So Israel is 74 years old. Well, actually, we’re 3,000 years old, but whether it is our modern state or our ancient people, the incredible truth is equally startling. We are here! And we continue to survive every attempt to destroy our people and our spirit.
Is it our own brains and power, or is there a higher force behind us? How else could we have possibly survived all the incessant attempts to drive us into the sea? First in 1948, then again before our astonishing victory in six short days in June 1967, again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and even in the first Gulf War in 1991, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles on Israel.
I was part of a South African Zionist Federation Solidarity Mission to Israel then. I remember standing on the rubble of a Jewish house utterly destroyed by one Scud missile. Thank G-d, no one was home! And there were another 38 such miracles. Still, the war against the Jews continues unabated with terror attacks a tragic, almost daily occurrence in Israel today. If Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah or others had half the chance, we’d all be dead and buried, G-d forbid. Thank G-d, indeed, for all His miracles.
But our survival also bears testimony to the indomitable Jewish spirit. Israel is tiny but tenacious, small but superheroic. We are punching way above our weight in the military, cyberspace, technology, medicine, agriculture, artificial intelligence and more.
And there are more Jews studying Torah in Israel today than at any time in our history.
Jews are less than 0.20% of the world’s population and yet we have won more than 22% of Nobel Prizes. Of course, we burst with pride at that phenomenal achievement, but that’s a number so shocking that it’s almost embarrassing.
How is it that the world’s mightiest empires have come and gone, declined and disappeared, only to be remembered in museums or history books while the numerically infinitesimal Jews are still here and flourishing?
Let me answer a serious question with a light-hearted anecdote.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was driving on the highway and got pulled over for speeding. The traffic officer took one look and, naturally, recognized the famous offender. But he said, “I am going to give you a ticket Mr. Dayan. Because you, of all people, should be setting a better example for our drivers.”
Whereupon Moshe Dayan responded: “Look, you see I have only one eye. Do you want me to look at the road or the speedometer?!”
The Jewish people have never looked at the speedometer.
Mathematically, scientifically and logically, we shouldn’t exist. We have endured Holocausts, and according to countless surveys over the years, we should have been extinct ages ago. But we believe in a Divine Providence, and in the miraculous. We spurn the spurious surveys and reject all the scientific research that tells us to lay down and die. We believe that we have a mission here on Earth, and we will continue to do our very best to fulfill it.
That’s why we don’t take much notice of all the prophets of doom out there. We believe in a higher plan and a higher calling, and no one can deter us from it.
It is no coincidence that this week we will read Kedoshim (Leviticus 19 and 20), whose opening command is “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your G-d, am holy.” It contains no less than 51 of the Bible’s 613 commandments. From the universally famous love thy fellow, respect for elders, and honest weights and measures to the Torah’s moral code in relationships, we Jews march to our own beat. That’s what being holy means—to be distinctively different, as individuals and as a nation.
Please G-d, we will not become arrogant in our successes but humbled by the Almighty’s ever-watchful eye, protecting us and spurring us on to new and greater heights and achievements, both physically and spiritually.
Happy Birthday, Israel!
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.