During the next few weeks leading up to Israel's 60th Anniversary, I am interrupting the pattern of examining the vocabulary of the siddur to highlight aspects of our liturgy that emphasize our connection to the land. With so much misrepresentation being made about us, most especially these days by the United Methodist Church, I thought it would be valuable to illustrate for you how Israel has remained central to our aspirations from Biblical times to the present. No document is better suited than the prayer book to make the point. The selections are not in chronological order, but presented to make the point.
We all like to think of ourselves as free. In fact, as Americans we believe ourselves to be freer than any other people in the world. And certainly given the history of the Jews in host countries across history and around the world, there has never been a more hospitable place and time than the United States at this moment. Almost alone against the backdrop of past generations, when American Jews sit down to seder we must invent devices to relate to the notion of casting off the shackles of slavery and oppression. Measured by wealth, access and productivity in every context, American Jews are arguably free.
But the freedom we so celebrate is political freedom and dependent on the political climate of the age. It is unlikely that we will see any shift in the rights and privileges we enjoy, but in the end, that decision is not really in our hands.
If it were, we might think to do away with the brakhah in the weekday Amidah, "t'ka bashofar gadol l'cheiruteinu, v'sa neis l'kabeitz galuyoteinu, v'kabtzeinu yachad mei'arba kanfot ha'aretz; sound the great shofar for our freedom, and raise high the banner of gathering us from our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth." The freedom we affirm – both on Passover and in prayer – is the freedom of full self determination in our own land. Anything and anyone that defines our identity and our destiny for us, however benign or inclusive, is a compromise of our freedom.
Without getting too philosophical on that last point, the message of these words is pretty clear: as long as we are in exile from our native homeland, as individuals or as part of the community of the Jewish people, we are yet to be free. Our liberation from Egyptian slavery was not merely for the purpose of throwing off the shackles of servitude to Pharaoh; it was to be taken to the land to be a free people.
Israel is our destination of freedom.