Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Germany last week. While there, he visited Wannsee Villa in Berlin the place that the "Final Solution" for the destruction of Europe's Jews was planned in 1942 by Adolf Hitler and leaders of the Third Reich. In the visitors book Netanyahu wrote three words in Hebrew and then translated them into English: “Ams Yisrael Chai – The people of Israel live.”
These words are very powerful and loaded with meaning and emotion. We read each Passover on the Seder night that in every generation someone stands up to annihilate the Jews and the Almighty saves us from their evil hands. Since our dawn as a people we have survived countless attempts to destroy us.
The most serious attempt to obliterate the Jews took place in Wannsee Villa in Berlin where the decision to carry out the Holocaust took place. But that also failed and a mere 60 years later the prime minister of a powerful and successful Jewish state enters the building and declares that those who planned have failed and defiantly writes the words Am Yisrael Chai – the nation of Israel lives.
But as one thinks about this, two things come to mind. First we must recognize that threats to the Jewish people are serious. Those who stated that they wanted to kill us before meant it and those who say so today also do. We must always be vigilant. Iran must be stopped. If America won’t do it, Israel must. There is no doubt that we Jews will outlive the Islamic republic of Iran. But we must not allow them the capability to hurt us as they suffer their inevitable demise.
The second thought relates to how the people of Israel live. According to Judaism, real life goes beyond the concept of breathing and having blood flow through our veins. Real living means existing with a purpose and connecting to G-d and others. The Torah has some of the most forward thinking and compassionate laws that have become the basis for any moral and civilized society. Jews have always been the world’s moral conscious. This is one of the reasons that we have been hated so much over the centuries.
The Jewish people are charged with the responsibility to be a light unto the nations. This means that we must talk, speak and act in a manner that exemplifies decency, morality and compassion. But it does not end there. Jews also have a spiritual responsibility. Being a good person is not enough. If our entire reality consists solely of the physical aspect of the universe and we do not tap into, or are unaware of, the deeper divine consciousness, we are not living up to our responsibilities as a nation. We must recognize the spiritual and divine dimension of the universe and then radiate that deep appreciation of spirituality and G-dliness outwards to others.
Why is it that Eastern religions seem to have the monopoly on spirituality in the Western world? The depth that Judaism has to offer in the spiritual realm is stupendous. We Jews may be alive physically but we still need to wake up and start living spiritually. When we collectively experience a Judaism-inspired spiritual awakening we will be able to say Am Yisrael Chai – the nation of Israel lives in the truest meaning of the phrase.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts