Optimism is an intrinsic part of the Jewish tradition. This optimism has upheld us amid countless sufferings and ordeals. This optimism has carried us through two thousand years of exile.
The optimism of the tradition is expressed most vividly in the prophetic vision of a world founded upon justice and filled with the awareness of God. This vision was the reason that God created the Jewish people. His purpose in forming a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” was to anchor the higher consciousness of the spiritual realm in the dense fabric of this material existence. Israel was meant to be a vehicle for the revelation of the Divine Presence in the world.
The story of Jewish history is the story of our constant failure in fulfilling this Divine purpose. Yet despite all of these repeated failures, we have not given up on the sublime vision that was bestowed on us. We have not forsaken our hope for humanity. We have not lost our optimism about the future of Israel.
Our modern state was founded through the power of spiritual optimism. Herzl’s famous words, “If you will it, then it is not a dream” inspired hundreds of thousands to leave their homes and settle in the Holy Land.
Our national anthem is “Hatikvah” – the hope. It is hope and faith that have led us on. It is high aspirations and ideals that have supported us in our struggles. We have overcome so much and survived where so many others have perished because of our faith in God and our prophetic vision.
Two hundred years ago, Rebbe Natan of Nemirov taught that we need to have azut dekedusha – a will that is imbued with holiness – if we want to make the journey to the land of Israel. The chalutzim, the early pioneers, harnessed this holy will in the formation of the state. They created lush farmland from malarial swamps and built modern cities out of barren sand dunes. Their lives provide us with a compelling example of spiritual optimism and azut dekedusha.
The return of the Jewish people to Israel, and the amazing reclamation of the land by the chalutzim, reignited the optimism of humankind. It gave many nations the courage to aspire for recovery and healing after the suffering and destruction of the two World Wars: if after the Holocaust the Jewish people can still dare to dream a great dream, they thought, then we can too.
The return also inspired a generation of Jews throughout the Diaspora. It gave them a new sense of optimism, purpose, and identity. The establishment of the state created a Jewish renaissance in the Diaspora where Jews identified themselves as part of their religion and their country with great enthusiasm and pride.
In his teachings, Rebbe Natan speaks at length about the many obstacles along the road that leads to the Land of Israel. But he also makes clear that arriving in Israel is not the end of the journey; there is an enormous amount of purification and sanctification that still needs to be done after we have entered into the land.
We are now in the period of “living in the land” and the extent of the work that still needs to be accomplished is painfully apparent. There is much that is good in the modern state, but we have also created a society with many difficulties and challenges to overcome. The nature and complexity of these challenges can at times seem overwhelming. It is easy to feel that we are facing an impossible task.
Once again, we are called upon to apply the power of spiritual optimism to our situation. A return to this place of hope and high ideals is essential if we are to survive as a nation. Only the dynamic force of spiritual optimism can see us through all of our challenges. Only the Divine might of aspiration and vision will empower us to reach our goal.
There are several key ideas that will aid us in awakening our inner resources. These spiritual concepts will vitalize our work. They will raise us above and beyond ourselves. They will help us to harness the energy of spiritual optimism.
The first key concept in this work is to remember that we are not alone in our struggles. Knesset Yisrael is the name that is given in the Kabbalah to the Eternal Soul of Israel. The Soul of Israel is a Divine mission that was created three thousand five hundred years ago to inspire the ancient world of the Middle East with the ideals of Divine justice and the Unity of God. This Soul contains all those who have incarnated as part of the people of Israel over the centuries. It embraces everyone who has taken up this spiritual task.
All of the souls in Knesset Yisrael living on the many planes of the Kingdom of Heaven are working to support, guide and strengthen us. The Forefathers and the Mothers, the Prophets and Seers, the great rabbis, kabbalists, teachers and Hasidic Masters, and all of the men and women who gave their lives for Israel are ready to pour their love, light and energy into us if we but turn in their direction.
Let us reach out to them in prayer and meditation. Especially during this time of the year, when there is a close approach of the souls in the higher worlds to those of us who are living in physical incarnation. They are a tremendous source of inspiration, consolation, and light.
Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that a large part of the labor of purification and sanctification that we need to undertake in the Land of Israel is inner work. The source of much of our trouble, he explains, is in the mind. Our fears, our worries, and our despair all prevent us from moving ahead in our lives. They make us feel weak, confused and helpless.
The reason that we are paralyzed by these obstacles, Rebbe Natan proclaims, is because we are focused only on the external circumstances. If we could see the Divine truth that lies behind these outer forms, we would see that what we fear is really only an illusion. We would realize that there is much that we can do. We would recognize that we can accomplish a great deal of good in our lives.
Every spiritual act, Rebbe Natan tells us, repairs one small part of Eretz Yisrael. If we define a spiritual act in the broadest terms, then there is a multitude of spiritual repairs that we can perform every day. Every act of loving-kindness, every attempt to break down the barriers of distrust and hate, every act of caring for the health and beauty of our landscape, every decision to uphold the highest ideals in our dealings with others are all spiritual actions that redeem a portion of the land, the nation and the people of Israel.
The second concept, then, is that the barriers are in the mind, coupled together with an appreciation for the power of the individual act.
The third concept that will strengthen us in this work of spiritual transformation is ahavat Yisrael – a profound love for all of Israel. Rav Abraham Isaac Kook believed that ahavat Yisrael is the spiritual ideal that will ensure our success in purifying and sanctifying our land and our people. True ahavat Yisrael, he explains, is a love that embraces everyone. It is an unconditional love which mirrors the all-encompassing love of God Him/Herself. This kind of love arises out of an innate understanding of our essential interconnectedness. It is born of a shared sense of purpose and mission. It is a Divine love whose supernal foundation is in Knesset Yisrael, the Eternal Soul of Israel.
Ahavat Yisrael, Rav Kook goes on to elucidate, is not just a pleasant thought or feeling. It is a powerful spiritual force that reveals itself in concrete actions and behavior. Because all of Israel is linked together through the spiritual bond of Knesset Yisrael, our individual ideals and morality directly affect the spiritual state of Israel as a whole. Therefore, an integral part of ahavat Yisrael is a desire to purify every imperfection in the people and the nation. True ahavat Yisrael arouses within us a desire to raise everyone into the realm of beauty and holiness.
Ahavat Yisrael motivates us to sacrifice for others. It enables us to let go of old grievances and hurts. It strengthens us so that we can confront the imperfections within us. It provides us with the clarity that we need in order to see ourselves as we truly are.
There is one more concept that will bolster us in this spiritual work. This concept is the Matkala – the Supernal Scales.
At the beginning of the Sefer Detzinutah, one of the central sections of the Zohar, there is a description of the Matkala – the Supernal Scales upon which the whole of our universe is balanced. According to the tradition, God created and destroyed several universes before He created this one. In the teachings of the Ari, the last of these worlds is called the Olam haNekudot, the World of Vowels or Dots. This is the world in which the Breaking of the Vessels occurred. This shattering led to the collapse of Olam haNekudot and the scattering of the Divine sparks.
The World of Dots did not survive, according to the Ari, because of the lack of interconnectedness between its different parts. Each vessel, sefirah or world of this universe was self-contained and separate from all others. This created a universe of tohu, of chaos, a universe where there was no balance or harmony.
Our universe, therefore, is a universe of tikkun, of repair. In this universe everything is aligned with each other. Everything is organized upon a Matkala, a Supernal Scale. On these scales there is a left hand column of din (judgment) and a right hand column of chesed (mercy) and a middle column of rachamim (compassion). And there is a vast network of Divine energy and light that connects all of these different parts.
Ours, then, is a universe of balance and harmony. It is a universe of interdependence. It is a universe of relationships. Balance, harmony and relationship form the basis for the whole process of universal redemption and repair.
Therefore, the fourth and final key concept in the task of uplifting Israel is that the spiritual work which we are attempting to accomplish is part of a larger universal process. Our attempt to create harmony and balance in our land, our, nation and our people is part of the greater spiritual evolution of the universe. The fundamental force of all of creation is behind us in our efforts. The essential Divine Will that propels our universe forward is our ally in this task. If we succeed in our work, then not only will we fulfill our national vision, but will also help the whole of humanity move another step forward along its spiritual path.
This work of purifying and sanctifying Eretz Yisrael includes not only those who are living in the Land of Israel, but also all of the other Jews who live around the world. Rebbe Natan believed that everywhere that there are Jews is a part of Eretz Yisrael. Each Jewish community is a spiritual outpost of the work and mission of the Soul of Israel. They too are part of this great labor of spiritual uplift and repair.
Achieving this lofty goal requires a renewed dedication to our vision and trust in our ability to evolve and change. It calls for faith in our ability to overcome our differences and live together in mutual respect and acceptance – both with ourselves and with other peoples in our midst. It demands confidence in our capacity to work as one spiritual body for the benefit of Israel and for the good of humanity. It demands a strong belief that we can and will become a true reflection of the Divine image in which we were made.
Rebbe Natan teaches that if we can sanctify our nation and our land, a tremendous emanation of light and holiness will radiate out into the world that has the power to purify and sanctify all of existence. This light of holiness will emanate out as energy. It will emanate as a spiritual ideal. It will spread as an example of Divine living. It will shine forth as a beacon of hope and optimism for all of humankind.
copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick
first published 11/9/2009