At the Bar of History
Sermon delivered by Rabbi Benjamin H. Englander
Temple B'nai Israel, Irvington, NJ
February 6, 1949, Station WNJR
Daydreaming about the Mashiach -- who would come to liberate the Jewish people from their exile, relieve them of their suffering, and bring salvation to the world by ushering in the Messianic era of good will, was for many centuries a favorite pastime among all classes of Jews.
A Hebrew poet relates the story about two students in the Yeshiva, a higher academy for Talmudic studies, who were tired of their studies and sought recreation by engaging in such esoteric contemplation.
They had been told of the legend that if one were to find the cave where King David sleeps and would awaken him, he would bring the Mashiach. They became so engrossed in these thoughts and intrigued by the possibilities that they set out to find the cave.
In their wanderings they met a dove whom they asked about the road to King David's cave. But the dove replied in dismay, "A ferocious bloodthirsty vulture swooped down upon my nest and robbed me of my young. I am heartbroken in my bereavement. My spirit is crushed. I cannot, in this state of mind, point out to you the road to King David's cave."
They left the dove to her sorrowful meditations and wandered on until they came to a gurgling brook. Winding its way down the mountain side from far away lands and through many countries, they thought that it would know the way to King David's cave. In reply to their inquiry the brook said in a sobbing voice, "An eagle has just washed its bloody claws in my pure blue waters, defiling them, and you want me to tell you the road to King David's cave.
They went on again and finally encountered an old man, hoary with age, whom they asked about the road to King David's cave. He gave them detailed directions, a description of the path they were to follow, and how they were to recognize the opening to the cave. He told them that when they would come to the cave, they would find King David reclining upon a couch with a pitcher of water standing on a table beside him. Furthermore, as they will walk in, King David will awaken, and they were to pour the water from the pitcher over his outstretched hands. Then King David would come forth and bring succor to Israel and the world. However, if they failed to pour the water on his hands he would fall back and go to sleep again.
They climbed the path and came to the cave. When they penetrated its recesses, they came upon a room studded with brilliant jewels of all kinds: emeralds, rubies, sapphires, opals, and diamonds. In the room they saw a golden couch upon which King David was resting, a gold table and an exquisite jewel-studded silver pitcher filled with water beside the couch. The students were so overcome and overwhelmed with the brilliance of the room, they became paralyzed to the point of immobility. As King David raised himself and stretched forth his hands they failed to pour the water over them. Just as the old man had predicted, King David fell back and went to sleep again. The boys returned home tired and despondent, for they had missed the opportunity at a crucial moment.
The story the poet relates could well be a parable depicting the experiences of the Jewish People through the ages, who sought for relief from oppression and hoped for an end to their wanderings. After World War I, (the war that was fought to end all wars), the Jewish People inquired about the road that would bring them to their redemption. They even saw the road signs -- the Balfour Declaration, which announced that "his Majesty's Government of Great Britain looks with favor upon the establishment of the Jewish homeland in Palestine" -- followed by the mandate, which the League of Nations entrusted to Great Britain for the purposes of implementing the Balfour Declaration.
However, the nations of the world proved to be too occupied with their own troubles. Their nests had been robbed of their young in the bloody years 1914 to 1918 and shortly thereafter were to be threatened again by that cruel, ferocious blood thirsty vulture -- the Nazi scourge. They could not give thought to the Jewish problem nor ear to the Jewish woe. No sooner were the commitments made to the Jewish People when they were treacherously betrayed. In a fever of appeasement, fearful of the consequences which the execution of justice and righteousness might entail, Great Britain was scared even of its very own shadow and was caught in a mesh of imagined threats to its security.
Since the end of the Dark Ages and especially since the French Revolution, the Jews based their hopes upon the progress of civilization. They anticipated that as the brook flowed on and on, its clear waters would wash away hatred and bigotry and would bring about the understanding that would usher in an era of fraternity and equality for all. But civilization did not bring the solution, for it was constantly being defiled by sadistic vultures, demagogues and rabble rousers, who washed their bloody claws in its clear blue waters even justifying their villainous acts in the name of culture, science and progress. They continued to spread doctrines of hate and intrigue in every country of the world.
Only Father Time was able to point out the way, At long last, the Jew has climbed the steep mountain path. He had to surmount natural obstacles and artificially constructed road blocks -- tripping, stumbling, falling -- but always rising again to march on to his destiny. With the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish wanderers have entered the cave where King David sleeps. The dazzling beauty which we behold -- the possibilities, the implications and the eventualities of this historic event -- can very well paralyze us to immobility.
Some who were most active in bringing about the realization of a two thousand year dream are saying: "The job is done and we can now sit back to enjoy the fruits of our labors." But, we must remember that the room has only been entered and King David is symbolically awakening from his long sleep and is holding forth his hands for us to pour the water over them. Will we be overwhelmed by the possibilities we envision to the point of doing nothing to secure them? Will we permit King David to fall back and go to sleep again for more years of torturous exile? Will our generation be indicted at the Bar of History for lack of foresight, initiative and devotion -- for failing to bring about the real solution of the real Jewish problem?
The last few years have seen perhaps some of the blackest pages written by a power renowned for its democracy, tolerance and high degree of civilization. Even as the new state of Israel came into existence, Great Britain (which became the mortal enemy of the very thought it had fathered) rallied the Arab nations, which had no legal right in Palestine and were used by the British to destroy the Jewish settlements, which had first been disarmed by the British forces as if in preparation for slaughter. When the mandate was finally surrendered to the United Nations, British rule came to an inglorious end. Great Britain has since been maneuvering diplomatically and militarily, in violation of United Nation's charter, to frustrate the final accomplishment of a Jewish State.
The State of Israel, which was born of a war not of its own seeking, now finds itself prostrate and exhausted from the supreme effort it was called upon to make in order to win the miraculous victories which we have witnessed. We hope that the fighting is over. In the period of reconstruction that will ensue, it becomes the moral duty of every Jew, every freedom loving individual regardless of religious creed, of everyone who loves justice and seeks righteousness., to bring such support as is necessary to secure the State of Israel for the future and give it the power to survive. The refugees on the highways of Europe, Africa, and Asia, who are streaming to the newly recreated Jewish state to find life and hope anew, must be aided in their efforts.
The status of Israel will in all probability be challenged again and again before the high tribunal of the United Nations, for the defeat and frustration even of evil designs is a bitter pill to swallow. Furthermore, it will be a long time before the Yishuv will recuperate sufficiently from the travail of birth and violent shocks of war to become self sufficient. There yet remains a big job to be done.
Without prejudicing our loyalty to the United States of America., we must continue to lend our prestige by aligning ourselves with the Zionist movement, which is responsible for making the dream a reality. We must also continue to answer the calls for assistance in funds, food, and supplies to ameliorate the suffering in Israel and bolster up its economy until the chasm between war and peace is finally bridged.
Relief from homelessness for the landless wandering is in sight. From the Roman arenas in ancient days, from the flames of the inquisition of Torquemada in the Middle Ages, from the gas chambers and the fiery furnaces of the Hitler regime in our own day -- there comes the singing voice of Israel, singing the songs of courage and hope that a day will come when Israel will live in peace and be strong once again in its ancient land.
"This is the day for which we had hoped," this is the day when Israel comes into its own. It's for us to bring about the full realization of our hopes as they are expressed in the words of our seer Isaiah XXII:VI "In days to come shall Jacob take root, Israel shall blossom and bud. And the face of the world shall be filled with fruitage."