"a good land... a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey"
taken from the Torah reading for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Deut. 8:7-9
The Haftarah for Yom Haatzmaut (Isaiah 10:32-12:6) is one of the most beautiful and poetic of the entire Jewish calendar.
But what is the connection of this Haftarah to the modern State of Israel? Why read it on Israel's Independence Day? Every Jew can easily celebrate the anniversary of the declaration of the State in 1948 by going to the beach and having a bbq like the majority of Israelis. There you can witness fly-overs by the Israeli Air Force, naval ships proudly sailing on the Mediterranean and an Israeli flag flying from car windows.
The day is marked by a Torah reading, Haftarah and the inclusion of an updated version of Al Hanisim that is added to the daily Amidah and is based on similar prayers recited on Purim and Hannukah. All three prayers start with this formula of thanking God for "the miraculous deliverance, for the heroism, and for the triumphs in battle of our ancestors in other days and in our time".
The Haftarah contains themes of peace among the nations, the pursuit of true justice, a utopian world of tranquility, the ingathering of the exiles to Israel and the centrality of Israel. We rejoice in the gifts that God has given us and thank God for saving us from our enemies.
Of course, a vision of peace and a perfect world is nothing new. What then makes this particular one so special and inspiring for this day? It starts with a twig.
At the very beginning of Chapter 11, Isaiah prophesies about a leader that will come from the family of King David "the spirit of the Lord shall alight upon him: A spirit of wisdom and insight, A spirit of counsel and valor, a spirit of devotion and reverence for the Lord. He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the Lord: "
The modern State of Israel is looking for a leader such as this. During the elections, this past January, Israelis filled the Knesset not with lifelong politicians but with representatives of all races, different professions and life experiences in the hope that they can help to lead the nation on its path to peace and to making Israel a better society.
The fact that Israel jails politicians for corruption or worse, for rape and puts on trial soldiers for abuse of power serves only to make us "normal" among the nations, not a "light unto the nations" as Isaiah tells us in later chapters.
We must strive to fulfill the words of the Haftarah "In all my sacred mount Nothing evil or vile shall be done; For the land shall be filled with devotion to the Lord as the water covers the sea".
The vision that guides MERCAZ Olami is to support and push Israel into becoming an exemplary state. Not just in terms of other nations, but also in terms of what happens in the State itself. We must fight for and promote religious pluralism, to end the marginalization of women in the public arena and work to free agunot to get on with their lives. The status of all streams of Judaism must be recognized by the State and these streams must have the freedom to worship how and where they want to.
It has been said that making a permanent peace for Israel can only be done by a courageous leader with a courageous heart. The same can be said of tackling the internecine squabbling of the Jews in Israel about who's Judaism is more authentic and will be more effective in ensuring its longevity.
The road map provided by the Haftarah and Isaiah's vision expects a lot of a leader. But it is just that; a guide for the leaders of Israel on how to lead us to the path of our Redemption.
Chag Ha'Atzmaut Sameach!
Rabbi Tzvi Graetz
Masorti Olami & MERCAZ Olami