How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!
But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again.
The Jewish Cemetery at Newport – Longfellow
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and the LORD carried me out in a spirit, and set me down in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones
And He said unto me: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered: ‘O Lord GOD, Thou knowest.
Then He said unto me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.
Therefore prophesy, and say unto them: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.
Human beings quickly learn to take things for granted. A century ago the prospect of a Jewish state was as likely as a city on the moon. There were those who busily worked, agitated and struggled for it, but to the majority of Jews it was a distant dream. And yet as in a dream it exists. It is a matter of a plane ride for a Jew anywhere in the world to arrive there and walk its streets.
Most people think of miracles as entities of smoke and flames. As insubstantial things you cannot see
or touch. The incredible and the unbelievable. But those are wonders. Miracles are everyday things whose wonder is difficult to hold in your mind. The tree that shades the lane. The sun that shines above. A state built out of the ruins of fallen empires rising like a green shoot in springtime to the light.
Now that the State of Israel exists too many take it for granted. Others have unknowingly slipped into the narrative crafted by our enemies, whose goal is to portray the State as a terrible burden, both for the Jews and for everyone else. A burden that is best dismantled for a return to Egypt.
Miracles after all are not supposed to exist and people react badly to them. When the Jews multiplied in miraculous numbers in Egypt, Pharaoh shuddered and brought out the chains and murdered their children. When G-d threw open the gates of Egypt, still he pursued them into the falling waves.
For thousands of years, The Country That Should Not Have Been, struggled against pagan invaders. And when Israel finally fell and the Jews became exiles, for thousands of years they became The People That Should Not Have Been. Now Israel is once again, The Country That Should Not Have Been.
Arnold Toynbee proclaimed that the Jewish people were the fossils of history. And then the fossils rose again. The cemeteries disgorged their dead. A nation composed of farmers and Holocaust survivors stood off the armies of the Jordanian Legion and that of five Arab nations, each of which was many times larger than Israel. And at the end a blue and white flag waved over a new land.
Within a decade that land was bursting with productivity and industry. With settled cities and great works. With toil and labor and art and song. A land that had once been a pile of stones and dust. A relic of history had become new again.
And at the wall of the temple, priests who were the descendants of Aaron raised their hands once more to bless the people. “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”
And he had.
None of this stilled the fury. The world does not like miracles. Miracles testify to the miraculous. They warn us of the limits of our powers. They wake the Pharaohs of the world out of their dreams of godhood and endless power. They remind they of that which they do not wish to be reminded of. That there is a G-d in this world. Miracles testify that they and their dreams of a thousand year Reich or a united world are mortal.
Pharaoh did not respond to G-d’s wonders by bowing out. He only increased his fury and viciousness. Tyrants, whether they hold thrones or academic chairs whose scepter is the rule of the unyielding ideology of historical necessity, do not bow to miracles. Miracles only demonstrate to them that there is more in heaven and earth than had been dreamed of in their philosophies.
Pharaohs who see slaves becoming free, a nation reborn and the dead rising from the graves have one simple response, to fill the cemeteries with the dead again.
Nations which had cried unendingly, “What Shall We Do With This Accursed People”, which had screamed that the Jews had seized their industries, their jobs, their governments– suddenly discovered that the one thing worse than the exiled Jew, was the unexiled Jew.
By artful crafty propaganda, the forsaken people which had finally rebuilt its homeland were the colonizers and the hate-filled sons of an Empire that had blotted out and continued to blot out freedom and human dignity across the Middle East were its oppressed victims.
The existence of a tiny state in an otherwise Muslim Middle-East was a blow to their honor they could not endure. They might murder their own daughters for stealing a kiss with the neighbor boy and they might make their pilgrimages to London and Paris as eagerly as to Mecca, buying up everything in the stores to haul home to their villas all the while laboring under this demonstration of the superiority of the infidel’s commerce and culture; but to tolerate a Jewish State was too much.
And when these modern Egyptians and their Muslim brethren gathered their armies and harnessed their steel chariots and watered them with the oil that flowed from their wells, the world smiled its awful secret smile as it saw them go on their way to drive the Jews into the sea again, as if four thousand years had passed but like a day. Theirs was the smile of those who find secret pleasure in this reassertion of a natural order devoid of miracles in which the Jews should not be.
And then another miracle happened. And another. Burning chariots filled the desert. Great armies came undone. And the Pharaohs fumed in their villas, there was a great gnashing of teeth in the halls of Moscow and all right-thinking Europeans wept.
But they did not weep for long. When a river turns to blood, Pharaohs know they can wait it out. When fire and ice fall from the sky, they may tremble but they will not bow. For the secret of the Pharaoh is that he knows that G-d may be strong but man is weak. And it is over men that Pharaohs rule.
And so the Pharaohs who had divided the borders of the Middle East and proclaimed that this group of Arabs was to be Syrians and this group of Arabs, Egyptians and that Jordan would be ruled by a Saudi King who was to now be a Jordanian King, said that if G-d can bring forth a nation out of nothing, so can they. And as the Egyptian magicians had cast their staffs into snakes, the political magicians behind the Iron Curtain and across Europe and the Middle East cast forth their staffs and behold there was a Palestinian people.
And so the Pharaohs said to G-d, “You have created a nation and we have created a nation and we shall see which nation prevails.”
Where G-d had created a Jewish nation to serve him and to bring light to the world, the Palestinian nation existed for no purpose than to strangle the Jewish nation. It had no identity except the name the Roman conquerors had given to Israel when they sought to eradicate the last traces of the Jewish people from their land. And fittingly, this became the name of a people whose sole striving was to once again eradicate the Jewish people.
When the Palestinians wrote poems, it was poems of murder. When they sang songs, it was songs of death. When they gave birth to children, it was to raise them up to kill and die. Old and young, men and women, they lived for no other purpose than to kill.
Given a piece of land, they set up rockets on it. Given a house they dug tunnels under it. Given a tool, they turned it into a blade. Given a child they turned him into a weapon. And as the worshipers of Moloch had done in ages gone, they passed even their own sons and daughters through the flame.
And having cast forth their serpents, the Pharaohs of the world leaned forward eagerly to see their work. And they lavished fortunes on them. And they ceaselessly agitated on their behalf in the international organizations of the world. Whatever Israel might do for them was spurned. Eagerly they waited for the end. Eagerly they waited for the cemeteries once again to fill with the dead.
And when the staffs had been cast, the burden had increased on the people of Israel. And the Jews cried out as they sought to appease all the Pharaohs. They cried out against the redemption wishing only that they could return to the condition of slavery they had become comfortable in. They believed the Pharaohs who told them that it was only because of the redemption that they were being whipped.
They cried out in the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times and on television. Their cry is always the same. “If it were not for you, we might live in peace. If it were not for the trouble you make, the editors of the New York Times, would like us.”
The cities may change. Ramses may become London and Pitom may became New York. The opinion makers may wear cassocks or coats or Armani suits or nothing at all. The broadcasts may be the gossip in the street or the transmissions of telecommunications satellites. The details change. The picture remains the same. The end of exile may be more bitter than exile itself.
Israel may be a free nation but Pharaohs do not easily give up. The Pharaoh is the representative of man’s tyranny over the world. The force that built up the Tower of Babel. The power that demands that all men be slaves, whether it is in the treasure cities of Egypt or in the academic theories of dialectical materialism. There are many chains and they are forged in many ways.
The redemption of G-d is the destruction of the tyranny of man. It is the miracle that shows that no matter how the chains are forged, they can be broken and no matter how strong the sword, it can be shattered. The culmination of the first age of the history of the world which will reach its close with the final redemption of Israel is the utter annihilation of the slavery of the Pharaohs, in whatever form it comes in. It is the fall of all the images of kings and leaders men have set up to worship. It is the destruction of all privilege and power that has set itself up in place of G-d.
It is the final undoing of history as man has seen it and its completion as G-d has chosen it. A dead nation has already risen and its flag waves over Jerusalem. And when the final redemption comes, the graves too shall give up their dead.