Actions have consequences. That is the message of Ekev. It is the message each time we recite the full Shema.
On the positive side, we read:
“If you will obey the commandments that I enjoin you today, loving the lord your God and serving God with all your heart and soul. I will grant the rain for you in the Land of Israel.”
On the negative side, the passage continues:
“Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow down to them. For the Lord’s anger will flare up against you and God will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain. The ground will not yield its produce and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving to you”
Taken to its logical conclusion, does this mean that every time something bad happens to Israel, the country or the people, it is because we as a people failed to observe a commandment? Are rockets falling on southern Israel because people are not following God’s word, or as some would say, a strict interpretation of Jewish law?
On a personal theological level, I reject this as a strict reading of this passage. However, on a human level, it is clear that actions have consequences. It is generally accepted science that it is the actions of human beings that has led to global warming. It is our personal actions – some say lifestyle – that has led to an epidemic of Type II Diabetes in America.
How do we understand this concept of actions and consequences when it comes to the State of Israel? The action by then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to grant just a small number of exemptions from service in the Israel Defense Forces to “orthodox men” has turned out to be a disaster for Israel. In addition to the cost of the publicly supported yeshivot, their students and families, the act has made the relationship of the ultra orthodox community tenuous to the Jewish state. Yeshivah students and the school system and the way of life that has produced most of them are a drain on the Israeli economy and societal morale for a country more under siege today than at any time in the last 30 years.
However, it is possible to ameliorate the consequences of an action. One can provide support for folks who are unemployed, struggling with life, or just simply need a shoulder upon which to occasionally lean. In Israel, it is possible to ameliorate the consequences of the Ben Gurion compromise. Instead of trying to craft a law that addresses all the exceptions to the law of universal national service (Hok Tal), simply enforce it.
All 18 year old men and unmarried 18 year old women should have to enter into national service, either in the Israel Defense Forces or into social service support. Length of service should be the same as the requirements for service in the army. Exemptions from service should be handled on a case by case basis, but not en masse. Sometimes life is best lived by category. Universal service of all 18 year olds in Israel is one of these cases.
Israel needs a renewed sense of purpose and shared national goals. A society cannot thrive with a long term siege mentality, even when the threats are real. Israel, along with Jews everywhere, needs a renewed belief in Zionism; the most successful movement of national liberation in world history. Yes, there are consequences for actions. Not the kind that do or do not provide rain, but that perhaps provide a different kind of sustenance; the spiritual health of a pluralistic, inclusive, democratic Israeli society.