I’m supposed to give the sermon this Shabbos at the shul I usually attend on Shabbos mornings. The rabbi is away for the summer and sometimes asks me to say a few words when he’s gone.
I have several thoughts that I think I’ll share with those in attendance; but one insight I hope to cite is from Rav Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, Hy”d.
As recounted by Rav Moshe Shternbuch, shlit”a, Rav Wasserman visited England (where Rav Shternbuch grew up) before the war, collecting money for his yeshiva. Famously unconcerned with anything but truth, he spoke in a London shul and said something that resulted in part of the congregation standing up and exiting the room in protest. He was unruffled.
What Rav Wasserman focused on is one of the descriptions of the Jewish people reluctantly pronounced by Bil’am (Bamidbar 23:9): Aam livadad yishkon uvagoyim lo yischashov – “a people (aam) that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations (goyim).
An aam, Rav Wasserman explained, is a people united by a purpose and calling; a goy, the citizenry of a country. The Jewish people is the former; and lo yischashov – it should not be reckoned among the latter. A country in the Holy Land that aspires to be a nation like the countries of the rest of the world is not a Jewish ideal. The Land of Israel (in contrast to a country, even the one today called Israel, which was still unborn when Rav Wasserman spoke) is the holy place Hashem entrusted to us, invaluable for the closeness it offers us to Him and the commandments that can only be performed there. It cannot be our mere “country.”
We all owe gratitude to the state of Israel for myriad things, but it is in the end but a country, a fact we sometimes forget. Despite the wording of one Israeli leader’s eulogy for the three boys murdered by Arabs, they were killed not because they were Israelis. They were killed because they were Jews; that’s why they are kedoshim. May Hashem grant their families, and us all, nechama.
I hope no one stands up and leaves the shul in protest when I speak this Shabbos. But if anyone does, I will be in good historical company.