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.
"Seeing is believing" we often say. We place a lot of emphasis on the sense of sight, and indeed take in more about our surroundings through our eyes than through any other sense. (Of course, people with vision impairment or blindness rely on other senses for their information.)
As practice or metaphor, we aspire to behold, witness or perceive our most valued desires. There is something about seeing the realization of our imaginings and hopes arranged in space, replete with colors and textures, casting shadows and reflecting light that makes them convincing. We can grasp their veracity when we "be-hold" them. We can testify to their authenticity when we "witness" them. And we can reproject with words the images that we "perceive."
Perhaps the most fervent wish in our tradition is to be one with God. That one-ness may take many forms in as many minds, but as a people, our national aspiration remains to find God returning as a tangible presence to our homeland – Zion, Israel. The prayer in the Amidah that we have recited three times or more each day for two thousand years expresses it: v'techezena eineinu b'shuv'kha l'tziyon, "may our eyes see Your return to Zion." We want to see it happen, not just be told about it.
And what do you know? After all those years and all those devotions, we have been blessed in our times to see the spirit of our people's covenant with God renewed in the land. Our eyes have indeed beheld the return of God to Zion. One word of the phrase remains to be fulfilled: b'rachamim, "with compassion." We yet hope for the day when mercy replaces conflict in the Land.
But it is pretty clear that among the ways we have articulated our devotion across the ages to the Land of Israel has found expression. Now that our eyes behold God's presence there, we can genuinely call Israel the place of our answered prayers.