Our Promise to the Promised Land
Rosh HaShana 5775
Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria
Hear Ye, Hear Ye- Shma Koleinu. All rise for the honorable, Glory be the Name, Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, The Holy One Blessed be- HaShem- G-d- presiding- case number 5775- Keeping our Promise to the Promised Land.
Today, Rosh HaShana- known in the Torah as Yom HaDin- Judgment Day- we gather for our Court session. I am glad that so many of you could make it for these most important proceedings. We do not bang the gavel on this day, we blow a tekiah on the shofar. All kidding aside, the rabbis envision today, Rosh HaShanah as a trial- a court scene- not just for our souls and lives but that today is a judgment day for the entire world- calling the world to answer for the past year in order to prepare for the year to come. We are held accountable to keep our promises, hold by our word and live by our convictions. As we take these days for spiritual soul searching and accounting of our actions, we must ask ourselves- did we keep our Promise to speak out loud and strong in support and defense of our Promised Land?
As we read in today’s Torah reading, more than 3,500 years ago, our Biblical ancestors settled in Israel, beginning with Abraham and Sarah. They called Israel home as G-d promised them- “Le’zarekha etain et haaretz hazot- The Lord said to Abraham, “I will assign this land to your offspring.” (Genesis 12:7). Here, Abraham bound Isaac, David defeated Goliath and King Solomon built the Holy Temple. Fast forward to the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE and the exile, when we dreamt of a return to rebuild and resettle the land- to keep the promise of the Promised Land.
For nearly two thousand years, our ancestors still turned to face Jerusalem in prayer and studied the laws of agriculture in the holy land- though they lived in Poland, Egypt, Russia, Spain and America- Israel always remained our central focus no matter where we lived. And in the late 1800’s, Theodore Herzl and the early Zionists witnessed rising Anti-Semitism in Europe (not much different than today), moved to action by France’s Dreyfus Affair when Jews were labeled a people apart and enemies destroying France from within.
Herzl saw the need to have a home for the homeless Jew, to reclaim our Promised Land. Herzl knew that we Jews needed a haven because no one else would save us in time of great trouble and oppression. By sheer will and the miracle of G-d’s hand, the modern state of Israel- medinat yisrael- was re-established and declared in 1948. Herzl and the early Zionists kept their promise to the Promised Land.
As we stand before God on this holy day of judgment, Rosh HaShanah, we must ask ourselves have we kept our promise to the Holy Land? When anti-Israel battles rage on almost every American college campus and a student senate president raises her voice against Israel speaking on behalf of an entire university, do we shout our outrage? When Jewish students courageously stand up to protect and defend Israel, do we all vigorously applaud them and express our pride? When our Presbyterian neighbors vote to divest from American companies investing in Israel, do we reach out to rebuild bridges of understanding? When the world’s leading media outlets refuse to acknowledge anti-Israel one-sided reporting, use staged or incorrect pictures of violence and death, when they do not check facts, do we call them out, writing letters to editors, filling up comments pages on websites and unsubscribe? How have we kept our promise to our Promised Land?
When the brave IDF soldiers who entered Gaza and the tunnels in Operation Protective Edge to protect and defend Israel uncovered plans of a massive terrorist attack scheduled for today- Rosh HaShana- one of our holiest days- detailing a mission of a group of Hamas terrorists dressed as IDF soldiers set to infiltrate Israel and murder and kidnap Israelis- did we express our outrage loud enough to the world? When today Israelis in the South along the Gaza border remain fearful of continued rocket strikes and red alert sirens- so much so that they are considering not going to Rosh HaShana services- have done enough to secure and provide shelter for our brothers and sisters?
This year, when our hearts have been shattered by the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, the brutal and deadly attack on the Palestinian boy, the 50 days of war, rocket attacks, ceasefires and retaliation, when Israel was in dire need, did we stand up to support her and keep our promise to the Promised Land- did we call our political leaders and lobby our senators, representatives and President to ask for continued support of Israel and thank them for the Iron Dome?
Today, we renew our promise and pledge to stand up and defend our Homeland Israel- the only democracy in the Middle East, the ally of the west, the liberal, sophisticated, tolerant, open-minded, cutting edge, innovative, scientific hotbed- providing solutions in medicine, agriculture, technology and security- the nation that still provided continuous humanitarian aid across its borders to Gaza all while rockets flew from Gaza- and our promise to the promised land- is that we each have a new appointment- a new position as an ambassador for the state of Israel. On the golf course, the PTA meeting, in line at Giant Eagle or at the pool or gym, we must continually talk up Israel, discuss Israel, dispel any wrongs and share our passionate love and connection- and as always- we can still be critical of Israel- while ardently defending her.
Today begins the Sabbatical year, called Shmita in Hebrew. Announced with the Shofar on our holiday, this Torah law requires every farmer in the land of Israel, once every seven years, to leave one’s fields fallow, let the soil rest, and enable all- animals and people- to partake in the land’s abundance. Once every seven years, the Torah demands we rest from working the land reminding us to be conscious of our relationship with the earth and environment, of G-d’s gifts in our lives, and the requirement to provide food to the needy.
The Shmita year focuses and grounds our eternal connection with the land of Israel. Though we Clevelanders do not live or farm in Israel, we can take the Shmita concept to renew our dedication and pledge to the land. The Chasidic Torah Commentator S’fat Emet teaches that God gave the land of Israel to Abraham and every year on the Shmita, the sabbatical year- “shenitna livnei yisrael haaretz me’chadash- u’v’chol shmita mitchadeshet hamatana- God gives us the land of Israel anew- on each sabbatical year, the gift of Israel is renewed to the Jewish people.”
As Shmita is defined as a period of rest for the land- a time of quiet- we are grateful for the relative quiet in Israel after a most difficult summer- if you can call shooting down a Syrian jet quiet. We are moved by Israel’s continued resiliency. We are ever faithful and loyal to her.
We are incredibly awed by the Iron Dome technology that prevented heavy loss of Israeli life and ensured the safety of our brothers and sisters. We salute the courage of the IDF. And we cry with all those who lost loved ones- in both Israel and Gaza.
We do not want war. We want justice and we want peace. I wish that I could stand before you this Rosh HaShana and say that a lasting, comprehensive peace is on the horizon in Israel and the Middle East. I cannot. We need to understand that peace is complex and the region is complex, constantly changing. We desire quiet and neighbors that can be partners, and look to build more partnerships with the moderate Palestinians that want to build bridges.
As we keep our promise to be Israeli Ambassadors- we must share the successes on top of the scientific breakthroughs in medicine and technology, such as Israel’s water breakthroughs from cutting edge irrigation techniques to water desalination plants which will miraculously make drought stricken Israel water independent in the next few years- and the incredible amount of natural gas reserves found in Israel. As Anti-Israel sentiment is on the rise not just on American campuses but around the globe, there is also an optimism of support for Israel as the largest pro-Israel rally this summer was held in- not Cleveland, Toronto or New York- but Calcutta.
Both in Israel and throughout the world, leading Jewish thinkers and organizations are engaged in projects to make shmita a uniting concept throughout the Jewish world with special programs of social justice, environmental responsibility, culture and spirit- to find ways to bring the concept of rest, stepping back from consumerism and taking responsibility for the planet to all. We, too, must engage in a Shmita project reconnecting with our Promised land.
After a summer of grief and fear, we have work to have optimism and hope. As the shmita year requires that the land lie fallow to rejuvenate its nourishing soil, we must rejuvenate and strengthen our connection to the land of Israel. What is the best way to feed the nutrients and deepen your relationship with Israel? To go to Israel. Join me on this summer’s B’nai Jeshurun Israel Family Adventure, leaving June 21 and spending ten days exploring the heart of Israel, living Israel’s triumphs, history and struggles and ruach/spirit.
Or travel to Israel on so many other great trips, volunteer programs and experiences. Share Israel news on your Facebook and Twitter accounts, donate to leading Israel organizations- Federation, AIPAC, AJC, ORT, JNF, FIDF, Israel Bonds and so many more- and stay tuned in on the latest news from Israeli news sources. Support Hillels and College Israel groups. Call up Hillels and thank them for their work, contact campus student leaders to encourage them to continue their efforts.
As Ambassadors, we each can help keep the promise to our Promised Land-spreading the connection of a thriving, secure, democratic Jewish state-our homeland-the center of our world, the focus of our prayers-a land where dreams come true, where deserts bloom and where quiet holds and G-d may bring lasting peace.
Shana Tova U' Metukah-May the New Year hold blessings for you and your families-filled with sweetness, harmony, love and peace.