David Ben-Gurion The TANACH and The Land: Renewed Luminosity – by Matia Kam

David Ben-Gurion The TANACH and The Land: Renewed Luminosity
Matia Kam

“Ever since I came to the land, I was shaped by TANACH, since only here could I begin to fully grasp its rich depth; it influenced me more than any other book or literature, Jewish and non-Jewish.” That is how David Ben-Gurion saw the uniquely deep connection that he felt with TANACH, forged here in the land and particularly after the establishment of the state. “The establishment of the state and the war of independence shone a new light on the TANACH,” particularly “the stories of the fathers, the coming out of Egypt, the conquest followed by living on the land,” all that could have not take place in two thousand years of exile, a time that produced “varied and great Jewish works—yet dimmed the luminosity of the book of books. Its renewed authentic and full luminosity was possible only with the return of Jewish sovereignty.” Ben-Gurion therefore concluded that, “without knowing the TANACH, we cannot have self-understanding, an understanding of our origin, our spirit, our life-mission and our future.”

Ben-Gurion, a broad-minded, well-read man, familiar with the wisdom of East and West, believed that TANACH, a book that was always on his desk, was first and foremost, singularly unique: “I know of no book in our tradition or any other literary tradition, that equals the Tanach as a moral and cultural trove.” He saw TANACH as the first historiography, “its books displayed, from the first time in human history, the emergence, growth and struggles of a nation.”The Jewish people were the first among nations to write a book of history.

The TANACH is “the source and essence” of Judaism, as a faith and a nation. The book of books gave the people of Israel—and the rest of humanity— both “faith in one God, Creator of all” and “profound human values, universal camaraderie, justice and law ??? ????? truth and compassion , equality of all nations and peace – ????.”

The TANACH depicts “The great time in the history of our nation [….] from the time of Moshe Rabenu up to the period of Ezra the Scriber”‘ (the Seond Temple). Along this panoramic view of the glorious past, the TANACH also offered a direction for the future, “a national mission and hope”: a the return to Zion and gathering of the exiles as well as a vision for the entire humanity expressed in the vision of redemption, a future repaired world, in which “the land will be filled with knowledge [of God]—as water covering the sea, nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, nation will not lift up sword against nation and they will no longer know war.” To achieve the vision of the universal future, there is a need to fulfill the particular vision of our time: “sovereign, national entity” and the gathering of the exiles.

The Jewish people drew on TANACH not only “familiarity with its past and hope for its future, but also a sense of having an intrinsic and unique mission to be a light unto the nation and a chosen nation – ?? ?????: “I HASHEM have called you with justice, I will hold your hand, I will protect you and set you a covenant to people, a light to the nations” [Isaiah 42:6-7],” and I will give you a light to the nations to the end of the earth” [Isaiah 49:6]. For Ben-Gurion this role of light could only take place with sovereignty, on the land, and although this is a necessary condition it is by no means sufficient: ‘Even in the days of the Judges and the Kings the Jewish nation was far from fulfilling the role of the chosen people. Yet, the most amazing thing was that it was the great prophets who did not deny and did not cover up the flaws of their generations”, the prophets who spoke truth to power and did not hesitate to bitterly chastise the people “they never despaired and did not give up their deep faith in the people’s God-given purpose […] and saw redemption, Jewish and universal, at the time when the people will dwell safely in its land and will be the chosen nation and

a light to the nations”. In this belief, Ben-Gurion is not alone. A 2009 survey revealed that 70% of Israeli Jews believed that the Jewish people are a chosen nation.

According to Ben-Gurion, the TANACH, is not merely The book, but also the apex of the “eternal ideal triple”: people, land and book. “The Jewish nation’s educational and operational project will build on these two; on the land and The Book”. The land of Israel and TANACH are the anvil on which the nation will fashion its future, they are “the nation’s compass”. It is The Book – “the secret of Israel’s ?? ????? – existence and eternity” – that shaped the people’s spiritual and ethical life; he believed that it has been “The Book that we have cherished for thousands of years, and The Book that has kept us as a people. “In exile the soul of TANACH flew away, in Israel, its soul returned to kindle the hearts.

The link of people, land, Book will guide the

newly created nation and state: “in the social and ethical light of the eternal utterance of The Book, in the mission of peace, justice and compassion expressed by the prophets, in the Torah message of humanity in God’s Image, and in the precept ‘Love your fellow human like yourself,’ these we will educate and shape future generations.” For him the return to Zion was tied to a return to TANACH, and this double return “is the ultimate expression of the rebirth and renewal of the Jewish people”.

Contrary to conventional view, Ben-Gurion cherished the entire spiritual tradition forged during the long exilic experience: “ I knew that TANACH was neither the only nor the last creation/work in Jewish culture, I knew that in our long tradition there were numerous treasures from distant and recent past.” Thus he saw the Talmud as “a portable home” that filled a central role in the survival of Diaspora Jews; yet he saw the Talmud as an exilic creation, hence it does not express the essence of Judaism. He attributed his original meaning to the principle of commentary of Torah – ‘the deeds of the fathers are signals to their children’ – “the central persons and the events […] in the book of books appear before us anew in their early and authentic context—in Israel redemption, as we walk in their footsteps, and live again, in different times, similar struggles, search for meaning and trials that our forefathers, our law-givers, our judges, kings and prophets had confronted.” For him then, the eternal light of TANACH will assist the state of Israel find its way in the tough contemporary challenges and chances. In the renewed state of Israel, as Ben-Gurion saw it, there was a kind of ladder, “at its head was TANACH and climbing up are “many cherished treasures” from old and recent generations.

“Over the last 2,000 years the study of the TANACH has produced translations, exegeses, midrash, research, commentary of Jews and non-Jews, and there is no other book that has received such close attention.” With all of this attention, he said “we are still far from knowing TANACH”, not only because of its immense complexity, but also because of “the lost connection between the people and its homeland” that resulted from a long exile. “Like the land, the book reveals itself only to those immersed in its soil and living language” it is only the nation in its renewal in the land, immersed in the splendor of very page of the Book of Books, steeped in its language, thinking and dreaming in it—only thus will the book reveal its heart and soul to the nation whose soul will be one with the Book”

[1] David Ben-Gurion, The Tanach and the Jewish People, in: David Ben-Gurion, Biblical Reflections. Am Oved Publication, 1969, pp. 219 – 225; David Ben-Gurion, The Tanach shines By Its Own Luminosity, ibid, pp. 41 – 49; David Ben-Gurion, The Coming Out of Egypt, ibid, pp. 243 – 252. David Ben-Gurion, Singularity and Mission, in: David Ben-Gurion, the Eternity of Israel. Eynot Publication, 1964? pp. 7 – 41; David Ben-Gurion. The Spiritual Missions and Pioneering in Israel, ibid, pp/ 42 – 78. David Ben-Gurion, The Chosen People, in: Vision and Way’ Eynot Publication, 1957, Vol. 5 pp. 92 – 96.

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