“Great in our Midst”: The Ongoing Miracle of the State of Israel

BY RABBI JONNY BRULL

“Shout for joy, you who dwell in Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Yishayahu 12:6).

This verse concludes the haftarah traditionally recited on Yom HaAtzmaut. The utopian messianic paradise described by the prophet Yishayahu, wherein the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb” and the “lion like the ox shall eat straw,” culminates in the above proclamation, that the inhabitants of the Promised Land should joyously exclaim G-d’s greatness in their midst. But in what sense, precisely, is G-d portrayed here as being “great” in the midst of Zion?

Ibn Ezra writes: “It is proper that you should raise your voice, O daughter of Zion, for the Divine Presence is in your midst.” Ibn Ezra opts for a more literal reading of the verse, namely, that it is quite simply the increased revelation of G-d’s presence in Israel that is the cause for joy. G-d’s shechinah is literally “great in our midst”: G-d has returned to Zion and is among His people once more.

An alternative explanation for this verse, however, is found in a careful reading of Radak’s commentary. He explains that “G-d’s name is great in your midst, through the miracles that He has performed.” In stark contrast to Ibn Ezra, who emphasizes the overt manifestation of G-d as the source of elation, Radak’s reading here implies that it is through G-d’s deeds that He will truly be revealed in times to come.

Radak’s interpretation is most appropriate when we apply Yishayahu’s prophetic words to Yom HaAtzmaut. It is very easy to look at the modern, primarily secular State of Israel through a critical lens. Certain sects of Judaism scorn the celebration of Israel’s independence as a G-dless endeavor. Radak’s exegesis to the verse in Yishayahu provides us with the response: We cannot deny the miraculous nature of Israel’s inception – the wholly unlikely act of the establishment of the State of Israel is testimony to G-d’s great name in our midst. It may be a secular state, but its very existence is nothing short of a miracle. G-d is indeed “great in our midst,” not through blatant messianic revelation, but through the wonders He has performed in establishing the Jewish state.

During my service in the Israeli Army, I was once asked by a secular soldier why I had chosen to make Aliyah and join the IDF. “You could be studying at university in your hometown of London right now,” he noted with incredulity, “and instead, you are standing on guard duty on some random hilltop at two o’clock in the morning with me!” I responded to him that the very premise of his question was erroneous. “This is not ‘some random hilltop,’” I replied. “It is the Land which was promised to our forefathers, where our ancestors twice established a kingdom. I feel more closely connected to this Land than any location in London or anywhere else in the world.”

The close connection so many of us feel to our homeland can be described as twofold in nature, in a similar fashion to the Mishkan. On the one hand, the Mishkan is described as the “ohel moed,” the “Tent of Meeting.” It was fundamentally a place where man meets G-d and seeks out His presence. Yet, simultaneously, it is also called the “Mishkan haEidut,” the “Sanctuary of the Testimony,” wherein the luchot haEidut, the two Tablets, were kept, exemplifying its role as the home of Torah. Thus, the Mishkan – and later the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem – was both a place where G-d’s presence rested and the center of Torah.

I believe that the entire Land of Israel serves this dual purpose. On the one hand, Israel has boomed as a central hub for Torah study. Unprecedented numbers of yeshivot and midrashot are flourishing, with masses of students flocking to the Promised Land from all four corners of the earth each year. Never has Torah been more accessible to the entirety of the nation, and never in modern times has one location on Earth held that status as the center of Torah learning.

At the same time, Israel is undeniably the center for spirituality, the place where G-d can be felt more than anywhere else in the world. Not just at the Kotel, but throughout the bustling streets of a land long left barren, the revival of Jewish activity in the land is simply the voice of G-d calling to us through the modern state. That is how Radak understands the words of Yishayahu, and it is that feeling which I conveyed to my fellow soldier on that hilltop in the small hours of the night.

 

Rabbi Jonny Brull is Rosh Kollel Torah MiTzion at Mizrachi Melbourne. He learned for ten years at Yeshivat Har Etzion, and has a B.Ed in Torah Shebe’al Peh and Hebrew Language from Herzog College and an M.A. in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University. 

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