One of the most beautiful and meaningful aspects of Torah study is that it lends itself to varying and even contradictory interpretations, reflecting the complexities of life itself. The richness of the Torah is such that it has multiple messages for each and every generation. This is not only true in regard to biblical interpretation, where great license for creative commentary has always been the norm; it is also true of halachic practice. Of course, to a traditional Jew, halacha in all of its facets is binding throughout history, and the popularity of any given mitzvah at any given time has no bearing on its required observance. Nevertheless, the Meshech Chochmah of Dvinsk (1843-1926) explains that, due to historical circumstances, certain mitzvoth take on greater (or lesser) significance. The context of his comments revolve around the Midrash that says that it was in the merit of keeping our names, clothing, and language that we were redeemed from Egypt . These "mitzvoth" were crucial to the maintenance of our identity as Jews in Egypt ; but after Sinai, they became so secondary that they were not included in the 613 mitzvoth of the Torah.
In leading a Torah life, we must be cognizant of the needs of the time, and set our priorities accordingly. For example, the mitzvah of kiruv rechokim- teaching and inspiring less observant Jews to take Judaism more seriously-has undoubtedly taken on greater importance today, when non-observant Jews make up the vast majority of our people. This same concept, I would posit, applies to the Talmudic injunction ( Shabbat 75a) to study science, a fulfillment of the verse to "safeguard and keep these laws, since they are your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nation" ( Devarim 4:6). We live in a scientific age; such a mandate must take on even greater importance. (I would even argue that the two are related; that our ability to harmonize science and Judaism will help encourage Jews to take Judaism more seriously.)
Rav Herschel Schachter ( Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society , volume VIII; "The Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael ") points out that the historical call and the mitzvah of our time is that of settling the land of Israel . After 1900, years we have the opportunity to implement many of the Torah's laws that had been lying dormant. We have the chance to create a model state that is a sanctification of G-d's name. After a long and bitter exile, we have come home, and that itself is a Kiddush Hashem . There may be some "rust" to polish away as we apply the "nationalistic" mitzvoth of the Torah to everyday life. Jewish law deals extensively with the inner workings of running an economy, an army, a government, and taxation policies; but until recently, these were in the realm of theoretical discussion only. Most challenging, it appears to me, is the application of V'Ahavta L'Reacha Kamocha- loving our fellow Jews from so many different backgrounds, with such differing orientations. The last time we had a state, we lost it due to our inability to properly observe this mitzvah. As history has taught time and time again, internal decay is much more dangerous than any external threat.
While those external threats are many, our ability to meet them will be determined by our internal cohesiveness. Israel is a state that does not always appreciate, or even care about, Torah values; it is our challenge and mission to explain why they are crucial to our modern state. And, truth be told, we have not been doing the best of jobs. Despite Israel 's secular orientation, the support for Torah, kashrut , Shabbat, Jewish education, and the like is noteworthy (compare grants from the State of Israel to yeshivot to those given by the Ontario government). We must be appreciative of this; we must not take this support for granted. A cursory glance at Tanach will clearly show how much more wonderful modern-day Israeli governments have been, in comparison to those of the biblical period.
The flourishing of Torah in our days, especially the growth of the ba'al teshuva movement, is a direct result of the creation of the state and the miracle of the Six Day War. Although the collective efforts of the Jewish people have not been totally successful, their accomplishments are breathtaking on both the physical and spiritual levels. There is much to be thankful for. The fifteen Dayeinus that we recite on Pesach teach us that we are to be thankful for the little things. We must be grateful to arrive at Sinai, even if we are uncertain that we will be able to receive the Torah. On the other hand, we must remember that the state is only a means to an end; Israel opens the possibility of creating "a nation of priests, and a holy nation" ( Shemot 19:6).
It is up to us to determine whether the creation of the state will lead to the ultimate redemption. Let us hope and pray that our generation, which includes so many who endured so much pain and suffering for being Jewish, will merit the joy and gladness of a redeemed world living in peace under the dominion of G-d.