measured through where you want to go , but how you go about daily routine in order to infuse the mundane with the image of our future dream.

 

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