In 1936, the Nobel Prize laureate Albert Einstein wrote that "the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility….The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle."
Einstein was responding to the younger generation of physicists who claimed that randomness ruled the universe, that the so-called laws of nature were little more than myths. But the debate went far deeper than a dispute over the chaotic movement of particles. It was an argument over the existence of God.
The fact that light moves at a constant speed of nearly 300,000 meters per second was not accidental, Einstein reasoned. "God," said, "does not play dice with the universe." By the same logic, a God who fixes the speed of light also intervenes to create this planet, to encase it in oxygen, and to infuse it with life. It follows that a God who fixes physical laws can also intercede in the course of history.
To believe in that God is to believe that human life and human history has a purpose—that we are going somewhere, often muddling, but marching nevertheless.
Perhaps the best proof of that belief is the fact that an obscure tribe of nomads living 3,000 years ago suddenly devised the notion of a single God and of universal morality. And if that achievement weren’t astonishing enough, that same people then conveyed these concepts to other peoples, other faiths, that today account for more than half of humanity.
More miraculous still, united by their faith, that people survived successive expulsions and massacres. The members of that people remained loyal to the land given to them, they believed, by the one God, and longed to return to that land even when exiled.
The logical hypothesis is this: just as there is a reason why light travels at a constant speed throughout the universe, so, too, is there a reason why a tiny remnant of this ancient people, rising from the greatest mass murder in history, returned to their land and reclaimed it; why they created a vibrant democracy there and the first Jewish defense force in two thousand years; why they revived and enriched the language in which God had first spoken to them.
Einstein understood this. Though thoroughly assimilated, once challenged by those younger chaos-theorists, Einstein sided with God. He sided with the Jews. "My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human tie," he wrote. And Einstein became a Zionist. He looked at the kibbutzim and the moshavim and the new Jewish city of Tel Aviv and was convinced, once again, that God was intervening in Jewish history and endowing it with meaning. "What makes me happiest," he wrote, "is the realization of a Jewish state."
Of course, the way in which God intervenes in Jewish history raises many questions. I cannot forget the warehouse I saw at the Theresin concentration camp. During the Holocaust, it had been used as a synagogue by Danish Jews. I cannot forget the Hebrew inscription, still discernable on the wall: Lo shachachnu otcha, al tishkah otanu. "We have not forgotten You. Do not forget us."
Living in Israel, I have lost a sister-in-law in a suicide bombing and my eldest son was wounded in battle. My family and I have lived through multiple wars. Often such traumas challenge our faith.
Yet, still, we cannot overlook the six decades in which the State of Israel has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles—wars, embargos, terror attacks—to the point where, today, Israel is an incalculably better geopolitical and economic situation than at any other time in its history.
Think back to 1948, at the time of Israel’s creation when a mere 600,000 Jews, impoverished, isolated, and nearly defenseless, faced massive Arab armies. Recall how we preserved, repulsed the invaders and absorbed many times our original number in refugees, established a modern economy, world-class universities.
Think back to 1967, when Israel was once again alone, without allies, facing not only a hostile Arab world but also a hostile Soviet Bloc, China, and even India. And think about Israel today, at peace with two of its Arab neighbors, with excellent relations with Eastern European countries, and rapidly expanding ties with China and India. Think of Israel today enjoying a deep and multi-faceted alliance with the United States.
Think of Israel today engaged with the Palestinians in the search for a two-state solution that would have been unimaginable in the past.
Still, Israel today faces monumental challenges to its security, its legitimacy, and possibly its existence.
The first challenge is posed by the peace process. Peace is, of course, the goal we all yearn for, the possibility of better and safer lives for our children and grandchildren. But peace also entails immense risks for Israel. The Israeli government, together with U.S. administration, is committed to moving swiftly, without preconditions, to create an independent Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel on the basis of permanent and legitimate peace—and that will serve as the nucleus for regional accords with all of Israel's Arab neighbors.
We have worked to improve the quality of life in the West Bank, removing dozens of roadblocks, facilitating the deployment of American-trained Palestinian security forces, and encouraging the foreign investment that has generated a 10% growthrate and tens of thousands of new jobs. We are determined to make peace and ready to pay a painful price.
But what, we must wonder, will happen if the future Palestinian state will not be peaceful but rather devolve into another Hamastan like Gaza, a state that will fire Iranian-supplied missiles onto Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and shoot down airliners landing at Ben-Gurion airport? What, moreover, would happen if Israel recognizes that state as the national home of the Palestinian people but the Palestinian state refuses to reciprocate and recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people? If so, there will be no end of claims, no end of conflict, and the two-state solution will merely become a two-stage solution leading to Israel's inexorable erosion.
In addition to the challenges of peace, we face a monstrous challenge in the form of the Goldstone report, the farcical UN investigation into last year's Israeli military action in Gaza—an operation that followed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in the hope of generating peace. Instead, we received rockets—more than 7,000 rockets of them fired by Hamas at Israeli towns and villages.
Finally, after Hamas rejected a ceasefire, Israel had no choice but to defend its citizens and did so while making superhuman efforts to avoid inflicting civilian casualties. The result was the Goldstone report, launched to establish Israel’s guilt in advance and which, based on Hamas testimony, found Israel guilty of premeditated war crimes. Goldstone has become the catchword for all international efforts to deny Israel the right to defend itself and—more nefariously—to refute its right to resist. Already, because of Goldstone, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition Leaders Tzipi Livni have had to cancel visits to Britain for fear of arrest as war criminals. While Hizbollah in Lebanon has deployed its 60,000 missiles –all aimed at Israel—under schools and neighbors, safe in the immunity supplied to them by Goldstone.
Finally and most dauntingly we face the challenge of an Islamic extremist Iran, a jihadist, terror-sponsoring, Holocaust denying regime that shoots at its own people who are demonstrating peacefully for freedom—a regime that is assiduously developing military nuclear capabilities. This is a regime which, if it achieves those capabilities, will act to fulfill its leaders' repeated pledges to wipe Israel off the map.
This is a regime that can pass those capabilities on to its terrorist proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. And a nuclear Iran will trigger a strategic arms race in the Middle East, transforming the entire region into an uninhabitable nuclear neighborhood. A nuclear Iran will threaten not only Israel but states throughout the Middle East and, through its advanced missile program, European countries as well and—in the not so distant future—cities in the United States.
The great question remains: in facing these harrowing threats, will Israel stand alone? Can the Jewish people, though sometimes divided over the theological and political issues, unite on these three critical issues? Can we respond to some of our own Jewish youth who, like the young physicists of Einstein’s day, claim that the universe is chaotic and that Jewish return to history is meaningless?
My answer to all of these questions is an emphatic and unequivocal ‘yes.’
On the challenges of peace, though we may differ on the extent to which Israel should give up parts of its ancestral homeland in return for peace, we can unite in guaranteeing Israel’s security if and when it does make such sacrifices. We can press our leaders to demilitarize the Palestinian state, safeguard Israeli cities from rocket fire and preventing the arms smuggling that have turned Lebanon and the Gaza strip into arsenals of destruction. We can rally to assure that the state that Israel, when it recognizes the Palestinian nation state, will, in return, be recognized as the nation state of the Jewish people, and so more than a hundred years of conflict.
Jews throughout the world can stand together to uphold Israel’s right to defend itself. We can expose the vicious myth that Israeli policymakers somehow plotted in advance to massacre innocents. We can familiarize ourselves with other reports detailing the investigations—several carried out in cooperation with Israel human rights groups—into Israel’s defensive actions. We can cite the unprecedented efforts made by the IDF to avoid inflicting civilian casualties as well as the trials of Israeli soldiers accused of sidestepping those efforts. We can remind our neighbors that the enemy that wears no uniforms and hides behind its own civilians faces not only Israel but the United States and all likeminded countries. We can war that while Israeli political and military leaders are today threatened with arrest in certain countries, tomorrow that same fate may await American officers and even their Commander in Chief.
We can unite in asserting the unassailable right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its own sovereign state, a right realized by nearly two hundred other nations worldwide.
Finally, on Iran, we can unite in raising awareness of the threats posed by the Islamic regime not only against the Jewish state but to the Middle East and the world, including the United States, whose ports and airlines remain all-too-vulnerable to terrorists possibly armed with unconvetional weapons. We can unite striving to deny military nuclear capabilities to a regime that denies the most basic rights to its own citizens, brutally suppressing women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities. In our synagogues, schools, and community centers, alongside the banners demanding an end to the genocide in Darfur and efforts to combat AIDs, let us hang banners declaring "Support International Sanctions" and "Stop the Iranian Bomb."
Israel is a strong country, blessed with a resilient people and a robust army. Yet, beyond our own considerable resources—beyond, even, our historic alliance with the United States—we must rely on our unity as a people. What sustains us is our faith.
It's a fact. Light travels at the speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. It’s a fact that the Jewish people have remained a people for more than three millennia, enriching the world and inspiring humanity while remaining devoted to a land which is once again home to a brave and vibrant nation. It's a fact that whenever Jews have remained united in their faith not only in God but in themselves, as a people, they have overcome every challenge and flourished. And, finally, it’s a fact that Jewish unity will enable Israel to meet the challenges to its security and legitimacy, and to join with Diaspora Jewry in building a future of spiritual richness, creativity, and peace.
Einstein understood that and so can we—with all the alacrity, and the clarity, of light.