53. Acharei Mot - YOM HA-ATZMAUT

A STRANGE LEGEND is told in the Midrash which, in concentrated and striking form, presents the case of our people. It tells of a Jew who was wandering on the roads of Babylonia and witnessed an unusual incident. Two birds were engaged in mortal combat, ripping and tearing at one another, and the feathers were flying fast and furious. Finally one bird overpowered the other and clawed it to death. Whereupon, either the surviving bird or another one, did a strange thing. It swooped down upon a certain bush, plucked a small plant with its beak and applied it to the lifeless bird. And lo and behold, the seemingly dead bird stirred and came to life. After witnessing this miraculous episode, the man said "Let me go, ve-achaya metaye de-araa de'Yisrael-and revive the dead in the Land of Israel." He went to the bush, plucked out a plant and took it with him to the Holy Land. When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael, he saw the lifeless caracass of a fox. He placed the plant on its nostrils and-miracle of miracles the fox stirred and came to life. He then beheld a wounded lion who was slowly bleeding to death. Once again the man put the plant on the deep gashes of the beast, and the lion was also revived. After a while the animal rose, growled, gnashed his teeth and devoured the man who had saved his life (Levit. Rab. 22; Kohelet Rab. 5).

I see in this dramatic story a graphic history of the Jew. For centuries he wandered in the Babylons of the world. Wherever he came he brought "a life-giving plant" with him that provided energy and creative power to the lifeless. Numerous cities, villages, industries and cultures owe their very existence to the Jew. And yet he always remained in the category of desalek min Bavel--a homeless and wandering pariah. At long last he came to the realization that if the Almighty had endowed him with this special creative and life-saving talent, why remain forever homeless, stateless and alone? And he said to himself, "Let me go ve'achaya metaya de'araa de'Yisrael, and revive the dead in the Land of Israel." Let me apply this life-sustaining force to the land of my fathers and build a permanent home for my own people.

This he did. The land that he entered was stripped and poor. The soil was stony and eroded. The waters were polluted and malaria-infested. The cities and hamlets were dirty and disease-ridden. But with his arrival a radical change began to take place. He initiated a dramatic period of building, irrigating and cleaning that astonished the world. Against enormous odds he drained the marshes and the swamps. He cleared the roads and removed the rocks. He pruned, planted and harvested.

The neighbors--foxy and tricky--were starving. The eyes of many were sightless from trachoma, and the bones of their children were malformed from lack of proper nourishment. In a little while the Jew raised their standard of living and brought healing to the starving "foxes."

He then had an encounter with the lion. When the British lion was badly mauled at El Alamein, our youth rushed to his rescue. With their own lifeblood young Jews helped resuscitate that wounded and bleeding lion. But no sooner did that come to pass, when Britain turned upon its benefactors, struck out at them, and tried to devour the Yishuv.

Fortunately, the story of our people's adventure has a happier ending than in the rabbinic tale. Our people fought back, drove the ungrateful lion out and created the State of Israel. The story is not yet over. There are still the foxes, the lions, the bears and a sundry of other beasts to contend with. On this thirtieth anniversary of Jewish Statehood, we dedicate ourselves anew to the idealism and determination of the early pioneers. We hope and pray that the life-giving and life-sustaining powers with which the Almighty has blessed us will enable us to outlive the nefarious designs of "all the beasts," and that in our lifetime we will achieve the peace and security we so desperately want and need. Amen.

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