A well-known rabbinic view says that when a verse begins vay’hi – “and it was”, it is a bad sign, but when it begins v’hayah – “and it will be”, it is a good sign.
Rabbi Eliyahu of Greiditz, one of the early Chovevei Tziyyon, used to say, “V’hayah means joy; when a Jew comes to Israel it is a moment of joy before the Holy One, blessed be He.”
This thought animated his life to such an extent that whenever he spoke of Eretz Yisrael he asked his attendant to light candles, in order to fulfil the words of the Megillah, “The Jews had light, joy, gladness and honour” (Esther 8:16).
Modern Jews, for whom access to Israel is so much simpler than in the days of the Chovevei Tziyyon, seem to have lost that feeling of spiritual and emotional ecstasy. For us, Israel is realpolitik. Collapsing coalitions, debates about the peace process, social divides, economic unwisdom – these are the daily reality, and hardly anyone would light a candle to celebrate them. But grim realities and partisan politicking are not the sum total of Israel.
Enter an Israeli yeshivah or university and discover the truth of the proverb, “The air of Israel makes you wise”. Walk the streets, see the kaleidoscope of human types, and thank God for answering our prayer, “Gather our exiles from the four corners of the world”.
Spend Shabbat in the Holy City and celebrate the fulfilment of the words, “Bring back Your Divine Presence to Zion”. Become acquainted with the deeds of love and compassion that bind Israelis, and echo the question, “Who is like Your people Israel, a unique people upon the earth?”
Discover the range of Israeli exports of products, ideas and techniques and find that Israel is truly “a light unto the nations”.
See all that Israel has done for the Jewish people everywhere and rejoice that “there is hope for our latter end”.
Rabbi Eliyahu’s attendant would be lighting candles constantly!