Thursday, 30 August 2012

How the State of Israel has fostered "Holistic Judaism"

Guest Blogger
Rabbi Dr. David Joseph Mescheloff

Let me share a story I heard about six weeks ago, from another grandfather at a talmud torah graduation ceremony of grandchildren: He spoke of how a five-minute meeting some 45 years ago (shortly before the six-day war) with HaRav David Cohen, HaRav Hanazir zt"l, talmid muvhak of HaRav Kook zt"l, changed his life.
He had just been released from the army, and was trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life.  On the one hand, he could begin his university studies, learn a profession and begin to work.
 On the other hand, he felt his Jewish education had been inadequate, and so he was thinking of taking a year to study in a yeshiva.  As he debated the issue internally, he sought advice from everyone he knew.
 Unfortunately, the advice turned out to be useless, for no one really took an interest in him, but rather everyone gave predictable advice based upon who the adviser was himself (generally speaking, along religious or academic/secular lines).  Somehow he got the idea of getting advice from Rav Cohen zt"l.  At that time, with Jerusalem still divided, HaRav Cohen zt"l was still fulfilling a neder he had taken never to leave his apartment as long as Jerusalem was divided.  So the speaker visited him in his book-lined room in his modest Jerusalem apartment.
"What is your name?", HaRav Cohen asked him, using the plural respectful form reserved for distinguished people.  Then, "You must have some question you thought I could help you with ...  how can I help you?"  He continued throughout using the plural form.
So the man explained his conflict.
"Well, what interests you?", asked HaRav Cohen.
The man explained he was interested in plant biology.
"What sort of questions interest you in that field?"
Finding for the first time that someone was expressing an interest in what concerned him, the man said, "I heard there are trees in California 100 meters tall!  I would like to understand how water gets up that high in a tree, when we know that water naturally flows to a low place."
"That is a very important question!", responded HaRav Cohen, "you should do research on that!"
Perplexed, the man asked, "Everyone else I asked who looks like you told me I should go study in a yeshiva; why are you telling me to go do research at the university?"
HaRav Cohen responded, "We now have our own state.  We are free and independent.  We can no longer count on others to do things for us!  We have to be able to do everything ourselves.  We need plant biologists, and truck drivers, and farmers and nurses ...  and every profession.  You should do that valuable work that interests you.  Just promise me one thing, that not a day will go by during which you will not study some Torah."

The story-teller concluded, "I proceeded to follow the Rav's advice.  And I believe I have kept my promise to him.  There were days when I fell exhausted into bed after a 14-hour work day in a foreign country, and then remembered I hadn't studied any Torah that day.  I got up, washed my hands, learned a few pesukim, and went back to bed."

The point I want to make with this story is that one of the things that Israel has brought about (for many, although not for all) is a certain wholeness, an end to the compartmentalization represented by such formulations as " x and the State of Israel", "x and y", or as it used to be called jokingly, "x and the Jewish problem".  I believe that one of the major changes the State of Israel has brought to Jewish life is in making it whole, in the home as in the street, in the polls, in the courts, etc etc etc.  I think that there is much value in bringing this insight to public attention outside Israel, where compartmentalized Jewish living seems to be an existential necessity.

Shanah Tovah,
Best Wishes for 5773!

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