The state of Israel this week turned 65, defying history and the odds to celebrate its continued existence in a very dangerous part of the world.
Countless flags fluttered from cars and homes throughout the country, and numerous families took advantage of the weather to barbeque meat and enjoy a well-earned day of celebration.
Frankly, there is plenty to rejoice about. The Jewish population of Israel has reached 6 million, and the country has become a leading force in fields such as computer science and medical technologies. The Land of Israel is steadily being built, and Israel’s economy has proven remarkably resilient.
And yet, despite all this, one cannot help but feel a gnawing sense of concern about the future. Indeed, all around us it seems that the country is facing a mounting series of perilous threats.
To the north, the terrorist Hizbullah movement in Lebanon has been rebuilding its arsenal, with tens of thousands of rockets aimed at the Jewish state. And then there is Syria, where many of the opposition fighters trying to topple the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad have themselves sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda. To the south is Gaza, whose Hamas leadership remains intent on Israel’s demise, while to our east is Iran, whose president speaks openly of finishing off what Hitler began.
So which is it, then, on Israel’s 65th Independence Day? Doom or delight, glee or gloom? Or perhaps some mixture of the two? The very question, I think, is remarkable, if only because it betrays an utter lack of appreciation for historical context and perspective.
After all, in the life of an individual, a span of sixty-five years may represent the bulk of his productive days on this earth. But for a nation, it is an infinitesimal period, a mere episode or interlude in the great sweep of history.
Nonetheless, look at what we the Jewish people have managed to achieve here since 1948.
We’ve brought millions of immigrants from around the world, made the desert bloom, and built a free country amid a sea of tyranny, all in less time than it took to construct the Leaning Tower of Pisa (177 years), the Great Wall of China (centuries), or even Washington’s National Cathedral (83 years). Not bad, don’t you think?
Sure, there are still plenty of swamps left to be drained in this country. Swamps of Jewish ignorance, swamps of poverty and unemployment, swamps of callousness and despair. But that should never detract from our appreciation of the fact that we finally have a Jewish state, even with all of its faults.
A moving story about the great chassidic rebbe of Sadigora, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman of blessed memory, bears this out. When the Nazis took over Vienna, where the rebbe lived, they sought to humiliate the Jews by forcing the great sage to sweep the streets of the city to the taunts and laughter of Austrian onlookers.
The German soldiers handed the rebbe a broom, but while he swept he recited a silent prayer: “Master of the Universe, may I yet merit to sweep the streets of the Land of Israel.”
The Nazis then gave him a large flag and forced him to hoist it over a tall building. This time the rebbe intoned, “Master of the Universe, may I yet merit to raise the flag of Israel over a high place in the Land of Israel.”
After surviving the war, the rebbe was determined to fulfill his vision. And so, each year, on Independence Day, he would rise early, take a broom in hand, and proceed to sweep the streets of Tel Aviv in honor of God’s answer to his prayer. And then the elderly rabbi would ascend to the top of Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue and raise a large Israeli flag proudly for all to see.
So the next time you find yourself down in the dumps, wondering about Israel and its future, think back to the Rebbe of Sadigora, with a broom in one hand, a flag in the other, and a heart full of gratitude to God for the miracle that is the modern state of Israel.