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Sixty years for Israel


Rabbi Berel Wein

Iyar 5768
Usually in personal and national life things are pretty much settled by the time that sixty years passes. However, this is apparently not so for our wonderful little country. Benny Morris, the noted Israeli historian who has tempered his previous post-Zionist views greatly over the past few years has written a new book entitled "1948." In reviewing the events and war that occurred in that first year of Israel’s creation, he now comes to the stark conclusion that sixty years later that war has not yet ended and that the eventual victor has not yet universally been recognized and accepted. This assessment, disappointing and threatening as it appears, nevertheless has some accuracy to it. Many in the Arab world, in fact the Moslem world in its great part, are still not ready to accept Israel as a fact and a permanent nation here in the Middle East. Therefore, the drama still plays on with violence, mutual distrust and peace negotiations that merely appear to be tactics and are otherwise blatantly insincere. Yet, the fact that Israel is here as a fact and that it has prospered mightily in spite of this sixty year long war is itself a cause for celebration and commemoration. The future for us here has never been a logical or certain one and the odds against Israel’s success have always been almost overwhelming. Yet somehow we have persevered and accomplished. We will continue to do so, with the continuing help of the God of Israel, in the future as well.

Sixty years is one of the few dates mentioned in the Talmud as being significant in a person’s lifetime. The Talmud records for us that great rabbis made great celebrations and meals to commemorate their achieving sixty - to be freed from the threat of koret in this world. Statistics indicate that one who reaches sixty has a good chance of living a long life. Sixty is therefore seen as a watershed at least as far as human life is concerned. Perhaps we can see that this number of sixty as being a watershed time in the story of the return of Israel to its ancient homeland. Even though the threats to the existence of Israel are real, they are not really new ones. The players may have new names - Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran - but the threats and animosity are not new. Israel was threatened by nuclear elimination by the Soviet Union decades ago. Real wars have been fought against us. But the State of Israel has outlived the Soviet Union and Saadam Hussein, just to mention two of our great and aggressive foes. Ten years ago the intifadas were much more dangerous than what is happening today, painful and unforgivable as the attacks on Sderot and Ashkelon and the Western Negev are. Most of us in Israel live in personal security, certainly in comparison with many other countries in the world. The polls taken regularly here in Israel indicate that a very high percentage of those of us who live in Israel are very satisfied with our quality of life. People who at sixty are satisfied with their lives are truly fortunate. I think that this is true of our national entity, the State of Israel, as well.

There are many gains that we can count. High-tech, medicine, biotech, agriculture are enormous accomplishments. In the spiritual world, in spite of all of the struggles, divisions, controversies and setbacks suffered by the religious observant section of our population, there is a stronger Jewish people, religiously speaking, existing here today than there was sixty years ago. Torah study abounds in all corners and even in all groupings in Israel. From a sheer sense of numbers, the religious world has arisen from the ashes of the Holocaust that almost destroyed it. The Chasidic courts and the yeshivot have institutions, infrastructure, campuses and numbers that are greater than what they had in Eastern Europe in the 1930’s. There is much yet left to accomplish in all areas of Israeli and Jewish life. But we should ever be mindful of the words of our rabbis in Avot that "one is not obligated to complete all of the tasks that face one, but nor is he free to abstain from the work at the tasks that still face one." That rule is true for individual human beings. It is also true for nations and communities and certainly for the State of Israel as it marks its sixtieth year of existence. Many happy returns!
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