By HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha
President Trump’s Declaration
About a week ago, a storm erupted following U.S. President Trump’s declaration of recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On the one hand, there is nothing new in this declaration because this has been the reality since the establishment of the state 70 years ago; since then, Jerusalem has grown, developed, and strengthened, and is the center of Israeli sovereignty in all respects. The declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital today, can be likened to a person who married years ago, had children and grandchildren, but just now people remember to congratulate him on his wedding! On the other hand, however, the strong opposition to this declaration attests to its importance, because for various reasons, haters of Israel are pressuring all countries not to recognize the special connection of the Jewish people to its land and to Jerusalem, its holy city.
Regrettably, the representatives of the Jewish community in the United States did not pressure the administration to fulfill its promise, rather, it was Christian lovers of Israel through their representatives in Congress, the Senate, and the government such as Vice President Pence and U.N. Ambassador Hailey who initiated the declaration. Our blessings go out to them. Their steadfast support for the State of Israel’s existence and the strengthening of its capability warms our hearts.
In Contrast to the Balfour Declaration
Of course, there is no room to compare the Trump Declaration to that of the Balfour Declaration. First of all, during the times of the Balfour Declaration the situation of the Jewish people was at a low ebb. Jews had no political, military, or economic standing whatsoever. And then, lo and behold, the foreign minister of Britain, who at the time was the world’s leading superpower and on the verge of conquering the Land of Israel, declared that Britain would work to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. True, Lord Balfour was not Prime Minister at the time, however he held a very important position given that in his previous capacity he had served as Prime Minister, and thus, had enormous influence. Stemming from his deep religious faith, he saw it as his duty and privilege to fulfill the lofty mission of history, to realize the vision of the prophets, and to help the Jewish people regain their independence in their sacred homeland.
Unfortunately – not unlike the Reform movement today – then as well, a Jewish minister in the British government objected to the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to its homeland and together with him, the haters of Israel sabotaged and weakened the declaration: instead of it being drafted as a declaration of His Majesty’s Government and directed to the Zionist Movement as planned, it was written as a declaration by Lord Balfour, and delivered as a personal letter to Lord Rothschild. Nevertheless, the declaration still carried tremendous weight, and was the basis for the decision of the League of Nations in San Remo regarding the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, and the preference for the national right of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel over the rights of the Arabs and other non-Jews who lived there at the time, who were promised only religious and civil rights, but not national ones.
The Reform Movement’s Opposition
Sadly, the Reform movement who wished to sabotage Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem out of animosity towards the President and Jewish nationalism, were the ones who decades ago removed the Land of Israel and Jerusalem from the wording of prayers, and who now want the State of Israel to recognize them as a legitimate stream of religious Judaism equal to that of traditional Torah Judaism, and they are the ones who want to change the accepted and beloved customs at the Western Wall, which was conquered by the State of Israel in opposition to their beliefs. And when their position is not accepted they provoke hatred, and slander the State of Israel and faithful Jews throughout the world. They perform an act like Zimri through assimilation and sabotage of anything national, but seek reward like Pinchas the holy representative of Judaism for generations. How much agony and grief have we suffered from the pains our Reform brothers have afflicted us. We wish to embrace them as beloved brothers, and receive them here in Israel as full partners in the revival of the nation, but instead, they continue to wound and sabotage.
The Victory of Chanukah
The days of Chanukah are the days of victory of Judaism over Hellenism. All the surrounding nations at the time became Hellenistic; Hellenistic Jews collaborated with the foreign government in order to force other Jews to worship idolatry. However, those loyal to the Torah adhered to their faith and with self-sacrifice and devotion, raised the banner of revolt against the ruling culture. In a difficult and tormented process, they succeeded in liberating the Temple, and restored the sacrificial services to its former state.
The Spirit of Judaism versus Hellenism
True, from a geopolitical point of view the Greeks, and after them the Romans, nevertheless remained rulers both politically and culturally, and as a result of this, Hasmonean rule also failed, with the great grandson of Matityahu the Priest, King Yanai (Jannaeus) and his descendants attracted to Hellenism themselves. But in the awesome days of splendor in which the Temple was liberated and the miracle of Chanukah took place, the Jewish spirit was released from its bonds, and established its status in the Beit Midrash (study halls) of the Oral Torah, and by virtue of this, we are alive and exist to this day. Not only that, but in a tortuous process the Jewish spirit shattered Hellenism, and turned it into a tool for revealing values that had been taken from Judaism.
Judaism can manage with Hellenism because Judaism gives expression to profound and ethical values, and has no problem utilizing Greek wisdom as a magnificent tool for revealing and expanding these profound ideas. However, Hellenism cannot remain a dominant concept as long as Judaism is in the world, because Judaism touches on questions of the soul for which Hellenism has no answer. That is why the Greeks tried to assimilate the Jewish people through their decrees. But as long as the Jewish nation adheres to its faith and Torah victory is assured, because our roots stem from a deeper and higher place – from the Eternal Source.
In Our Times – The Temple Mount
Today as in the past, the Jewish spirit striving for ‘tikun olam’ (perfection of the world) by means of revealing the spiritual holiness that gives eternal, moral meaning to all human and national contexts, finds itself in a profound struggle against the secular, democratic, liberal worldview – the successor of the Hellenism – which aspires to arrange the world by means of superficial equality that denies the revelation of holiness in the national and collective order of life.
And once again, the struggle comes back to center around the Temple Mount, the site of the Holy Temple, which manifests the revelation of sacred values within physical reality. And just as in the past, the winds of foreign culture blowing throughout the world are extremely powerful – hundreds of millions of talented people are developing it, billions of people consume it, and even many of our fellow Jews are drawn after it and do not understand the importance of the sanctity of the Holy Temple, and its significance.
However, the Holy Temple is the foundation of everything. “And I will dwell within them” – God dwells within the actual, physical reality of the Jewish nation – despite all the complications. And thus we learn from the holiday of Chanukah, that from all the Hasmonean victories and their numerous achievements, nothing remained for generations except the days of Chanukah, in which we celebrate the purification of the Temple, and the restoration of its holy service. Only because the Hasmoneans were aware of this and despite all their transgressions, constantly remained connected to the Temple, did their kingdom endure. Even the evil Herod acted to fortify and adorn the Temple, and consequently, the period of his reign is also included in the two hundred years in which Jewish sovereignty returned to Israel as a result of the days of Chanukah (Rambam, Laws of Megillah and Chanukah 3:1).
Self-Sacrifice for Faith
Dealing with this is difficult and complicated. If we were meant to ignore the entire world surrounding us and in consequence, God would miraculously assist us, things would be relatively easy. However, our task is to perfect the world in the kingdom of God, to be connected to the nations as the heart of man is connected to his limbs – to study their ways and cultures, in order to give each and every nation and tongue its important and respected place.
The great difficulty is in creating the proper balance between the tendency of convergence into the uniqueness of Judaism, into the Torah given to Israel alone – “He did not do so to any other nation; and of His laws they were not informed” (Psalms 147:20), and the opposite tendency of encountering different cultures, to acquire from them wisdom, science, and artistic means, and influence them from the Inner Light – “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalms 96:3).
When we fail to precisely maintain the pure Torah position, conflict and complications arise. Nevertheless, as long as the Jewish people are willing to sacrifice themselves for their faith and beliefs without sacrificing the wisdom and inherent morality of the cultures of the various nations, which emerged from the Image of God in man and is inspired by the values of our Torah that have spread to different cultures and beliefs – as long as we remain steadfast on this straight course – our path is paved for success. However, even if we fail to properly define the challenge before us the values of holiness will nevertheless prevail, however, the process will involve suffering, leaving us no choice but to adhere to the values of holiness.
One Who Adheres to His Faith Will be Heeded
Ultimately, one who strengthens himself in faith and does not budge from it, his enemies will fall beneath him and his thinking will be heeded by all, as was the case with Joseph who, although sold as a slave, did not succumb to the seduction of his master’s wife – ” She spoke to Joseph every day, but he would not pay attention to her” (Genesis 39:10), and in the end “Pharaoh took his ring off his own hand and placed it on the hand of Joseph… [Joseph] was thus given authority over all Egypt” (ibid, 41:42-43); not only that, but Osnat, the daughter of his master’s wife, was given to him in marriage.