Vision and Detail

Throughout my life, I was privileged to meet with three Israeli Prime Ministers. One of them was Ehud Barak. As I sat down with PM Barak, the first thing I told him was that his eulogy of Yoni Netanyahu, the sole Israeli soldier who died during the raid on Entebbe in 1976, is in my eyes one of the greatest Jewish eulogies of the 20th century. Visibly moved, Barak thanked me for these words.

In his eulogy of Yoni Netanyahu, Barak spoke about belonging to a generation which lived during both the Holocaust and our people’s astounding political resurrection in Israel, only three years thereafter. The sheer density of these eschatological events, professed Barak, is existentially overwhelming and historically overbearing.

Next, Barak’s eulogy of Netanyahu also drew an analogy between the biological and the political. Barak spoke about how numerous cells in the human body die out throughout the years, in order to ensure the preservation and continuation of the individual human body writ large. Analogously, discerned Barak, in the body politic as well, the survival of the nation-state necessitates the death of some of its individual members – the soldiers who give up their lives, in order to enable the survival of the State of Israel.

There is however, observed Barak, a crucial difference between the cells which organically die in the physical human body, and the soldiers who are willing to give up their lives for the preservation of the body politic. For the soldiers who knowingly put their lives in harm’s way are well aware of the prospective risk of perdition, whereas the biological cells in the human body are neither conscious nor choosing to embrace their sacrificial role.

Barak then went on, in his eulogy of Yoni Netanyahu, to also note that ever since the dawn of Jewish history, from the days of Jonathan the Maccabi in the second century BCE, all the way to the days of Jonathan Netanyahu some two millenia thereafter, the preservation of Jewish sovereignty in Israel always hinged upon the sacrificing spirit of a mere handful of altruistic warriors.

Barak also alluded in his eulogy to the profound existential rift inherent in Yoni Netanyahu’s poetic soul. Specifically, Yoni’s underlying inner struggle to fulfill and actualize both his Zionist ideals on the one hand, and his “amor intellectualis” – his insatiable love of learning and scholarship at Harvard University, on the other hand.

Yoni Netanyahu died during the opening minutes of the most audacious and spectacular military raid in the history of modern warfare, the raid on Entebbe. And the success of this daring operation, observed Barak, entailed and necessitated a delicate and prudent balance between vision and detail, between imagination and minutiae, between macro and micro.

On the one hand, the people who planned the Entebbe raid needed to conceptualize boldly, and “fantasize” about how to cunningly bring home Jewish civilians who were held hostage in Africa, thousands of miles away from Israel. On the other hand, the planners of the mission also needed to remain grounded and disciplined, as pertains to the material and the logistical aspects of the raid. In a word, they had to achieve a masterful and precarious balance between formulating a grand imaginative vision on the one hand, and the tedious task of honing in on the small details of technical and logistical aspects of the operation, on the other hand.

This precarious balance between vision and detail, between macro and micro, between the pathos and poetry of vision, and the somber prose of everyday life, is exactly what the Torah expects from us as individuals, as we construct our own personal life stories as well. We are called upon to live with a sense of destiny and vocation on the one hand, whilst at the same time remaining entrenched and grounded in the nitty-gritty of what philosopher Heidegger disparagingly called “everyday-ness,” – the monotonous exigencies of practical everyday living.

And this is all reflected, inform us the Chassidic masters, in the title of this Shabbat’s two Torah portions: “Vayakhel- Pikudey,” which are almost always juxtaposed and read together during the same Shabbat.
For “Vayakhel” means “to assemble,” to gather everyone together, in order to articulate and address the “big picture” of what our human endeavors and strivings are ultimately all about, whereas “Pikudei” discusses the minutiae of the specific raw materials and subtle planning required and necessary, in order to bring to actuality a worthy and sublime vision.

The book of Proverbs reminds us that “in the absence of vision, a people withers away.” The same holds true with regard to our own individual lives as well. Just like the planners and executors of the legendary raid on Entebbe, which symbolizes the very essence of the Zionist ideal at its finest, so too – we as solitary individuals, are also summoned and ordained from on High and from within, to master the elusive existential dance of macro and micro, of imagination and minutiae, of the grand pathos of existential vision and the disciplined rigor of life’s innumerable quotidian demands.

May we achieve just that, and find truth and loving kindness in the eyes of God and humans, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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