Zionism: A Call To Awe And Compassion

Abraham's relationship to the land teaches us to use the Land of Israel as a means of building a just and compassionate society.

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But the legacy is more than just physical--it is a bequest of a life lived in such a way as to be a blessing to all humanity. Abraham's purchase of the land, after all, is in the wake of Sarah's death, which, according to one traditional commentary, occurs upon being informed of Abraham's taking Isaac to be sacrificed. How can we ignore this tragic irony?

I can only imagine that we are left to puzzle over this juxtaposition in order to consider two interlocking spheres of relationship: those among human beings and those between humanity and God. It is part of the legacy of Abraham and Sarah for us to consider how we receive intimations of our relationship to the divine through our interactions with other people.

But there is also a small, poignant detail that suggests to us Abraham's desire to establish a legacy that glorifies the moral grandeur of which we are capable. The Torah tells us that, when Abraham dug his first well in Be'er Sheva, he planted a tree next to it, and proceeded to invoke God's name. The rabbis ask why – after all, one might expect the patriarchs to erect altars, not trees.

This is the answer they supply: Abraham's mission was not only to settle land, but to be a witness for the benevolence of its creator, and to share in that benevolence with all who visited. He would invite passers by to sit under the tree, take some rest in the shade, and have a drink or something to eat. And afterwards, he would invite them to say a bracha, a blessing of thanks to God for their bounty.

For the rabbis, then, the goal of settling the land was to share of its bounty, and to testify to the goodness of God's presence in the world.

We would do well to keep Abraham's tree in mind as we ponder our own relationship to the State of Israel, the Land of Israel, and the people Israel--and to understand Zionism as an attempt to manifest awe, empathy and compassion on a societal level. May we work to see these values made manifest speedily and in our day.

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Rabbi Justin David

Rabbi Justin David is the spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Israel in Northampton, MA. He was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and is a graduate of Oberlin College. He lives in Northampton with his wife, Judith Wolf, and his sons Lior and Ezra.