Celebrating Israel at 70
In Pirke Avot 5:24 – Judah ben Teima used to say: At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bridechamber, at twenty for one’s life pursuit, at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty to be an elder, at seventy for gray hairs, at eighty for special strength (Psalm 90:10), at ninety for decrepitude, and at a hundred a man is as one who has already died and has ceased from the affairs of this world.
I certainly don’t think that many of these numbers are exactly spot on anymore, however, the importance of numbers in Judaism still holds much weight.
During Passover we give weight to the number 4 as we celebrate the four questions, the four children, the four cups of wine.
The number 10 is significant-10 plagues, 10 commandments, There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, to demonstrate the great extent of [God’s] patience, for each one of those generations provoked [God] continually until [God] brought the waters of the flood upon them. There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham, to demonstrate the extent of [God’s] patience, for each one of those generations provoked [God] continually, until Abraham came and received the reward of them all.
Certainly the number 18 and multiples of it are significant as we celebrate chai, life.
40 is definitely important: The flood lasted 40 days, Moses was on the mountain 40 days, the Israelites walked in the desert for 40 years.
And in Jewish tradition, numbers with 7 and 70 are quite significant as well. Of course we celebrate the holiness of shabbat on the 7th day of the week, we mourn for 7 days, we celebrate a bride and groom with the sheva brachot-7 blessings.
And that brings us to 70:
In Jewish tradition:
Seventy souls went down to Egypt to begin the Hebrews’ Egyptian exile (Genesis 46:27).
There is a core of 70 nations and 70 world languages, paralleling the 70 names in the Table of Nations.
Psalm 90:10 allots three score and ten (70 years) for a man’s life, and the Mishnah attributes that age to “strength” (Avot 5:32), as one who survives that age is described by the verse as “the strong”.
Why is this important? Because we just celebrated 70 years of the State of Israel. A modern miracle. A true milestone. It is clear from the other 70s that we can find meaning in Israel turning 70.
Just as 70 souls went down to Egypt and emerged from slavery to make it back to the promised land, so too, over the last 70 years Jews from all over have emerged from enslavement to make their way to the promised land. We hear their stories, we listen to their trevails, and we share their experiences. It is crucial, as the generation of those who truly felt enslaved passes away that we make sure that their stories are known. It was quite disturbing to read last week that over 30% of millenials haven’t heard of Auschwitz.
Then, Just as there were 70 faces of the Torah, meaning there were multiple perspectives in our community, so too we need to remember that Israel is not made up of the same people. Though proudly and unapologetically the Jewish homeland and a jewish state, Israel is made up of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahai, and those who don’t ascribe to any faith. There are people from all 4 corners of the earth-the west, the east, the north, and the south. There are multiple languages and traditions.
There are those who live in the center and there are those who live on the periphery. Like any modern country there is a struggle to figure out how best to integrate different populations-secular and haredi, Arab and Israeli, Men and Women, Jewish and Not Jewish. There is no perfect template for the greatest social experiment of the 20th and now 21st century but we cannot let it fail and yet it must continue to work to live up to the words of the declaration of Independence where David Ben Gurion declared: THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Just as there were 70 men of the Great Assembly, reminding us that courts of justice and law were the essence of our tradition from time immemorial, so too, we look to the Supreme Court of Israel as an important part of Israel’s democracy.
And Just as 70 is seen as the year of strength in the Mishnah, so too, we celebrate and acknowledge Israel’s strength. Oz, strength is something that we prayer for. But we also pray for Shalom. Peace.
This is something that sometimes feels elusive. Just this week I was with journalist and thinker Yossi Klein HaLevi and he sadly commented that both the right and the left are right: The left is right that we can’t occupy a people forever. And the right is correct that we don’t seem to have a partner with whom to negotiate. We know that there are dangers. We know that Iran is a danger. We know that the border with Gaza is a danger. We know that there are tremendous challenges within the Jewish population in Israel as well. And yet as Jews we don’t give up hope that there can be peace. We keep building. We keep striving. We keep assuming that things will be better.
As you can see, Counting is crucial. We are in the midst of counting the omer. A 49 day system of counting-7 weeks of 7 days each between Passover and Shavuot, reminding us that as we count we have faith that the harvest will be successful. As we count we remind ourselves that we are heading towards Shavuot-meaning, heading towards Sinai-knowing that once again we will recommit as a community to the 10 commandments. Those that bind us to God and to one another. Celebrating Israel is a way of celebrating those bonds. We celebrate the land of Israel, the state of Israel, and the people Israel. As we look to the next 70 years may Israel be blessed with the strength, the wisdom, and the peace that is needed.