This week, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet tackles the relevance of Passover, belief in resurrection and the importance of Israel for Jewish identity.
- The meaning of Israel for us
How important should Israel be to Jewish identity?
I know Torah is important and traditions are key, but as Jews we can be very protective of the state of Israel.
Israel is undeniably the homeland of the Jewish people. The Torah makes it abundantly clear that God made the promise to Abraham, reiterated to Isaac and again to Jacob that the land of Israel will be a permanent inheritance for the Jewish nation.
Later, when the Jews endured their first exile in Egypt, God told Moses to inform the people they would be redeemed and make their way to the Land of Israel. And of course, eventually that is exactly what happened.
A Temple was built and the Jews lived harmoniously. Alas, after several centuries the Babylonians came in, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jewish nation. After a while, the Jews returned to Israel when a Second Temple was built but after a little more than four centuries, the Romans came in, destroyed the Temple and exiled us again.
Fundamental to Jewish belief, as cited in Maimonides 13 principles of faith, is the idea of Moshiach – who will gather the Jews from around the world and bring them back to the Land of Israel one final time, with a rebuilding of a Third Temple.
So the problem is this interim period. Some Jews make their way back to Israel (aliyah), while just as many are still dispersed throughout the diaspora. Moshiach has not yet come and a third Temple is not in place.
There will be those who therefore object to putting too much emphasis on Israel lest it might detract from the bigger reality of a Messianic redemption and our yearning for that day to come about. There may be some legitimacy to that line of thinking, but, to be sure, there are others who take that to an extreme and want to collaborate with the enemy and see Israel become completely Judenfrei.
These lunatics need to be universally ostracised, although I’ve yet to see the Jewish world commit together to doing so.
The hard fact is that Israel is, as it says in the Torah, the place where “God’s eye is cast upon it from the beginning of the year till the end of the year”. It is our eternal homeland. It is the one place we could call home and became our safe haven following the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust.
So while there is the Messianic part of the debate that weighs somewhat in the equation, it doesn’t take away from the fact Israel is critical to the identity of the Jew and, frankly, in my opinion, still the best place for any Jew to live. In God’s opinion, it is the safest place as well.
- Why celebrate Egyptian exodus?
Can you provide a helpful soundbite on the contemporary relevance of Passover, for inclusion in an article I’m writing on the subject?
Why do Jews celebrate the exodus from Egypt and not the date our ancestors arrived in Israel? After all, wasn’t that the purpose of the exodus?
And yet the Torah refers to the going out from Egypt an astonishing 50 times, but is silent about the date of our arrival in the Promised Land.
In history, we normally celebrate the date of arrival, like the date that Columbus discovered America, not the date he left Spain.
I suppose the explanation is that in life we never truly arrive. We are always travelling to the ‘Promised Land’.
Michelangelo was once asked: “What is your greatest work?” He replied: “The next one.” Scientists know that at the moment they solve one critical problem, others will arise in its place. Indeed, the very solution to the problem itself opens up new vistas and challenges. There’s no greater danger to someone striving for personal and spiritual development to feel they have arrived.
Passover reminds us to journey on. We have not yet attained all of our potential.
We’ve not yet become all we are capable of being. We celebrate the departure because we have moved above and beyond where we have been.
Ultimately the Jew is always en route to the Promised Land.
- Jewish view on ‘resurrection’
What does Judaism say about resurrection? Besides the connection between here and there, will they come back one day to this world? I’ve been reading that some strands of Judaism don’t believe in it, and have changed their siddur to reflect this.
There is a Mishnah in Tractate Sanhedrin which states matter of factly: A Jew who denies resurrection loses his share in the world to come.
Maimonides includes belief in the future resurrection as one of the 13 cardinal and indispensable principles of Jewish faith.
There may be those who think themselves smarter than Maimonides and regard the Mishnah as hooey, but that is more their problem and it is a pity for their misled and misinformed congregants.
• Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi or follow him on Twitter at @RabbiYYS