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‘Thou Shalt Innovate!’

09/05/19 16:12:09


In the year 1 God said: Let there be light and there was light. In the year 3000 and something He said: “You shall surely keep my Sabbath and honour your parents”. In the year 1948 the Lord said: “You shall certainly create a state”. In the year circa 2008 He said loudly and clearly: “Thou shalt innovate!”


As we celebrate Israel’s 71st today, we are mindful of the mass of missiles and mendacity aimed at it, but we are also in awe at its resilience and resoluteness. In the face of vituperative hatred and unrelenting animosity, Israel is a prosperous, happy and buzzing place. Yesterday on Yom Hazikaron we needed little reminder of the unending losses: we stood in solidarity with those families in Israel sitting Shiva right now as a result of the recent bombardments.


But today we rejoice! Today we relish your uber-cool Tel Aviv Yuppies, the sunlight on your beaches, the mystical lights of Sefad, the deep souls of your holy city. Today we’re immersing ourselves in your hip-hop Med, your cool Kinneret, your drop Dead gorgeous sea… And today I want to highlight your moral courage and innovative power:


Start-up Nation alerted the world to Israel’s remarkable technological genius and the astonishing number of contributions and inventions from Waze to water irrigation systems. In his recently published book ,“Thou Shalt Innovate”, Avi Jorisch suggests that innovation is more than a problem-solving form of technology but is the sacred calling of Israel. It’s not just about smart tech or nimble thinking, but a moral mission, a way of bettering the world; it’s how Israeli scientists, engineers, thinkers and doctors are improving all our living standards but especially the lives of those in the developing world. It’s how Israel is using its steroid – driven talent to create a better world:


  • Ekoskeletons to allow paraplegics to walk.
  • Grain Cocoons magical bags that are helping fight against world hunger by storing grains and killing bugs without harmful pesticides.
  • Emergency bandages that instantly control massive bleeding and prevent infections in trauma situations.


Where does all this inventive energy and unconventional thinking spring from? Jorisch started off thinking that it stems from a number of factors including a culture that encourages challenging authority, an innate chutzpah, obligatory military service, a dearth of natural resources and an emphasis on education. What he found after interviewing more than a dozen of Israel’s leading innovators is that there was another critical factor – Judaism’s spiritual DNA.


Eli Beer, founder of the Hatzalah emergency medical response team calls it the Jewish thirst to be a mentsch and do good. Shlomo Navaroo, the brains behind the Grain Cocoon, believes “it is inherent in our blood to do something for the benefit of others”. They are fulfilling Ben Gurion’s vision: “Israel has been granted a great historic privilege, which is also a duty… to solve the greatest problems of the 20th century.


And in the 21st century it is doing precisely this, enacting Rabbi Akiva’s directive and meeting his challenge (from this week’s Parasha): “Love your neighbour as yourself!” (Lev 19:18). It’s always been the Jewish way to help repair the world. “Tikkun Olam” is often a superficial slogan associated with those on the left disdainful of Judaism’s religious heritage, but in truth Tikkun Olam is a religious term and a religious imperative. For centuries we have recited the Aleinu prayer three times a day, a tefillah that instructs us to mend the world under God’s authority; “letaken olam” to correct, heal and repair the world. We are partners with God, we share a responsibility to spread morality and enhance justice. This is not the monopoly of Judaism’s secular humanists but should be the mantra of its religious zealots.


The Mishna itself mentions ten references to tikkun olam as a way of protecting the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Being “a light unto the nations” isn’t just a sound byte, it’s the vision of one of our greatest prophets, Isaiah. Quoting Rabbi David Rosen, Zorisch writes: “There is no question that tikkun olam is at the very heart and soul of Zionist ideology”. It’s also the iconic symbol of modern Israel – a menorah spreading out its innovative light and warm healing rays to the wider world. So let’s embrace the spirit of ‘Thou shalt innovate’ and get out there and do our bit to help our wounded planet this Yom Haatzmaut.


Israel, you challenge my senses, shape my soul, awaken my conscience and secure my spirit. You’re like that Mishna’s 80-year-old, radiant in your wisdom and heroism, you’re like a 17-year-old Joseph full of dreams and visions, hopes and aspirations. I love you for your paradoxes and your foibles, your fancy and your failings. I love you because you’re ours. Happy Birthday and Chag Sameach!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Ralph


Thu, 21 January 2021 8 Shevat 5781