Thoughts from the Rabbi...
The Talmud quotes the scholar Rav as saying: "There are three things for which we should always pray: a good ruler, a good year, and a good dream." (Berakhot 55a)
Like many rabbinic statements, this one requires some explanation... We can easily understand the first two statements. We always pray for good government; even our prayer book includes a prayer for the leaders of our country. We also understand, without difficulty, the idea of praying for a good year. Certainly, our Rosh Hashanah prayers emphasize this theme.
But why does Rav go on to include in his statement a prayer for a "good dream"? Certainly we would prefer pleasant dreams to nightmares, but does that suit the context of serious matters like wise government and sustenance? Rav must have had something more in mind.
What I believe Rav is teaching us, is that no one should live without a dream that serves as an inspiration. We need a vision of something beyond ourselves for which we strive and reach. Without such a vision, life becomes narrow and petty, focused only on personal concerns and on the minimal necessities of living. With a vision, we feel inspired to strive, to try to transcend the daily pressures of our lives.
All of us, at some time in our lives, see visions that affect the way we live. We have dreams of what we want to accomplish professionally, or of the life we want to create with our spouses and for our children. Keeping these visions fresh requires ongoing effort. We need to take the time for prayer, for reminding ourselves of what is important to us.
In keeping with Rav's thinking, the Jewish people – for centuries – harbored a dream and a vision of what they might become. Jews dreamed of returning to the Land of Israel to live freely and in accordance with the teachings of our Torah. When that happened, they believed, the Jewish people would find their destined fulfillment.
In our time, we have seen the partial fulfillment of this long-standing dream. The State of Israel represents the return of a large portion of our people to our historic homeland. There, living in freedom and independence, Jews are now trying to build the special way of life dreamed of by our prophets and teachers since ancient days.
As you read this article, I am traveling through Israel with 12 members of our congregation. What we will learn through our 10-day experience is that Israel is not some Shangri-La of Jewish transcendence. Unique in many ways, Israel is – at the same time – a small Mediterranean country where people work hard, drive fast, shout rudely, push in line, and find ways to relax on the one day (Shabbat) they call the weekend. At times, it can be hard to discern the outlines of our dreamed-of homeland within the stark realities of Israeli life.
That is the point at which Rav's suggestion comes into play. All of us need to pray for help in keeping alive the vision of what a Jewish state can become. "If we will it," said Theodore Herzl, "it is no dream." Of course, creating a model society is a dream; what Herzl meant is that it is a dream that can come true.
Herzl literally wore himself out working for the fulfillment of his dream, and ultimately died without receiving a charter. But Herzl inspired so many others to see the same vision. In 1948, less than 50 years after Herzl's passing, the State of Israel declared its independence, giving life to Herzl’s dream.
The vision of Zionism goes beyond the mere existence of a Jewish state. It includes the idea of a center of Torah for the entire Jewish people and a source of enlightenment for the whole world. In the words of the prophet, "Out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem."
As our small group travels from the ancient City of Jerusalem to the modern and cosmopolitan streets of Tel Aviv, we offer three prayers for the State of Israel. The first is for a wise and competent government, one that will "seek and pursue" peace with Israel’s neighbors while protecting her security. The second prayer is for a good year; a year in which the rains will fall upon the parched land, and the people will be content with their lot. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we pray for the ability of all concerned Jews to keep in mind the vision of what Israel can become. If we will it, it will be no passing dream, but one slowly and inevitably becoming a reality.
Rabbi Jeffrey R. Astrachan