Bread or Dreams?

May 16, 2024

In his fascinating novel, Altneuland, Theodor Herzl – founder of the modern Zionist movement – ends with some concluding thoughts. He writes that “Dreams are not so different from action, as people usually think. All actions of men are founded upon dreams, and their end is a dream too. B’nafsho yavi chalomo, “He lays down his soul to bring home his dreams.”

Herzl’s expression, b’nafsho yavi chalomo, is a paraphrase of words from U’netaneh Tokef, one of the most dramatic prayers of the Jewish high holiday liturgy. On these days, Jews pray: “Man is founded in dust and ends in dust. He lays down his soul to bring home bread (b’nafsho yavi lachmo). He is like a broken shard…” 

These words powerfully describe the lowliness and misery of the man who works day and night to earn a living, who “lays down his soul to bring home bread.” Herzl, by switching the order of the letters of “lachmo” (bread) to “chalomo” (dream), describes a different kind of man, a man of greatness who lays down his soul to fulfill his dreams.

For Herzl, this wasn’t simply a brilliant turn of phrase, but the way that he lived and died. The dream of Israel’s return to Zion burned brightly and constantly in his consciousness. He laid down his soul to fulfill his dream and that of his people, giving every ounce of his strength to the Zionist movement until his body failed and he died of a heart attack at 44. He gave his soul to his dreams, but his dreams came true.

Forty-five years after Herzl’s death, another man dreamed – and he, too, was ready to lay down his soul to fulfill his dreams. On May 13, 1948, the day before the people of Israel declared their independence in Tel Aviv, the Arab Jordanian Legion slaughtered the last defenders of Kfar Etzion, a Jewish town near Bethlehem, and razed it to the ground. For the next 19 years, Rabbi Hanan Porat and the other children of Kfar Etzion dreamed of returning to their homes. But their dream was about more than just returning to one town; it represented Israel’s dream of “and the children will return to their borders” (Jeremiah 31:17). Rabbi Hanan laid down his soul to return to his childhood home and then to all of Judea and Samaria through the settlement movement he founded in the 1970s. When Rabbi Hanan died in 2011, these three words – b’nafsho yavi chalomo, “He lays down his soul to bring home his dreams” – were inscribed upon his grave in Kfar Etzion. For he, like Herzl before him, was both a dreamer and a man of action.

In this life, there are two kinds of people. There are those who spend their days in search of lechem, bread, who “lay down their souls to bring home bread.” Buying a bigger home and taking your family on beautiful vacations doesn’t come cheap; it requires a lifetime of hard work. But then there are the dreamers, the people of chalom, who dream of things far bigger than themselves and dedicate their lives to bringing those dreams to fruition. The people of bread might be lovely people, and they may have great success, but they are “like a broken shard, like dry grass, a withered flower, like a passing shadow and a vanishing cloud.” It is the dreamers who work to actualize their dreams who make a lasting mark on this world. 

As we celebrate the miracle of Israel amidst an existential war for survival, we must keep our dreams front and center. Let us “Sound the great shofar (ram’s horn) for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our Land… Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish… restore the service to Your Sanctuary” (Daily Jewish prayers).  

It’s time to dream big again, like Theodor Herzl and Rabbi Hanan, and to lay down our souls to fulfill them. These are not impossible fantasies, but real and concrete dreams – dreams that are in our grasp. If we will it, it is no dream.

Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
The Thirty-Five Davids and Two Thousand Goliaths
Bone Deep: The Foundations of Israeli Independence
Can We Mourn through Song?

Related Articles

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email