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Parshas Emor (5768)

Israel @ 60 ... So Now What?

Happy Birthday! This Saturday May 8th - which coincides with the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar - Israel will have turned 60 years

It got me thinking, though ... okay, so we' re making a big thing over the number 60. But what' s really so special about Israel' s 60th birthday? Maybe the 25th and the 50th are big because they represent a quarter and half century of life and history ... but the 60th? Is Israel at 60 really something to celebrate?

The truth is that the 60th is a very important milestone in a country' s existence. And especially in Israel' s case. Let me tell you why.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) 5:25 teaches how a person needs to change emphasis at different stages of life. Consistency must always be tempered by the ability to change direction when one achieves a new plateau in his spiritual development.

The Mishnah begins with a child of five and gives directives and guidelines for maximizing each new age level that he/she reaches. We are thus taught that "Ben shishim l' ziknah - a sixty-year-old attains ' old age' ". Ziknah, or old age, in this context refers to intellectual maturity, since the Hebrew word zaken is a contraction of the words zeh kanah, meaning "this [person] has acquired [wisdom]". Additionally, the commentators explain that at around sixty years of age, worldly matters [drives, desires, material goals] normally take flight and leave a man; hence the Mishnah cautions him that from now on he should concentrate more on his spiritual side so that he is prepared for his ultimate future.

I believe that as the State of Israel turns 60 years old and attains "old age", it is time for its citizens and all Jews worldwide to use the wisdom acquired over the past 60 years since becoming an independent state in order to learn important lessons from its past that will help chart the course for a sustainable and thriving future. And much like a person who, upon reaching 60, normally becomes less interested in and focused on material matters and earthly pleasures, freeing up his time to concentrate on his more spiritual side and ultimate purpose, so, too, does Israel at 60 need to put away its cranes and bulldozers and start asking itself some existential questions about its ultimate purpose and raison d' etre.

As you are no doubt well aware, there is a huge wave of what has come to be called "post-Zionism" engulfing the hearts and minds of many (especially young) Israelis today. Post-Zionism, which is basically a movement that questions the entire ideal of a "Jewish state" in Israel and its right to "push out" the Palestinians (for more on this, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Zionism), is symptomatic of a greater problem in Israel today - that of the tremendous disillusionment and total apathy and ambivalence that many Israelis feel today regarding the State of Israel and their place within it.

There are many young Israelis who are leaving Israel as fast as they can to travel to the Far East in order to find "meaning" and "spirituality" - witness the huge throng of Israelis showing up at Chabad-led Passover Seders in Bangkok and other points east. Still others who have chosen to stay have come to realize that they have created for themselves from the once- idealized Land of Israel with all its hopes and dreams for a glorious future, just another "western" state much like California, New York ... only there is little danger of getting blown up on a bus in Los Angeles.

We have spent the better part of the past 60 years building up the socio-political infrastructure and material/economical framework of the State. To be sure, there have been tremendous gains in Jewish learning, spirituality, culture, science, identity etc. as well. But as a fledgling state struggling to survive, our primary focus was on rising from the ashes of the Holocaust and establishing ourselves as a Jewish State both internationally and internally.

Now that Israel at 60 has reached intellectual maturity, it is time for all of us in Israel and abroad to sit back and focus on the real important questions - why we are in Israel, what we seek to accomplish, what is our ultimate goal and justification for existence, why is there still so much friction between the various groups of Jews who inhabit this tiny land, what can be done about the great discontent and

These are the difficult challenges that lay ahead ... but I have great confidence that with the collective wisdom of this great nation of ours culled from 60 years of Jewish history in the Land of Israel, we will take advantage of this great milestone of Israel' s 60th to work together towards a beautiful and meaningful future. Happy Birthday!

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