With over 300,000 reservists currently serving in the IDF, Israel is facing a severe manpower shortage. Making matters worse, many of the foreign workers who play a key role in the Israeli economy have returned to their home countries because of the war. To help fill the gap, Israelis of every age – from middle school children to retirees – are stepping up. Volunteers are stocking shelves in supermarkets and, most importantly, working on farms throughout the length and breadth of Israel.
A friend of mine recently volunteered at a farm together with a large group of teenagers and grandparents. While at the farm, he met a Thai worker who had decided to stay in Israel and continue working. In broken Hebrew, the Thai worker expressed his amazement: “All of these people came to work for free? They spend all day in the fields, and then they just shake the owner’s hand and go home? What kind of country IS this??”
The answer, of course, is that Israel is NOT a normal country.
From the very beginning of history, the people of Israel have always been “abnormal.”
“Now Jacob cooked a lentil stew, and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. And Esau said to Jacob, “Pour into [me] some of this red, red [stew], for I am faint”; he was therefore named Edom.” (Genesis 25:29-30)
Based on this story, Esau and his descendants are referred to throughout the Bible as “Edom” or “Edomites.” The Hebrew word Edom means “red,” the color of the soup that Jacob cooked and which he traded to Esau in return for the birthright.
But Edom also has other meanings. It corresponds to the word Adamah, meaning “earth.” Whereas Esau and his children are represented by the color red, the color of the earth, Jacob’s descendants are represented by the color blue, the color of the sky. This is very significant, for earth and sky represent two very different kinds of nations. The Hebrew word for blue is Techelet, which is related to the word Tachlit, meaning goal, aspiration or mission. Unlike Esau, Jacob’s children are never satisfied with earthly matters. They are constantly yearning for something higher and greater.
The name “Edom” is also related to the Hebrew word Adam, meaning “man.” Esau is a normal, ordinary person. But Jacob is precisely the opposite. Jacob must be abnormal if he is to have the strength and ability to bring the rest of “normal” humanity closer to God. For this reason, the people of Israel – Jacob’s descendants – have been, from the very beginning, “abnormal.”
Why do so many hundreds of millions of antisemites hate tiny Israel with such passion? Why is Israel always on the front page of the newspaper, while nations many times larger are all but forgotten?
More and more, Israelis today are beginning to understand that it is not our destiny to be a “normal” people. We have been chosen by God to be His representatives here on earth, to teach all of humanity to live according to the ways of God. It is an awesome privilege, but also a difficult mission. And so the only way for us to succeed is to embrace our abnormality and lean into our uniqueness.
War is terrible, and we are suffering. But during this painful time, the people of Israel are proudly rising up and embracing their destiny, embracing their tachlit, their mission.
They will happily volunteer without pay until the war is won – for as long as it takes.
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365.