This week on Shabbat, Jews around the world will read the Torah portion Lech Lecha, which translates to “Go for yourself”. The name is taken from the first sentence of the portion, in which Hashem says to Abram (the Avraham, the Patriarch of Judaism, as well as of Christianity and Islam), “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show to you.”
Our Forefather Abraham was the first person commanded by Hashem to come to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel and, as noted by Israeli journalist and report, Sivan Rahav-Meir, he has since been followed by countless others who made (and continue to make) the same journey to Israel. This is why the Knesset made the 7th of the Hebrew month Cheshvan, which is always close in time to the reading of the portion of Lech Lecha, as Yom HaAliyah (Aliyah Day), an annual day to recognize the significance of Jeiwsh immigration to the Land of Israel as a basis for the existence of the modern State of Israel. The day also honors the ongoing contributions of Olim – Jewish immigrants – to Israeli society. (This has a special meaning for me personally, as the day before the portion is read this year, I am celebrating my personal anniversary of arriving in Israel and becoming a citizen.)
In a piece in honor of Yom HaAliyah last year, Rahav-Meir quoted Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a 20th Century Orthodox Rabbi, Talmudic scholar and Jewish philosopher, who said, “The love for our land depends on its holiness, a holiness that is imbued within us since it is an inheritance for our souls from Avraham Avinu, who practiced self-sacrifice in living up to the command of Lech Lecha.”
It is purely coincidental that earlier this week, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s star striker Eran Zahavi and the Israel Football Federation announced Zahavi’s return to the National Team after being in exile since 2021. It’s well-known that Zahavi has had a fractured relationship with the team’s management, who refused to make an exception for Zahavi to the rule that no player has his own room when the team is traveling together.
Now, as the State of Israel is fighting in another war for her existence, “Iron Swords”, Zahavi has made his own sacrifice for his country that he loves. In an effort to help the team qualify for the UEFA Euro 2024 tournament, Zahavi, Benayoun and Hazan put aside their differences and Zahavi will rejoin the National Team. It is not only a boost for the team, but for the entire country, as Israel’s citizens look for distractions from the war – escapism, as they say in Hebrew – to lift their spirits.
“Our country is in a time that none of us imagined, in pain and with a thirst for unity on the way to victory,” Eran Zahavi posted on social media together with a photo of him with a Tzav 7 (Order 7), a play on the Tzav 8 (Order 8), the emergency call-up summons Israelis receive to return to the Israel Defense Force from day-to-day, replacing the 8 with Zahavi’s number 7. “In moments like these, everyone must contribute in their own little piece of God. This is Order 8 for all of us. My professional principles, which I have adhered to throughout my career, will now be in second place to my heart and for the purpose of bringing joy to the State of Israel and the Israeli National Team on journey to qualifying for Euro 2024.”
“Things were said in times of anger and pain that should not have been said and it would have been better not to have said them, now is the time for Ahavat Chinam (free or baseless love) and joint action, without any preconditions. I was always proud to wear the uniform of the Israeli National Team to hear Hatikvah (The Hope, Israel’s national anthem) and to give my all for her success. I am happy for the willingness of Yossi [Benayoun, Professional Manager] and Alon [Hazan, Head Manager] to start anew and I believe that together with all the National Team’s players and staff we will successfully face the difficult professional challenge imposed on us in the schedule of games. I love you all.”
Although the timing of the Zahavi announcement on the one hand and Lech Lecha and Yom HaAliyah on the other hand, is coincidental, it really could not be more perfect. Zahavi is making his self-sacrifice in living up to the command of Lech Lecha; everyone else in this country is making their own self-sacrifice as well, from serving in the Israel Defense Force to advocating for the release of the hostages who were brutally taken by Hamas three weeks ago to those advocating simply for Israel’s right to exist.
While we are all struggling in our own way at the moment, I am grateful that we have sport to distract us from the atrocities around us. We hope that this war ends soon and we can go back to our lives. While we are in pain, at least we can take temporarily find solace in such distractions. Thank you to Eran Zahavi and the National Team for providing a much-needed distraction for us. Good luck in the qualifiers. El El Israel!