From the Editor – Yom HaAtzmaut 5784


Bread or Dreams?

At the end of his novel Altneuland, Theodor Herzl ends with some concluding thoughts. He writes that “Dreams are not so different from action, as people usually think. All actions of men are founded upon dreams, and their end is a dream too. B’nafsho yavi chalomo – he lays down his soul to bring home his dreams.”

Herzl’s expression, b’nafsho yavi chalomo, is a paraphrase of the well-known words from U’netaneh Tokef, one of the dramatic moments of the Yamim Nora’im. “Man is founded in dust and ends in dust. He lays down his soul to bring home bread (b’nafsho yavi lachmo). He is like a broken shard…” 

These words powerfully describe the lowliness and misery of the man who works day and night to earn a living, who “lays down his soul to bring home bread.” Herzl, by switching the order of the letters of “lachmo” (bread) to “chalomo” (dream), describes a different kind of man, a man of greatness who lays down his soul to fulfill his dreams.

For Herzl, this wasn’t simply a brilliant turn of phrase, but the way that he lived and died. The dream of Israel’s return to Zion burned brightly and constantly in his consciousness. He laid down his soul to fulfill his dream and that of his people, giving every ounce of his strength to the Zionist movement until his body failed and he died of a heart attack at 44. He gave his soul to his dreams, but his dreams came true.

Forty-five years after Herzl’s death, another man dreamed – and he, too, was ready to lay down his soul to fulfill his dreams. On May 13, 1948, the day before the people of Israel declared their independence in Tel Aviv, the Jordanian Legion slaughtered the last defenders of Kfar Etzion and razed the settlement to the ground. For the next 19 years, Rav Hanan Porat zt”l and the children of Kfar Etzion dreamed of returning to their homes. Their dream was about more than returning to one town; it represented our nation’s dream of “v’shavu vanim ligvulam, and the children will return to their borders.” Rav Hanan laid down his soul to return to his childhood home and then to all of Judea and Samaria through the Gush Emunim movement that he founded together with Rav Moshe Levinger zt”l. When he died in 2011, these three words – b’nafsho yavi chalomo – were inscribed upon his grave in Kfar Etzion. For he, like Herzl before him, was both a dreamer and a man of action.

The grave of Rav Hanan Porat zt”l.

In this life, there are two kinds of Jews. There are those who spend their days in search of lechem, who “lay down their souls to bring home bread.” Buying a bigger home and taking the family away for Pesach doesn’t come cheap; it requires a lifetime of hard work. But then there are the dreamers, the people of chalom who dream of things far bigger than themselves, and dedicate their lives to bringing those dreams to fruition. The Jews of lechem might be lovely people, and they may have great success, but they are “like a broken shard, like dry grass, a withered flower, like a passing shadow and a vanishing cloud.” It is the dreamers who work to actualize their dreams who make a lasting mark on this world. 

Everyone knows Rami Kleinstein’s beautiful song “Matanot Ktanot, Small Gifts,” a beautiful song of gratitude and appreciation for the many gifts G-d gives us in this life and which we too often take for granted. But as we celebrate the miracle of Israel amidst an existential war for survival, I think we also need another song, a song we could call “Matarot Gedolot, Great Goals.” “Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our Land… Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish… restore the service to Your Sanctuary.” 

It’s time to dream big again, like Herzl and Rav Hanan, and to lay down our souls to fulfill them. These are not impossible fantasies, but real and concrete dreams – dreams that are in our grasp. If we will it, it is no dream.


Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Editor of HaMizrachi magazine. 

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