Postcard from Israel
Mark Twain famously observed the striking dissonance between the enormity of Israel’s sheer metaphysical significance, and the minuteness of its physical scope, by saying: “Israel has more history than geography.” Being in Israel this week, I was struck once more by the astute nature of this brilliant observation. Ehud Barak likened Israel to “a villa in the jungle,” due to its being the sole democratically and economically robust force, in a region plagued by political barbarism and economic stagnation. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks sees Israel as a triumph of the spirit, and defines her as “the victory of possibility over probability.” And Yitzchak Rabin likened Israel to a diamond, because it is small, precious and “everybody” wants it.
In recent years, I came to see the existence of the Jews of Israel as allegorically analogous to that of living on the edge of a volcano. The scenic view is magnificent. Daily life is pleasant. And yet – the military and political volcano of terrorism, missiles attack, and even a full-scale all-out war, can suddenly erupt at any given moment. The striking dissonance between this volcanic reality, and the intensity and joie de vivre with which Israelis conduct their daily lives, is really quite astonishing and remarkable. Israelis know so much better than many Americans how to compartmentalize the complexities of life, and to simply enjoy the moment, relax, sit at a good cafe, and socialize with friends and family. Untainted by what Max Weber called “The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism,” many Israelis do a fine job resisting the American cult of over-productivity, and do-well to distinguish between “the price of things,” (tangible profits), and “the value of things” (ideas and acts which enhance the soul). We Americans could stand to learn a thing or two from our brethren in Israel not only when it comes to existential resilience, but also when it comes to carving out more time to live, and not only to “making a living.” Yes, Israelis live with the yoke and consciousness of the millions around them who overtly call for their political annihilation and destruction.
But they also know so much better than we do, how to master the fine art of what our sages call in a Torah learning context לקבוע עיתים / setting out times, in order to prioritize that which is ‘important’ over that which is (seemingly) ‘urgent.’ In this regard, as in so many others, Israel leads world Jewry, and teaches us and inspires us how to celebrate life, even in the most adverse and challenging of geo-political circumstances, and demonstrates to us how to summon one’s innermost resource in order to rejoice, to celebrate, to savor and to cherish the elusive nature of the fleeting moment, to live.
Shabbat Shalom and warm regards from Israel,