The Balfour Declaration was initiated for good reason: The people of Israel have a critical role in the history of humankind.
Exactly 99 years ago, minus one day, Lord Arthur James Balfour, then Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and previously its Prime Minister, gave what became known as the “Balfour Declaration.” In a concise letter to Lord Walter Rothschild intended for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, Lord Balfour expressed “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The letter also communicated the commitment of His Majesty’s government to “use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
Almost one hundred years later, the UN, via its agency, UNESCO, has denied Israel’s historic claim on Temple Mount. In just under 100 years, we have managed to win the favor of the world’s greatest power at the time, Great Britain, establish a state with the support of an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations, and lose that support to the point that our own historic capital is not recognized as such, despite indisputable evidence that Jerusalem is and was the capital of the Jewish nation. How have we come to this?
A Nation Like No Other
It is with good reason that Lord Balfour and then British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, initiated the declaration and recognized our right to establish a national entity in the Land of Israel. The people of Israel have a crucial role in the history of humankind. Mark Twain asked, “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” Like Twain, novelist and poet Johan von Goethe believed that “Every Jew … is engaged in some decisive and immediate pursuit of a goal… It is the most perpetual people on Earth.”
The roots of our nation go back to Abraham the Patriarch. When he was born, his homeland in the Fertile Crescent was a thriving civilization. Its people led a peaceful and prosperous life and enjoyed a sense of social cohesion. In the words of the Bible, “The whole earth was of one language and one speech” (Gen 11:1).
However, as it has been throughout human history, Abraham’s homeland began to fall prey to the growing human ego. The negative force that burst into the unified society tore it apart and nearly inflicted upon it civil war. The book, Pirkey de Rabbi Eliezer, states that “The sons of Noah were all of one heart and one speech.” But as their egos grew, so did their alienation from each other. Finally, “they wished to speak each other’s language but did not know each other’s language, so each took his sword and they fought with one another. Indeed, half the world was slain there by the sword.”
To cope with the crisis of his countryfolk, Abraham began to search for answers. In Mishneh Torah, Maimonides describes Abraham’s observations of nature all around him, until he finally discovered that one, unified force of love sustains the whole of reality. This force then divided into a positive force of love and unity, and a negative force of hatred and separation, and Abraham realized that the absence of the positive force in his society was the cause behind all the troubles.
Encouraged by his discovery, Abraham started calling out to the people that the solution to the hatred that erupted was to cover it with love, or as King Solomon put it centuries later: “Hatred stirs strife, but love covers all crimes” (Prov 10:12).
Since that time, unity has been the key element in the formation and perpetuation of the Jewish people. At the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Hebrews formally became a nation after they sealed their unity with a vow to unite “as one man with one heart.”
Once they achieved that level of unity, they were entrusted with fulfilling Abraham’s vision of a unified society and were tasked with being “a light unto nations” by setting an example of unity and mutual responsibility. Henceforth, they would be responsible for bringing harmony to the world and would be held accountable whenever strife that could not be covered with love broke out.
Yet, some 2,000 years ago, the Jews lost their battle against internal hatred, which caused the ruin of the Temple and their exile from the land. Worse yet, by losing their unity, they lost the ability to be a light unto nations and became pariahs wherever they went.
The only place where Jews were at home was Israel, but only if they were truly Israel—united above their egos and spreading their unity throughout the world.
A National Home for an International Purpose
Despite the rampant Jew-hatred, even the most rabid anti-Semites have always recognized our special role. Even Hitler wrote, “When I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there arose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny … did not, with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation.”
Lord Balfour and Lloyd George felt that Jews had a right to the land of Israel. But like every other person in the world, they felt that this land was intended for a higher purpose. By their declaration, they gave us a chance to reinstate our unity and become what we were meant to be, “a light unto nations,” shedding the light of unity and love of others the world over.
Perhaps it took longer than Balfour envisioned, but in the end the “national home for the Jewish people” was established. Now we must make good on our commitment, or the land will be taken away once more, as votes such as the one at UNESCO indicate. Baal Hasulam wrote that “we have been given the land, but we have not received it” (“A Speech for the Completion of The Zohar”). In other words, we live here, but we have yet to carry out our task.
In a world filled with crises that stem only from ill-will, nothing is more vital than an antidote for our egos. The world does not need another startup nation. It needs to see how people overcome their egos and unite above them. We—the historic pioneers, the ones who planted in the heart of every human being the tenets, “love your neighbor as yourself” and “that which you hate, do not do unto others”—are called upon to complete our task.
No one but us will be able to answer the question that historian T.R. Glover poses: “It is strange that the living religions of the world all build on religious ideas derived from the Jews. …The great matter is not ‘What happened?’ but ‘Why did it happen?’ Why does Judaism live?” (The Ancient World). And the answer will not come in words; it will come in deeds, in unity that we will implement among ourselves and subsequently share with the entire world.
The Jewish Innovation that Everyone Needs
David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, once said that “The spiritual image and inner soundness of the State of Israel will be the key element in our security and our international status” (Stars and Dust). We have reached the tipping point: Either we live by the values of unity and mutual responsibility on which our nation was established, and set a positive example to the world, or we will lose our right to this land in the eyes of the world.
Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, Baal Hasulam wrote, “Judaism must present something new to the nations. This is what they expect from the return of Israel to the land! It is not in other teachings, for in that we never innovated. Rather, it is the wisdom of bestowal, justice, and peace. In this, most nations are our disciples, and this wisdom is attributed to us alone” (The Writings of the Last Generation). Later in the book, Baal Hasulam adds that unless we carry out our role, “Zionism will be cancelled altogether. This country is very poor, and its residents are destined to endure much suffering. Undoubtedly, either they or their children will leave the country, and only a handful will remain, which will ultimately be swallowed among the Arabs. …A return such as today’s does not impress the nations whatsoever, and we must fear lest they will sell Israel’s independence for their needs, needless to mention returning Jerusalem.”
The Choice Is in Our Hands
Almost a century after the Balfour Declaration, we are running out of time. But the choice is in our hands. If we choose unity over separation, we will reignite the force that made us into a nation to begin with. Maimonides wrote in A Guide for the Perplexed, “Had man knowledge of the human form, all the harm inflicted upon him and upon others would have been prevented. By knowing the truth, animosity and hatred disappear and people’s harming of each other ceases.”
We, the owners of the method of connection, must now establish it among ourselves and share it with the world. It has never been more pertinent and more vital for our future. The Balfour Declaration states our right to this land, but also our commitment to the world. We have the land; we have yet to be a light unto nations.
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