Na’aseh V’nishmah: Tikkun Leil Shavuot and Israel

by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

Shavuot is traditionally observed through study. Tikkun Leil Shavuot, now with many variations, is a time of learning text throughout the night in order to more fully engage with Jewish law and tradition. Shavuot is linked with Pesach as the next logical step on the path from liberation to sovereignty. That natural link is law, a way to govern our Jewish society. Shavuot brings the message that society must have rules by which it is governed and that liberation to be effective cannot be anarchy or dictatorship. So it is appropriate that each year we learn and relearn Jewish law in order to more fully participate in Jewish society.

On Sunday, June 5, 2011, more than 1,000,000 people watched or paraded down Fifth Avenue in New York City for the annual Celebrate Israel Parade. With colorful tee-shirts, music blaring, and no sign of partisan politics this is the largest celebration of Israel in the world. It almost resembles the scene in the movie Exodus as the Jews leave Egypt. The good news is that instead of wandering for 40 years to receive the law, Shavuot usually arrives quickly after the parade. The parade is one more example that Israel advocacy can be done well.

Since before 1948 American Jews have been asked to rally for and support Israel. Our simple message of Jewish destiny for Israel in Jewish hands has been a central organizing principle for American Jewish life for decades. What is also clear is that too many in our community are intellectually lacking when it comes to the complexities of Zionism. We are superb at arguing and navigating the nuances of Oslo, settlement policy, Israeli partisan politics, American politics, and community relations all in the name of supporting the basic message; we, the Jewish people, have a right to our own sovereign state, and that state is Israel.

Yet, how many of us know the difference between the philosophical views of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Ahad H’am’s and their approaches to Jewish sovereignty? Which Zionist thinker helped you shape your own vision for what Israel can and should be not to mention working through the tough issues?

We should not conflate Israel education and Israel advocacy. We need both. Our advocacy strengthens us. Our Zionist education should guide us. The night of Shavuot study should become at least one of those times each year that we delve into the fascinating and critically important study of Zionism and Israel. Our love for Israel is unconditional. Our support of policy should be based on our vision of what we want Israel to be, based on knowledge. Israeli society is the cauldron of change for our people. The decisions of its unique Jewish society should be based on a clear view of Judaism and Zionism. If it is true that out of Zion shall go forth the law then we must understand Zion in all aspects in order that we strengthen our ability to support our Jewish State of Israel.

When our people was offered law by God, our response was Na’aseh vNishmah – we will do and we will listen. We have a sacred obligation to respond to Israel in the same way. We will do (advocate) for Israel by marching, demonstrating, advocating, defending and visiting Israel and encourage others to do the same. We must also listen (study) the history and texts of Israel and Zionism.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA.