David Ben-Gurion closed his eyes 31 years ago, at a difficult time for the Israeli people. At the start of that winter, in ’73, the majority of the soldiers and the reserve units were still deployed at the frontlines in the Golan and beyond the Canal. I myself came from Egypt to attend Ben-Gurion’s funeral. Ben-Gurion, who for all his life had been concerned for the fate of the Jewish State, could have rested calmly – the IDF fighters had bravely, and through their sacrifice, saved the State of Israel. The Israel Defense Forces, which was designed in his spirit and inspiration, had won the war. This victory led to the Peace Accord with the largest of the Arab nations.
Today as well, the State of Israel is at an important crossroads for shaping its character and future. From David Ben-Gurion we learned that the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state and the strengthening of its security obligate a sober examination of reality. He had every faith in the virtue of the Jewish people, in its uniqueness and destiny, but at the same time, he was aware of its shortcomings. He knew that this talented and intelligent people sometimes tended towards factionalism, sectarianism and in-fighting, and there were, in its history, unrealistic visions which were obstacles. There was no other leader like Ben-Gurion who emphasized the importance of national authority, the authority of law and the authority of the rule of the State’s official institutions.
Ben-Gurion well understood the artistry of proper balance, the wisdom of our Sages of Blessed Memory – “grasp all lose all” – the wisdom found in exerting power but knowing its limitations. He knew that it is necessary to dare and to walk without fear on the narrow bridge leading to the achievement our national goals, but it must be walked on with wisdom and eyes wide open so as not to stumble into the abyss.
The Jewish leader, Nachum Goldman, once likened Ben-Gurion to a horse pulling a heavy cart up a mountain – on the right a chasm, on the left a chasm, and any unwary step would cause the cart to fall. What to do? You cover the horse’s eyes so that he will not see the chasms and will be able to climb. Former President Yitzhak Navon, who at the time was Ben-Gurion’s secretary, told Goldman that he – Goldman – did not know Ben-Gurion. Not only would he not cover his eyes, he himself would approach, look closely at the chasm and measure its depth with his eyes wide open.
Ben-Gurion did not allow himself to be entertained by illusions. He made the boldest decisions in a danger-filled reality, while recognizing that reality is not fixed, and that the changing reality must always be assessed in order to affect and shape the future of Israel in the image of the great vision of the Jewish people.
Even at this time, through confusion and lamentation, we must raise our heads and look proudly at the road we took and the historic horizon. The State of Israel is strong, prosperous, wreathed in accomplishments which are incomparable. Terror, violence and hatred have never stopped the drive of the Zionist enterprise, however their eradication is a pre-condition for reaching a political agreement and peace. Beyond them, there is a promising future for the State of Israel, one which Ben-Gurion envisioned: a nation loyal to its Jewish destiny in accordance with the vision of Israel’s prophets; a nation which will strive to be exemplary, “a light unto the nations”; a nation whose peaceful borders will not be congruent, unfortunately, with the full extent of the dream, but in whose quality and greatness, it will take off and soar high above the dream.
On this day, the State Memorial Day for David and Paula Ben-Gurion, we revere the man who was the architect of the revival of our nation, and whose legacy has been left to us as a guiding light and as a decree for generations.
May the memories of David and Paula Ben-Gurion be blessed.