Sunday, November 18, 2001


November 18, 2001

In Hebrew there's a word, Otzma, meaning might, as in strength. There are those who think, for one reason or another, that Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, have lost their otzma ? their drive, the passionate yearning to settle the land at all cost, which was exemplified by the style of Zionism that spurred pioneers on in the beginning of the 1900s, ignoring all adversity in order to achieve their dream. The motivation to renew an ancient homeland, barren for literally centuries, thereby revitalizing a wandering people, in exile for 2,000 years, generated otzma, might. The otzma took on many forms, both spiritual and physical, religious and secular. The ability to work the land, our land, to resuscitate values for ages in hibernation, could be considered a fulfillment of the longed for revival of the dead.

Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon from Vilna, once compared our exile from Eretz Yisrael as a person deceased. Immediately after death the body exists in its entirety, lacking only the soul. Over time the body disintegrates, leaving only bones. Eventually the bones too rot, leaving only the barest of remains. So the Gaon spoke of Am Yisrael, exiled from its homeland. The body without the soul, the Jewish people still concentrated together, then the disintegration of the body, the dispersion throughout the world, leading to the rotting of the bones, the assimilation, the persecution, the holocaust. Yet from those almost non-existent remains, there is suddenly rebirth ? the rebirth of the Jewish people in their homeland, the creation of a state, an army, an economy, schools, yeshivas, truly revival of the dead. That is otzma ? that is might.

Over the years that might seemed to have dwindled, kind of a crash after an enormous high. Then, in 1967, the euphoria returned, reaching new heights with a further liberation of our holy cities, Jerusalem and Hebron, of Judea and Samaria, the very heart of our existence. Again, a tremendous otzma ? bringing with it unification of a divided and mixed up people, trying to find itself, attempting to identify itself.

Again, following the high, another crash, 1973. Every now and then there appeared a rectification of the crash, in 1976, Entebbe, and later the massive Ethiopian and Russian aliyahs. Yet people could not find themselves, and searched for a kind of utopia, a Shangri-La, an easy way out of the problems that encompassed us. Then the trap-door fell and the great hope for peace was replaced by the magic mantra: Oslo, Oslo, Oslo. Forget all other values, forget all other dreams, just chant, over and over again: Oslo, Oslo, Oslo. It hypnotized tens and hundreds of thousands of people. Despite the real, ugly image in the looking-glass, the masses seemed to have been brainwashed: Oslo, Oslo, Oslo. The chant seemed to uplift, but in reality it weakened, bringing a crumbling of otzma ? of might. Might, not only physical might, but colossal ideals, collapsed, hanging somewhere in never-never land, in an unknown limbo, waiting for someone on a great white horse to save the masses.

Or so it was thought. Where is the otzma, the might? Where is the courage? Where are the principles upon which our people were founded, which gave us the ability to rise from the dead? Yet, the otzma, the might, did not disappear, it did not evaporate. Perhaps it was temporarily hidden from our eyes, or perhaps some of us had our eyes closed and forgot to open them, but the otzma hasn?t left us.

For the past year Hebron has been under fire. The never-ending gunfire, the killing of an infant and the wounding of others. Terror attacks on the roads, snipers, bombs, suicide killers ? you name it. A few weeks ago two women were shot and injured during the Succot holidays, standing outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, perhaps the supreme exemplification of the roots of our people. Terrorists shot two days in a row at large crowds gathered in Hebron to celebrate the autumn holiday. Who, in their right mind, would expect more people, masses of people, only weeks later, to put their lives in jeopardy at the same site? Yet, it happened. One week ago, on the Sabbath we read in the Torah of how Abraham, the first Jew, the first believer in one G-d, the founder of all of monotheism, purchased, against enormous odds, the first Jewish possession in the Land of Israel, the Machpela Cave here in Hebron. It seems that Abraham?s otzma, Abraham?s might, filtered into our souls, the collective soul of the Jewish people, and that otzma again showed itself only a week ago.

On that Friday afternoon, somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 people came to spend a full day in the city of Hebron. They came from all over, including a group from the United States who came especially for this Shabbat. Thousands of those people stood outside the monumental structure, built by Herod 2,000 years ago above the caves that Abraham purchased, where the women had been shot and injured only weeks before. Nothing had changed. The terrorists still controlled the hills above us and they could have shot again, perhaps it was even expected, but that did not stop the crowds. Friday night and Saturday morning, thousands who could not enter the building for Sabbath worship, simply because there was no more room, stood outside praying, reading the ancient story from the Torah, singing, dancing and celebrating the birth of the Jewish people almost 4,000 years ago and the rebirth of the Jewish people almost 54 years ago.

During the afternoon, thousands upon thousands walked the streets from Avraham Avinu to Beit Hadassah to Tel Rumeida and back to the Cave of Machpela, not hesitating, showing no fear. Doing what comes naturally, walking the streets of our city, of our home, in our homeland, immersed in the faith our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, which was planted in us thousands of years ago.

That is otzma. That is might.

Don?t let anyone tell you otherwise ? the otzma of Am Yisrael has not disappeared. Sometimes it looks as though it has perhaps faded a little, but in reality it?s still there, because it?s a part of us, as is the air we breath and the blood in our veins. It is part of our soul. That otzma, that might, having kept us alive through a 2,000 year exile, has not abandoned us in our homeland. It is that which will pull us out of the limbo, the never-never land of Oslo, back into the authentic reality of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. Remember the word ? a bona fide mantra, given to Abraham as a gift from G-d and handed down through the ages ? ?Otzma.?

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