Is the Glass of Redemption Half Full or Half Empty?

Last week, an Israeli Rabbi wrote an article in a weekend magazine wondering out loud why we still observe the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. After all, we have recovered Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel, we have a thriving State of Israel, and more people are learning Torah in Israel than ever before. So why are we fasting, why are we mourning, what are we commemorating? This Rabbi found his questions so compelling that he concluded that indeed, we should no longer be fasting as the redemption is upon us. We intuitively know he is wrong, but why?

As I spent the 17th of Tammuz in Israel, I too was bothered by similar questions. The Prophets description of Yerushalayim as desolate, barren and in ruins, is no longer accurate. We are meriting seeing with our own eyes Yerushalayim and the Land of Israel blossoming, blooming, developing and growing in ways that were unimaginable just a short time ago. Why then are we fasting, mourning, not shaving, listening to music or rejoicing? Why are the practices of the 3 weeks and the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av still relevant and how do we find meaning in them given the contemporary circumstances in Israel?

I suggest to you that to feel the pain of this period and the agony of an incomplete redemption, one need do nothing more than open the newspaper or follow Israel in the news. Just a few examples from the past few weeks alone to help give meaning to our mourning:

  • Fifty Metro-North subway stations in NY have just received new ads including an accusation that Israel has been systematically taking Palestinian territory. The ad refers to 4.7 million Palestinians as refugees. The Anti-Defamation League has called the ads “Deliberately misleading, biased and fundamentally anti-Israel.”
  • A global counter terrorism forum initiated by the US was held this week in Spain. Twenty-nine countries that have suffered from terrorism and are committed to fight against it participated. Noticeably absent, due to a lack of invitation, was a country that has suffered more terrorism than any other and that knows how to fight it better than any other – Israel. Most analysts have concluded that this snub was intentional and was necessary to get other Arab countries to participate.
  • Iran defiantly tested ballistic missiles including of the long-range variety that can travel 2,000 kilometers and easily hit Israel and parts of Europe. Senior Iranian leaders accompanied those tests with the most threatening remarks directed against Israel to date.
  • Israel continues to be the victim of a campaign to isolate and delegitimize her. One of the most heinous and hurtful accusations often hurled against Israel is that she is guilty of apartheid and no different than the former South Africa that discriminated against blacks. Rabbi Dr. Danny Gordis has already pointed out that this claim is absurd, ridiculous and offensive. “In apartheid South Africa, were there blacks on the Supreme Court? (Justice Salim Joubran, an Arab, serves on Israel’s highest bench; nor is he the first to do so.) In apartheid South Africa, were there recognized black parties in the parliament, legally pressing for their rights? The list could go on, almostendlessly.”
  • This week I was shopping with my brother in a supermarket near his home in Alon Shvut, which is located over the “Green Line” in the “West Bank.” Throughout the store, one could easily notice the many Arabs shopping. My brother pointed out to me that these are not Israeli Arabs, but they are Palestinians who are openly welcome to shop freely in this store and the others in the Gush Etzion neighborhood. Perhaps the only apartheid being practiced is the lack of ability of a Jew to equally shop freely in a Palestinian store in the same area without risking his or her life.
  • My daughter and I were at the Kotel this week when suddenly we heard several loud pops that sounded like gunfire. Silence overcame the Kotel plaza for a few moments while everyone looked up to see what was happening. It turns out that someone in the Arab quarter lit a few firecrackers and no danger was posed at all. Despite the benign nature of the noise, my daughter was scared and wanted to leave. I wonder if we heard the same sound while walking on Montoya Circle if we would have felt the same anxiousness or if my daughter would have wanted to leave. The constant state of worry and unease we have been forced to live with, even at our holiest and most sacred locations, where we should be consumed exclusively with spiritual pursuits, is itself a tragedy and worthy of our mourning.

Yes, if you walk around Israel with your eyes even partially opened you cannot help but feel the beginning of the redemption is upon us. And yet, if you read the news with your eyes even partially open you cannot help but recognize how incomplete and partial that redemption is, and how far we still must go to experience it fully.

The destruction we mourn until this date is the result of Hashem withdrawing his intense countenance from our midst. He did so because we misbehaved in our attitude towards one another. But, he did so also because we failed to appreciate the divine gifts He bestowed upon us and we took for granted what it means to be protected by His presence.

The Prophet Yirmiyahu bemoans, “Tziyon hi, doreish ein lah, no one searches out Zion, she is forgotten.” Taking an interest in Israel, identifying with her people, her problems and her destiny is not only part of what it means to be a Jew, it is part of what it will take to bring the Geulah and rebuild the Beis Ha’Mikdash.