The enduring existence of Israel through the centuries is a remarkable chapter in human history. The fact that the nation of Israel continues to exist despite being exiled from its land for 2,000 years is unprecedented. Even more unique is the Jewish people’s unwavering connection to their homeland, despite being scattered across the world. What other nation has been praying daily from all four corners of the world, while facing their homeland, for over two millennia?
But how has this nation not only survived through history but also returned to its ancestral land after such a prolonged exile? What explains Israel’s ability to defy norms, survive exile and relentless persecution, and ultimately reclaim their homeland?
The key to this enigma can be found in a biblical story from Genesis 32. In this passage, Jacob wrestles with an angel and emerges victorious, leading to his name being changed from Jacob to Israel. This transformation signifies his success in striving with beings, both divine and human, and prevailing (Genesis 32:29).
Rabbi Pinchas Polonsky sheds light on this passage. He explains that the Hebrew word for “divine” in this context is E-lohim, symbolizing God’s presence in nature. Nature acts as a veil, concealing God from the world. Therefore, to struggle with E-lohim is to perceive the divine presence beyond the superficial layer of nature, to challenge the ordinary flow of events, and to seek a connection with the manifestation of God that lies beyond the natural world. This struggle involves transcending what seems to be predestined, or the natural course of events.
Indeed, throughout their long history, the Jews have consistently challenged the expected course of events. If history and natural tendencies were the only factors, the Jewish people should have disappeared like all other ancient peoples. Yet, Israel, embodying the concept of “struggle” against the perceived natural order, has refused to follow the typical historical path. This resistance to the natural progression of events has enabled Israel to endure throughout the ages.
This defiance also explains how, after thousands of years of exile, the Jewish people have returned to their homeland, establishing the modern state of Israel. This achievement is not just a political milestone; it’s also a spiritual victory, fulfilling ancient prophecies and showcasing their faith and determination.
Today, Israel stands as a vibrant nation, blending ancient traditions with modern progress. The state of Israel symbolizes the Jewish people’s historical journey: overcoming challenges, maintaining a connection to their roots, and persistently advancing. It’s the story of a people who look beyond nature to connect with the God who transcends it.