Today is Purim, one of the most joyous holidays of the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the events recorded in the Book of Esther.
Interestingly, God’s name is not mentioned once in the Book of Esther, the only book of the Bible where He is seemingly absent. But then again, that is the point.
There is an enormous amount of unrest in our country these days, coming both from within the country and from without. Just over a week ago, on Friday night, seven people were murdered outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, by an Arab terrorist resident of Jerusalem.
I became a Zionist at the age of 13. My parents had always been Zionists in a typical American way. They loved Israel, went to every emergency meeting about Israel, and they gave generously to Israeli causes. Whatever they could do for Israel from the comfort of Cleveland, Ohio, they did.
I arrived in Israel in September 1975 to spend the year studying Bible in Jerusalem. I had been an active member of the Bnei Akiva Zionist youth movement in high school and we were encouraged to spend the year following high school graduation in Israel, to perfect our knowledge of Hebrew, to absorb the culture and deepen our roots to our land. In this way, we would strengthen our resolve to move to Israel as adults.
Today is Election Day in Israel. Normally this would be a joyful occasion as people generally feel privileged to cast their votes for their preferred candidate—an important vehicle for the ordinary citizen to make his or her voice heard. And yet, this time, the fifth election in three years, the attitude is quite different.
Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We will eat a simple but festive meal in late afternoon and then, just before sunset, the 25 hour long fast will begin. This is the culmination of the 10 Days of Repentance that begin with the first day of Rosh Hashana. During this entire time, we reflect on our behavior of the past year, set new goals for the new year but most of all, we strive to come closer to G-d.
It is 7 in the morning and the temperature is fabulous — the only time of the day that I can say that. As I sit outside on my porch, just outside my kitchen, I can hear the birds waking to their day with their pleasant chirping. I am usually not up and about at this time of day — definitely a night owl—but this morning, like the other mornings this week, I am out early. I will leave soon for Gush Etzion, a drive of one and a half hours, to participate in the annual Bible Seminars, a highlight of my year!
I recently returned from a visit to the US and while I was there, a terrible attack took place against school children in Texas. A young man, 18 years of age, had purchased two semi-automatic rifles. He entered an elementary school, opened the door to a 4th grade classroom, and proceeded to mow down students and teachers alike. Nineteen children and two teachers were murdered in the Uvalde, Texas school.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). When I recited this verse in my prayers, it suddenly hit me. That is what Israel is all about. The Jewish people were reviled, persecuted or at best ignored for centuries. We were just like that worthless piece of stone that even the builders could find no use for. And yet, somehow, we are not only useful, of value, but we have prime value — the chief cornerstone that the entire building depends on.