Reprinted with permission from
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).
Throughout our lives, we make numerous transitions and undergo various rites of passage, of both a formal and informal nature, consciously or unconsciously. Frequently these transitions are marked by ceremony and ritual of some kind: a brit bat or brit milah, a bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah, a mikveh immersion, a wedding. These are solemn moments, both for ourselves and for our closest relatives. Often they are accompanied by self-scrutiny, a vow, and a determination to improve, to “turn over a new leaf.” The same is true of the beginning of each new year; indeed, this is the central theme of our prayers on both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. It also holds good when we move into a new home, freshly decorated, the walls clean and as yet unmarked by greasy fingers, the windows crystal-clear and gleaming, the empty rooms waiting to be filled with our lives. Parashat Ki Tavo begins with a ceremony that marks the entry into the Land of Israel (26:1-10): as an expression of gratitude, the people are to bring a basket filled with the first fruits of the land’s bounty and to recount the events that led to the long-awaited settlement of the land.
When Benjamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl gave expression to his extraordinary prophetic vision of a Jewish state in both Der Judenstaat (The Jews’ State) and Altneuland (Old-New Land), he described a new community, one in which the land would be developed through science and technology, in which there would be tolerance in all spheres, and which would be organized socially on a cooperative (“mutualist”) basis. The pioneers of the Second Aliyah, motivated by similar lofty ideals, developed precisely this kind of cooperative way of life when they founded the kvutzot and kibbutzim that became a hallmark of the new socialist communities–and eventually of the autonomous State of Israel. The Declaration of Independence drawn up by the founders of the state in 1948 also proclaimed equality of all citizens, irrespective of race, religion, or gender. Fundamental concepts of social justice, many of which are rooted in the precepts of Deuteronomy, ground much of the legislation passed by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) from its inception. Indeed, Israel was one of the first countries to pass a law stipulating equality between women and men. For most of the first fifty years of its existence, Israel was a welfare state. Underlying this new venture was not only divine promise but also the memory of past suffering, both recent and long gone by. When Herzl had presented his amazing plan to the Rothschild family, requesting their financial help in turning his dream into reality, he wrote: “We are talking about a simple old matter–the exodus from Egypt.”