The following is a transcript of Episode 49 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.
Donniel: Hi, my name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is the high holidays. The national high holidays. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world.
And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Yossi cannot be with us today and in his place, I am delighted to welcome Tal Becker, also a senior fellow here at the Institute, who is also the one who’s credited with imagining the whole idea of this podcast in the first place.
Tal, welcome. And it’s wonderful to be with you.
Tal: So great to be with you. And so great to see what you’ve done with the podcast. It’s a pleasure to listen to every week.
Donniel: Thank you. Thank you very much. Let’s dive right. Israel secular high holidays. Almost as soon as the intensity of Pesach ends, Israelis enter another holiday cycle. What may be called the high holidays of Israel civic religion begin on Yom Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, followed by, a week later, by Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen. And then a day later, culminating in Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day.
On the face of it, the high holidays of Israel’s national ethos appear straightforward, even self-evident. The holiday cycle, after all, commemorates the major upheavals of Jewish history over the last century. And that’s what we Jews always do. Judaism has always reflected on the historical experiences of the Jewish people.
The practical purpose of these high holidays, and of commemorating these events, is also straightforward because it’s to solidify a shared national Israeli identity and ethos, which transcends ideological and political differences and creates an Israeli identity forged around the founding and foundational events, which shaped the creation and enabled the sustaining of this country.
That was the idea. But in reality, there’s a built-in contradiction in this spring holiday cycle. Those, these days are meant to unite Israelis and create a shared ethos. They also highlight our divisions. For example, Arab Israelis or Haredim generally don’t participate in the commemorations and are effectively excluded from this core foundational moment.
And that’s about a quarter of the population of Israel. And when we get into the way the holidays are commemorated is also very, very different. So we’re going to need to reflect on whether this shared moment in fact is creating it. So Tal, let’s begin with, uh, with your reflections about this high holiday season this year.
Is there anything different? It’s so critical for us, you, I, for so many of us, these nine, 10 days, but has anything changed this year? Like, you know, we just did “Mah Nishtanah ha layla hazeh?” What is this night? Is this holiday season different for you this year than it is in all other years?
Tal: Yeah. You know, I think of it a little bit in two ways. At first, at the personal level, I don’t know where there, whether you feel this Donniel, but for me, time has kind of sped up and I can’t keep pace with events. Maybe I’m getting old. I don’t know. And maybe it’s social media. But for somehow, these holidays are kind of anchors for me, they’re familiar.
You know, you talked a little bit about whether they’re uniting and sharing. For me, they’re a kind of connection to something I know. And in this time where things feel like they change so fast, there’s something reassuring about that. But perhaps more broadly for me, at least, you know, I see in Israeli society at the moment a kind of increased maturity, I feel like in a way we’re a society emerging from trauma in certain ways, particularly, I’m talking about the trauma of the second Intifada years, that kind of followed us for a long time.
And I see it in things like the Abraham Accords and the way people are open to the idea that they, at least parts of the Arab world, we could have peace with. I don’t know if you feel it, but I feel a little bit less of the us and them, a little bit less of that tension, even in the response, which you talked about I think in the previous podcast to the recent terrorist attacks and the violence we saw on the Temple Mount in the last days. There’s something a little bit more mature, restrained. I can’t quite put my finger on it. For me, that’s a difference that I have sensed over the last year.
And I wonder if it feeds into the way we think about the holidays you mentioned. What do you think?
Donniel: How, how. take it there. How do these holidays feel different this year? Maybe in light of what you just said. And I really, I want to come back to it cause it’s really interesting, but specifically these holidays and where you are now, do they feel different this year that, or do they mean something different than for you this year?
Tal: Well, I think in your comments, you talked about whether they reflect a shared ethos, right? And I do feel somehow in the last year, there is a more, a feeling of togetherness in Israeli society than I have felt for a while. And it’s the result in part of a very diverse, uh, government, even though there are parts that are not included in the government.
The way in which we responded to the terrorist attacks, the victims of the terrorist attacks, paradoxically, I think produced a sense that we’re all in this together. Even Corona had that effect, I think over the years. And so it does raise the question. Can we do Yom Ha’atzmaut this year and think about it in a more collective kind of way.
I think it’s fair to say that the governing ethos of any society is always contested, right? It’s always pushed in different directions. I think we see in America, at least as an observer of America, you see a kind of real struggle over America’s story of itself.
And Israel is familiar with that. Right. But it feels to me like the edges are a little softer somehow, and that there’s room for more people to read themselves into the story. And maybe also a responsibility of the storytellers. Or a willingness of the governing storytellers to be a little more open in the way they tell the story so, that others can feel part of it.
It’s still a big challenge, but I feel a sense of opportunity somehow.
Donniel: So, so first of all, I’m enjoying your optimism. Um, it’s really important because it’s so easy to see the part of the cup that’s half-full. And um, now, this year, this high holiday season is surprising me this year. High holidays are, they’re events around which you regulate your calendar.
Donniel: You’re, you wait for them. You think about them. You know, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have 30 days beforehand. You don’t fall into Rosh Hashanah. And so these, when they’re there, you’re prepared for it. And there’s a whole process. I feel this year because of all the events, there’s no preparation, none.
I’m going from Ukraine to terror, to Pesach, to, oops, it’s it’s.
Tal: It, it always sneaks up on you after Pesach.
Donniel: But that’s in any event, that always happens, but this year, like even a mo, conceptually. And so for me, it’s, they’re very Halakhic this year, in the sense that they create the time, you know, like, as Heschel says, famously, when someone said, you know, I can’t pray today, it’s, the spirit’s not moving me. Heschel said, you know, young man, it’s time for you to move the spirit. You know?
So these holidays are challenging me to connect to something, to think proactively about what they mean, in a way that it’s less experiential this year. It’s not as if I’m feeling it and they’re giving expression.
They’re asking me to say, what does it mean? And so in that process, they feel very, very different. And in that there is no doubt, and I spoke about it for months. And I’m gonna benefit from the fact that Yossi’s not here cause I can get away with stuff. There’s stuff I could get away with.
Tal: I’m not gonna let you get away with stuff.
Donniel: Ladies and gentlemen. I’m, this is, I can say stuff. Um, there is no doubt that Yom Hashoah for me this year is less a particular Jewish story. And again, you know, with all the caveats of, you know, it’s not the same and how could you compare and all of that, I know that, but Yom Hashoah is more real for me this year, because the experience of Nazi-ism is something that’s less alien to me. I don’t come from a family that experienced the Holocaust. I’m part of a people which has those stories, but there was an immediacy, I was deeply affected as most of our audience is, most hopefully thoughtful, moral people, deeply troubled by the events.
And there’s, I can almost understand. And so Yom Hashoah for me is less this year about something that happened in the past. And it’s more about a commitment. It’s not about remembering and honoring alone, even though that’s a big part of it. And when Yom Hashoah is going to come and the way it’s celebrated, we’ll talk about how these things are celebrated in Israel in a moment.
But there’s no doubt that it will come to that moment of silence and remembering. But there’s a part that’s alive for me. You, you want to respond to that and then let’s go on.
Tal: Yeah, mean, I am a family on my mother’s side that the Holocaust was, you know, a major part of unfortunately, of their lives and my upbringing. But this year I think you’re right, that the events have been channeled through the prism for Jews through the prism of the Shoah, whether you’ve taken a view for instance, on the Ukraine crisis, that is, you know, more particular or not, you’ve still had to kind of ask yourself the question, what does never again mean to me?
And in that way, a story can be familiar. But it also needs to be relevant and the way in which it’s become relevant, because evil exists and we need to respond to it and think about what our moral obligation is towards that, makes it rich in that way. And going back to what I said before, I think precisely because the story doesn’t have to be uniform, it’s within a kind of space, right?
So for me, the galut/geulah story. The story of diaspora and redemption, I grew up on that story. It still speaks to me.
Donniel: Tell, what does that story say? Just explain.
Tal: Well, it’s the story of the Jewish people, essentially rising from ashes.
Donniel: And being redeemed in Israel.
Tal: And being redeemed in their ancient Homeland and that kind of miraculous story, it still speaks to me. But there are others who it doesn’t speak to. And yet I think the events, certainly around the question of evil and Yom Hashoah and responding to it, have nevertheless made it relevant, even if that particular story doesn’t resonate as much with some groups.
Donniel: No. And some I know, and I know that and Yossi, I’m just going to channel Yossi for a moment. He very much believes that we should just be quiet right now about Holocaust talking. Cause anytime you make comparisons,
Tal: Right. The comparisons. I identify with that.
Donniel: We’re all, but I’m not, as a sense, I don’t share that, but that’s why I can get away with stuff today.
But it’s, for me, it’s uh, I appreciate it and respect it. So Yom Hashoah, for me, just feels much more relevant. It feels more morally relevant than it did in prior years.
Tal: Yeah, I don’t think people are necessarily making the comparison. I mean, I have a problem with that comparison, but the question of, how do you respond to these kinds of events raises naturally what your people went through and what it obligates you to do? I think that’s part of our tradition.
Donniel: I know. And I, I personally I’m of the belief, and again, someone who’s not a survivor, second generation, third, not at all, is able to talk this way. And you have to do so cautiously. I’m more worried about the relevancy of Yom Hashoah than preserving its memory. I’m worried that those who want to preserve its memory are going to make it irrelevant.
Tal: Less people will preserve it.
Donniel: Less people are going to preserve it
Tal: Every year. There’ll be less than.
Donniel: tThere’ll be less, it’ll be pure. And then it will become a museum piece, you know. But for me, it hits in another level this year. So that’s one part. And then I go to the Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, you know, you spoke at a very optimistic and I want to expand on that in a moment. For me, I’m hit in another way a little bit this year.
I’m very frustrated by some of the political events going on right now, not so much the political events, but you saw how much better Israel was in dealing with Ramadan and violence on the Temple Mount. And there was a level of maturity that you spoke about. You know, last year we were, oop, surprised that Jerusalem Day and uh, Ramadan, here everybody was prepared. They were talking about it a month in advance.
And Israel, I think, did everything. They were, we were right on. But you saw it, it was almost a crash that we couldn’t prevent that, if they wanted to, they could manipulate these events and they could get the moment and push us. There was a helplessness. And I felt more unjustic8e than ever before.
We did it, you know, you, I heard the police leadership apeaking about, there was this common conversation this year, let’s make sure that people are able to worship their Ramadan properly.
It’s there, Ramadan is now mainstreamed paradoxically, because we’re worried about its implications. It’s now become mainstreamed into Israeli discourse, Ramadan Kareem, I hear people saying, all over, you know, who’s ever said Ramadan Kareem, now everybody’s saying Ramadan Kareem, the newspapers, this, this, the police are working, but at the same time that the evil is able to push and so just one last thing, Tal.
And so the correlation between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haaztmaut this year for me, is that we’re going to be here and we’re alive and we’re strong, but those SOBs, is that politically correct? Could I say that word?
Tal: Very, unbelievably politically correct.
Donniel: So th th th those whatever, I’m not even going to go further, but those that they said they’re going to do it, and they’re going to have their people.
And you know, it’s been remarkable how successful. But, you know, there’s still another week or so 10 days. So for me, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, the need of, that our existence is still going to be dependent on our willing to fight for it because the other side is going to make us have to fight for it, is, is this year.
Tal: Let me share an idea with you, let me share an idea with you picking up off that, you know, one of my favorite sayings is that in the Middle East, we have one resource, more than oil, and that’s bad options, right. That’s the most abundant resource. And I think part of the problem is like the assumption that you can have these kind of perfect stories that everybody feels part of or perfect events where there aren’t people trying to undermine them.
You’re managing in that space. And in a way I think. It’s almost embedded in the Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut idea, right? Atzmaut, the independence, came at a cost. Things come at a cost and even the right things come at a cost.
And I’m struck by a thought I had, and my brother-in-law shared this idea on, over Passover, which is critical, the idea that on the one hand we try not to rejoice too much over Kriyat Yam Suf, the Exodus from Egypt. You know, we do the thing of taking the wine out of the cup but we still drink the wine. Right. We still sing the song. Let’s not exaggerate too much the degree to which we don’t celebrate.
Right. And I think that there’s a very interesting thing there that you can celebrate and believe in the justness or how well someone did something while acknowledging, there are costs. While acknowledging it wasn’t perfect. And this plays generally into what you’re saying in terms of dealing with the Middle East.
You’re never going to get to that place. And if that’s your metric, you’re going to be miserable all the time, but you can be pleased as the way you manage it and how you conduct yourself in it. And it touches on Yom Haaztmaut too. Not just in the interplay between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haaztmaut, but even in the harder question, the fact that our independence came at a cost, not just to our soldiers, but to others as well. Right. And it doesn’t make it not just, but I just wonder whether we have the capacity to do that interplay as well.
Donniel: You know, and maybe what you’re pushing is that it’s never going to be perfect. You know, again, we’re not talking about the larger issues of, of the conflict. We’re not going there, but you know, it’s not perfect, but it is, there is a feeling this year that it is pretty good. You know, I’m coming to Yom Haatzmaut prouder this year that I was last year, you know, the truth is I’m biased politically. I really love this coalition. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to last much longer, but that’s for another podcast.
Tal: I have no comment from me.
Donniel: And one that you can’t be on, that one that you can’t even be anywhere a hundred feet from.
Tal: But I’m talking more about Israeli society, Donniel, than politics.
Donniel: I know, I know that’s what it is. Exactly. And, but Israeli society is in a good place right now. It’s almost as if we’re in the midst of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut perpetually, you know, there’s the terrorist acts going on, but the way we’re responding, the healing, the way the police are acting, there’s a thoughtfulness, there’s a morality, there’s an engagement.
Part of the mitzvah of Yom Haatzmaut is even if you don’t feel it is to push yourself to feel thankful because so often it’s so easy to forget what we’re thankful for. And I think that’s a big part. Let’s shift gears just a little bit.
And I want to go back to, the core purpose was to create a shared ethos. Is that possible? Could we do it? Pur it this way, are these days a reflection of a Judeo-centric consciousness of, this is the Jewish state and these are our days and, and it’s a Zionist one and therefore by definition, Arabs and Haredim are out. Is there any, does the juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut make it inevitable? What could we do here? What are your thoughts?
Tal: You know, I uh, I was thinking about this, and particularly the juxtaposition to Pesach, to Passover, because there are no ancient Egyptians around offering an alternative narrative. So we get to kind of, we get to dictate that story pretty comfortably, but here there are alternative narratives and some of them have real appeal to some audiences.
And that for me, raises this question about how much do you tell the story of celebration and joy of the miracle of Israel’s birth, which deserves its place. Right. And I think we deserve a day in the year just to celebrate, right?
Donniel: One day, that’s it.
Tal: One day, right. It’s not, it’s
Donniel: Give me one.
Tal: It’s not easy, but at the same time that very justifiable understandable desire just to celebrate means that some people feel excluded or uncomfortable about it. And how much do you soften the edges of the story, allow a but, and a this and a that, and talk about cost and complications? You know, lots of countries in their formations and in the celebrations that their independence came with baggage of different kinds. Right. But I don’t know how many ask themselves whether on their independence day, that needs to be a part of the conversation so that they can be a broader people part of the story. Right. I’m torn about it to be frank.
I’m not sure. At one level, there’s something very Jewish about mixing it, right? Not complete celebration. We do that in so many ways in our tradition. When we build a house, we leave a little bit undone to remember the destruction of the temple. There’s always a little bit, you know, just this Jewish thing of preventing you from elation of a complete kind. And yet isn’t it, on Yom Haatzmaut, isn’t that meant to be the one day where you just get to get away with it and it’s okay? And it’s right?
Donniel: So what you’re saying, I really like this a lot, Tal. It’s personally helped. I’m going to have a nicer Yom Haatzmaut this year because of you. I really am. And I want to thank you for it. Because it’s putting it in proportion. It also speaks to our audience, you know? No one’s trying to whitewash occupation, its, forget, it’s not about that. Could there be one day where we just look at this country and the miracle of this country and the beauty of this country and feel excited. And, you know, there’s a very big difference between the ability to do that in Israel and the ability to do that in North America, because the experience of North American Jewish life is, you don’t control the public sphere. You live in another public sphere in which Yom Haatzmaut doesn’t exist. And there’s something about the totality of Jewish existence in Israel. And in particular, you feel this, you feel this on Yom Haatzmaut even more than on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, you could live a vibrant, meaningful Pesach and Yom Kippur.
Okay. The fact that everything here is kosher, there’s a power to it, but when it comes to Yom Haatzmaut or Yom Hazikaron and even Yom Hashoah, the ability of the public sphere to reshape your consciousness, even if you’re not ready, you know, there’s a famous Israeli philosopher, Adi Ophir, who says that the chazan, how do you say chazan, the cantor.
Tal: The cantor. Yeah.
Donniel: The cantor on these high holidays is the television. And the television, they shift, the videos, the movies, the music, the events,
Tal: The bible quiz. My love, my mom loves the Bible quiz.
Donniel: the Bible quizzes, the national prizes, the filming of, you go into the public sphere there, the barbecues, everything stops. And so this year, you could achieve it. What you’re speaking about is actually it’s, I think it’s a big difference between living in Israel and living outside of Israel and the ability to say, give me a day, give me a day where I’m not saying I don’t, I’m not forgetting. And I know that there’s another narrative. And I, as you know, both you and I believe that Israeli society has to learn that other narrative. And I think what you’re saying is it’s okay if Yom Haatzmaut is not a day in which everybody feels apart, but I, as an Israeli need this day. And keep it that way. Don’t play with it. Create, you know what, create another day. Maybe we have to add one more day, disconnected from these 10, I, I dunno, in the middle of January or something, you know, it’s like,
Tal: I think keeping a society healthy, in particular a society with so many moving parts as Israel involves creating multiple spaces. Right. You know, going back to your Heschel idea right in time, but also in space. Right? So there are moments when you do focus on just one thing and you do let it have its moment, provided, and I think this is an important provided, that you’re also committed to some of the other stuff as well.
Donniel: At a later day. We have to think about that, but let’s, we could separate that. Um, what’s the biggest takeaway for you personally, of the juxtaposition between Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut? Just on a personal, forget this year. Just what’s at the core of these days for you?
Is it from Shoah to kumah, from ashes and death to rebirth? Is that it?
Tal: Well, I mean, I grew up with that story of from ashes to redemption. At a personal level, a lot of my life, I think, has been about, it’s a paradox, is my, our entire existence an answer to the Shoah, an answer to the Holocaust? Cause if it is, are we allowing the Holocaust to define who we are? Don’t we wanna not do that?
Isn’t the real victory over the Shoah, not to have it define us, right? To, but if that’s the case, it’s kind of self-referential in that way. And I think, you mentioned the glass is half-full. In my understanding of optimism, and you taught me this Donniel, many years ago, that for the Jewish people, and I think for Israel in general, it’s not that the glass is half-full, it’s that we have opportunities to put water in the glass.
We live in a moment in Jewish history where we can actually put some water in this glass. And so these days are days I think of recommitting to that process, to the uh, the amazingness and the privilege of being part of that story, in new ways, in compelling ways, in familiar ways, in all different kinds of ways. We live in a moment where, you know, we have a glass, we’ve got to keep it. We’ve got to defend it. Make sure it doesn’t have cracks. Make sure it’s wide enough, so different people can put water in it. But at the end of the day, I see in Yom Haatzmaut, a chance to actually paradoxically define ourselves, not in the prism of the Shoah, precisely because of the Shoah.
Donniel: You know, it’s very interesting how similar we are. It’s not an accident, you know, how many years do we know each other? It’s like, we’ve had these chavrutas for such a long time. And it’s one of the most beautiful gifts of my life.
Tal: Me too.
Donniel: But the, um, the country puts these three days into one meaning. And they want me to think about Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut as one total, that here it is, Yom Shoah is the past, Yom Hazikaron is the price, and Yom Haatzmaut is the dividend. And for me every year, it’s about separating the three days. And it’s hard, because the cantor and the public sphere are
Tal: Connects them.
Donniel: are connecting them, they’re all, everybody’s. And I’m like, I have to be counter-cultural. How do I commemorate and think about Yom Hashoah unto itself. What does it mean to me? And how do I open my soul to experiences that I haven’t had, and to thoughts? And let it be that the sacredness of Yom Hashoah is, not a non-comparing it, but as you say, it’s a not using as a tool for buttressing nationalism or, you know, my nephew is now in Poland. His pre-army program, they didn’t go to Poland in high school. So the students decided to add the Poland trip. And he’s writing his father, my brother, and saying to him, you know, now I know why I have to serve in the army and all that.
I said, ah, no, leave it alone. There’s so much we have to learn from the Shoah, but it’s not necessarily the maidservant of our nationalism.
Tal: How do we, how do we learn it but not let it define us? I think that’s uh,
Donniel: Yeah, or let it be, I’m even, to let it define me, but it doesn’t define my Israel. Yom Hazikaron, it’s this burden. What you were saying. It’s just not perfect. It’s not that Israel is not perfect. It’s, it just, it is. It’s not connected to Yom Haatzmaut. It just is.
It doesn’t give Yom Haatzmaut meaning and it doesn’t give, it just is. It’s all of us. And how every year, you know, I go to Ra’anana with my sister and it’s just, my sister, and they’re still there, you know? This year, I officiated at my sister’s son’s wedding, um, who, his father was killed in Lebanon and he wore the kippa that his father had when his plane was shot down.
So this kid, he was, what was he? I think he was two. It was still there. You know, it was there. That’s you know, it’s just, that’s part of our life. And then, because they’re separate, Yom Haatzmaut, it’s one day where it’s uncomplicated. Let’s just give thanks for what we have. There’s a lot of other days for things to be complicated.
So you know, let’s take a short break. And when we return, Elana will join us.
Elana, great to be with you as always. Tal and I, we’re here in Israel. You know, and
Elana: You’re in it.
Donniel: We’re in it. And this holidays, it really is our high holidays. In the most powerful sense, I know it’s impossible to experience the depth of it, but, but share with us from wherever you are. Your connection is so
Elana: For sure. For sure.
Donniel: Mah nishtanah this year from other years? Like how are you coming to these days differently than other years?
Elana: Yeah. So first of all, Tal, welcome back. It’s good to have you. Good to be with you. Good to learn from you. I have to say, I think this year for me and I’m really speaking as an American Jew, as an American Zionist, is a year of acceptance.
Last year, when, the Hamas Israel war was raging. Facebook, I mean, it’s blowing up, you know, and anything you write, everybody’s mad at you, on this side or on that side. And I remember a colleague of mine who wrote something about how Yom Haatzmaut is so hard to celebrate this year. American. And then an Israeli colleague who said, what are you talking about? It’s as joyous as ever.
There’s something to this year and last year, and I would even say Corona in general, in a way, that’s just been sobering. Like I have to try to explain to my kids, so why isn’t America just like fighting back for Ukraine? Like why? So I said, you know, I got to tell you, a lot of people ask that question when the Nazis invaded Poland, like why did America take so long to get it into the war? And so many Jews had to die as a result. I said, it’s called real politik my children. Like you’re fearing that the bad guy’s going to come get you.
There’s something that’s been so sobering about these past few years that you’ve got to accept the tolls, the transformations, the realities, and celebration has to be in there somewhere, because otherwise all the tolls, all the realities, all the difficulties, they pull you down and in America and in the American Jewish community, we can add that change in sort of the conversation around Zionism in the last year that can really pull you down. If you’re a Zionist and you care, and you want to see a bright future for Israel, and you want to see a bright future for American Jewry supporting Israel, it can pull you down. So I think there’s gotta be some element of acceptance this year, even within the celebration.
That’s really just the word that I keep coming back to.
Donniel: Beautiful. Thank you. Now tell me what, what framing do you want to add to the conversation?
Elana: So, because I was thinking so much about acceptance, you know, in some ways, it’s a repetition of things. You know, you had that conversation, are we going to compare it to the Holocaust, are we not gonna compare. You don’t need comparisons to know that there are things that are cyclical. And so I’m thinking this year about cyclical time versus linear time.
Linear time is like, it starts from a point. Whether the point is the destruction of the temple or the point is the founding of the state of Israel, or the point is the beginning of the Shoah or the end of the Shoah. Right. It starts from a point and it moves forward. And that moving forward t’s a linear march. And I think that’s very different from what we call cyclical time.
And cyclical time is, you’re not moving forward from point 0 to point 10. You’re experiencing the same experience over and over. It might feel a little different, you know, I remember our discussion a few weeks ago about terrorism, how you know, Yossi was like it’s the same, but it’s different.
There are certain features that go over and over again. So I want to study the Torah for a little bit about linear time versus cyclical time. Cause I’m feeling very much in cyclical time right now. And I think as an American, that’s so infrequent that I experience these high holidays in that way.
So let’s talk linear time. There is this just delicious, that’s really what I would say. There’s this delicious passage in the Talmud in Moed Katan, on page 28a, where Rav Yosef turned 60 years old. Okay. So Rav Yosef, when he turned 60, he made a holiday for the sages. And he explained the cause for the celebration.
He said, I’ve passed the age where I would get the punishment of karet, which is dying early, which the rabbis thought was at age 50, which we don’t have to talk about the theological issues of this right now. But the point is he was saying, I made it, I survived. Right. And Abayei said to him, well, even though you passed the karet of years, you’re not going to die early, have you passed the karet of days?
Meaning like, isn’t it possible that something could happen to you any minute and you wouldn’t expect it? Sudden death could also be a form of karet. And Rav Yosef says, you know, why don’t you take at least half of the good news in your hand? Because at least I escaped one type of karet. And I love this passage because it’s just quantitative. It’s just survival. Rav Yosef says, with every year I survived, I made it. And I think there’s a way in which we look at, even by the way, Yom Hashoah, we say with every year, from Yom Hashoah we say, how are we doing, this is amazing. Look at where we are and look at where we’ve been, but look at where we are.
There’s like survival. And then there’s the aspect of linear time that isn’t just about survival. It’s about like, thrival. Let’s make up a word, right, about the qualitative change as time goes on, right? This famous Mishnah in ethics of the ancestors, of Mishna Avot, in chapter five, Mishna, uh 21.
Yehuda Ben Temah used to say, at age five, you start studying scripture. At age 10, you start studying Mishna, which probably doesn’t mean Mishna because it’s written in a Mishna, right? At age 13, you’re subject to the commandments, right. At 40 wisdom, at 50, you can give counsel, et cetera, et cetera.
Right. I ellipsized it a little bit, but the idea there is, it’s not just survival, but you’re growing. How are you growing? Right. Like what’s different about Israel 50 years after the founding and 70 years after the founding or 20 years after the founding and you know, my aunt of blessed memory, she used to tell me what Ra’anana looked like when she moved there.
It was a dirt road. They didn’t have any phones in their houses. She had to walk after she had a baby. Two days later, she walked to tell my grandfather, she had to walk to the payphone all the way down the dirt road to call him. And I’m sitting there in bustling thriving beautiful Ra’anana.
So I think part of the angst, actually, of Yom Ha’atzmaut comes in at this stage. Okay. So where are we? Oh, we have a failing coalition. Okay. Maybe we’re not supposed to have that at this stage, or maybe we are supposed to have that at this stage, but there’s something about the linear that it’s like a march towards progress.
That’s the push. Survival and progress. And in America, that’s how we do Yom Haatzmaut. Survival. Progress. Amazing. 73 years. 74 years. Oh my gosh. We’re going to get to 75. What do we buy everybody for their anniversary? Right? Like that’s what it is. But there’s a whole different version of time. There’s a whole different version of time, which is very sobering and sometimes feels like, oh, you can count on it in a good way.
And sometimes feels like, oh, not this again. That is cyclical. And I think it’s really important for people who are going to have like a realistic vision of what a country looks like and what a people looks like and how we live in the world, that it’s not this messianic piece, where you’re going to finish it and done.
And let’s talk a little bit about cyclical time, right? So the first example I think of cyclical time is really in Genesis it’s in Bereshit, chapter eight, verse 22, where God promises that there will be, so long as the earth endures, there will be seedtime and harvest and cold and heat and summer and winter and day and night shall not cease.
And that’s good. That’s durable. We can depend on it. We can count on it. It’s going to happen every year. Then of course, once you get into it, you also see cycles that you’re not so happy about. Right? Like, you know, when you’re learning in grade school, when you’re learning the book of Judges, You learned that there’s this cycle in the book of Judges, the Jews sin and then somebody attacks them and then they repent and then it gets better. And then 40 years later, eight years later, they sin again and then someone attacks them, right, there’s something about that cyclical nature that I think is captured in Yom Hazikaron, much more than, even in the other two days, because if you think about Yom Haaztmaut, I’m talking about this as an American, right?
It’s the march towards progress. If you think about Yom Hashoah, by the way, it’s never again, but it also becomes never again for other people. Do you want to make Holocaust analogies? Do you want to say that antisemitism is so bad, but Yom Hazikaron is living in cyclical time. Every year, there are new people. Sadly, there are new people to mourn on Yom Hazikaron. It’s a cycle, there’s a cycle of sacrifice. There’s a cycle of heroism. There’s a cycle of bravery. There’s a cycle of mourning, it’s a cycle. And I’m wondering, you know, this year, what can I do as somebody who lives 6,000 miles away to not go crazy every time, you know, this coalition is blowing up or, oh, it looks like, you know, this is going to be terrible. It’s going to lead to a war. Cycles. Like that’s life. There are,
Donniel: So maybe Elana, aren’t you challenging us, to not just have Yom Hazikaron as a cycle,
Elana: all of it.
Donniel: but to make Yom Haaztmaut more cyclical.
Elana: I, even, by the way, I know that people are very scared of this, but Yom Hashoah, we have to talk about anti-Semitism in America. Not in a crazy way, we have to talk about it.
Donniel: And maybe though, if it’s cyclical and not linear, we can talk about it more linearly. Our time is just about up, but I want to ask everybody one quick round, lightning round, I’m doing something fancy-schmancy this time. You ready? Tal.
Donniel: What’s your favorite thing that you like to do on Yom Haatzmaut?
Tal: Barbecue. I’m australian.
Donniel: You’re the barbecue. Elana, favorite thing on Yom Haatzmaut.
Elana: Come on, you know exactly, what am I going to say, Donniel?
Donniel: Go to shul?
Elana: Sing Halel, come on. What are you, what
Donniel: Halel. Okay. you’re you’re That’s, this is still the beautiful
Elana: I’m a consistent, saying halel. It’s amazing. Transformative.
Donniel: Besides barbecuing with the family. My favorite part of Yom Haatzmaut is the torched lighting ceremony. Yom Haatzmaut ends with giving out the Israel prize. And I always felt that the Israel prize is given to academics, people for outstanding academic achievement.
And it, there’s one for life’s work, but it mostly is, over the last number of years, the torch lighting at the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut has actually surpassed in prominence the national prize. The chazan, the cantor of the country is changing. They get announced in advance, you know.
And when you look at the lineup of people every year,
Tal: Extraordinary, yeah.
Donniel: They work really hard to be politically correct, in the best sense of the term, they make sure that we’re bringing, its men and women. And people of different races and colors, Jews, Arabs, and they bring people who, each one of them is just an unequivocal superstar. And maybe it helps us to end with, you know, Tal. When you see these people, you realize we have what to fill the cup with.
Tal, Elana. It was an absolute delight to be with you.
Tal: Chag Sameach v’Yom Haatzmaut.
Donniel: For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Gareth Hobbs and Cory Choy at Silver Sound NYC. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at shalomhartman.org. We want to know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us at iTunes. Tell more people, discover the show.
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