I don’t desire sacrifice…

For 2000 years we have survived outside the Land; if our Father Avraham was a wandering Aramean then we have been a wandering people too. I say ‘survived’ because outside is not our home; at home we live, outside we survive. And our survival has been orchestrated in no small manner by our instinctive clinging to Torah and our traditions, wherever we have been driven we took our scrolls and books with us. Easy to conclude then that it is Torah that is the focus of our people, Torah that forms us and gives us community cohesion and vision; Torah IS Judaism. Yet the obvious may still deceive.

Just as a child being given an ‘airfix’ construction kit would be chided for venerating the instructions instead of using them to actually build what the directions command, have we missed the point with our Gift of Torah? Have we reached a position where we are exalting the Gift, the revelation rather than what the ‘instructions’ are all about? For it is the Torah itself that commands us to build a Mishkan, a moveable tent of sacrifice. We are commanded to construct something that takes a central position not just in the camp of the Israelites but in Jerusalem and in Jewish thinking and theology. Torah forces us to divert our gaze away from itself to the purpose of the commandments at all: sacrifice.

Why should the Mishkan and later Temple with all the sacrifices at its heart be so central to Judaism? Because fundamentally Judaism recognises that sin has corrupted the relationship between G-d and man. Sin cannot be just removed, a G-d of justice as our G-d is will always demand a price for rebellious and wilful disobedience. Just as punishment fits the crime, so sacrifice fits the sin.

Yet we read in 1 Samuel 15 ‘to obey is better than sacrifice’ and from Hosea 6 ‘for I desire faithfulness and not sacrifice’. We are commanded to bring sacrifice for our sins, yet what HaShem truly seeks is a people who will actually be obedient. A people who will not need sacrifice.

We build something that should not exist and should not be needed because there is not one who has not sinned. And a powerful circular display of our dire spiritual condition and penchant or inclination to sin is revealed in the internal logic of Torah itself: we are commanded to bring sacrifices for sin, so a sinless person would not need to do this. However, to not sacrifice would be to sin because it breaks a command to sacrifice! The conclusion is clear: no one is free of sin. Even the most observant amongst us will conclude that despite doing everything ‘by the book’ they are still sinners. Having ticked the ‘list of Mitzvot’ to the end, we are still found wanting.

G-d does not desire sacrifice, but we need it. His mercy and love continues forever, and ultimately He provides a sacrifice equal to our sins. Mercy and justice demand sacrifice; Judaism is about restoring the relationship with HaShem from which we have all fallen.

Zionism and Jewish renewal.

It’s taken as read, isn’t it, that as Jews we stand for and support our national homeland, the only place in the world where we can BE Jews, live as Jews and not fear showing anyone our identity. We are all Zionists now.

Zionism is our modern day cultural inheritance, a movement that drove the first pioneers to make such deep sacrifices and has cost the lives of countless of our soldiers and young people since the dream became a reality in the geopolitical world. Zionism, the hope of and for a nation, a place we can all finally say is home. But is that what Zionism is? If so, has Zionism lived up to expectation? What was the actual reason behind it? To ‘merely’ recreate a homeland and then sit back, satisfied that the ‘job was done’? What did we think we were building or recreating? What would be the foundation, the cultural and spiritual Erbgut upon which ‘new’ Israel would be built? And as we ponder now, after Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, has the dream been realised?

Israel, our nation, has come of age. We have taken our place amongst the nations of the world, become even a leader amongst them in certain areas. Israel is known today for its technological advancement, GM crop sciences and software innovation. It also lays claim to having the ‘capital’ of the homosexual world, of having a social and economic underclass that needed to demonstrate in the streets last year for change, and a growing trend of migration to countries where it is ‘easier’ to live.

If Jewish renewal is to take place then we must begin to take a firm hand to the rudder of Zionism. If Zionism ‘merely’ means the ownership and habitation of the Land by Jewish communities, families and individuals then it should be consigned to history as a successful movement. Israel belongs to us again and this should be celebrated. If however, Zionism means more than that, then its aims, aspirations and goals need to be refined to ensure that the dream of the first pioneers continues to live on today. And what should that dream mean today?

At the recent World Zionist Conference in Chicago these questions were being hotly debated. On being asked what Zionism meant, one young person responded ‘ (it is) a commitment to building something special. It’s not just about supporting a Jewish state or even about loving the country, but a dedication to really turning it into a light to the nations’ (as quoted in IJP p21 Feb 22 2013).

If our definition of Zionism allows for our nation to do no wrong, then we shall fail to fully realise the depth of renewal which Zionism should embody. Returning to our Land was the first step, not the last. Physical residency is the start of a full spiritual return to Hashem, an initial creative event that triggers a brighter glow to our national light and calling. Zionism is a ‘job in hand’ not a job completed. Israel means something, Zionism means something, being Jewish means something, but these meanings only combine to form a vision of national spiritual renewal when we once more return to our G-d with repentance and humility. Israel, as the real, physical, tangible and visible manifestation of the Kingdom of G-d on earth, should reflect its Founder and Creator. Israel IS different.