A Nation Revived: Anshei Chayil
“We have gathered up human particles and combined them into the fruitful and creative nucleus of a nation revived.” This is how David Ben Gurion described the way that the State of Israel evolved in our own time. We are part of the revival.
Through our liturgy and our calendar Israel is ever present. Wherever we may live we pray for winter rains and summer dew for Israel. As we celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, the midpoint between winter and Pesach in the spring, we focus on the fruits of Israel. When we recite the Haggadah on Pesach we recount the story of our people’s journey to our own promised land, Israel.
This week we will receive the Ten Commandments in the reading of Parashat Yitro. The Jewish People remains the vessel by which Torah was and continues to be given to the whole world. In the Midrash (Mechilta Bachodesh 5) we learned that we were not given the Torah in the Land of Israel so that the nations of the world would have no excuse to reject its teachings. We further learned that the Torah was not given in the Land of Israel so that no tribe of our people could claim a closer or hegemonic relationship to our people’s moral, ethical and legal teachings.
The Torah belongs to us all and its core human values are universal. Yet there are those who would pervert our Torah, who deny our message of both universalism and legitimate particularism. Some in this world deny that Jews are equal members of the family of man. We see on the near horizon the increasing threat of a nuclear Iran that wishes to wipe Israel off the map and a worldwide movement claiming Israel is not a legitimate member of the family of nations. In the face of these dangers our fellow American citizens as well as both Congress and the president, continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and with Israel in her defense.
From our particular view we see a prosperous Israel that has not yet fully fulfilled its declaration of independence including a religiously pluralistic and inclusive society. Israel is a place of amazing modernity, technological achievements, and the creation of a vibrant Jewish culture. At the same time many in the charedi and orthodox parts of the nation deny the legitimacy of different approaches to Torah and the rich varieties of Jewish life.
We can fulfill our responsibilities to Israel by understanding another passage in this parashah. Moses accepted the suggestion of his father- in-law Yitro to establish a system of leadership. Those selected to serve were call Anshei Chayil. Chayil usually means valor. For men it was applied to battle. For women the term Eishet Chayil, is traditionally associated with being a leader in her home, for her children and in the community. Ramban teaches us that “an ish chayil is one who is wise, alert and fair in the administration of justice”. In his work to establish Israel David Ben Gurion was an Ish Chayil. His reflection on the revival of the Jewish people continued with these words;
“We have built villages and towns, planted gardens and established factories…We have breathed new life into our muted and abandoned ancient language…Such a marvel is unique in the history of human culture”
Today it is our turn, like Ben Gurion to be Anshei Chayil; wise, alert and fair men and women in our pursuit of justice. We must continue to build our Israel Reform Movement as a way to improve Israeli society for all citizens. We must plant more deeply the seeds of democracy, inclusiveness and pluralism so that Israel will be a model for the world and able to defeat those who would do us harm. We must continue to breathe new life into our understanding of Torah in order to grow closer to God and our people.
When we are successful as Anshei Chayil, Israel will be at peace with her neighbors, Jews will be at peace with each other, and the world will be brighter as we participate in lighting the way to make the world a better place for all of God’s creation.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.