Judaism: Realism in Mitzvot
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Israel’s Vision – Revealing Holiness in the Land
The grand vision of the Jewish people is tikun olam (perfecting the world) by revealing the sacred value of all creation – from the realms of the spiritual to the practical, in all thoughts that preoccupy man’s mind, in all his emotions, and in all fields of interest. Absolute faith – namely, that Hashem is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath, there is no other – is revealed specifically in this manner.
This, in contrast to the view commonly accepted by all nations and religions, that divinity is relegated solely to the heavens, whereas earthly matters are detached from it. According to their view, a person who wishes to purify himself spiritually must therefore abandon worldly matters in order to embrace the Kingdom of Heaven. Israel’s task is to reveal that through the guidance of the Torah, holiness is also revealed in all earthly matters.
One of the chapters that best expresses the special role of the Jewish people as compared to other nations and religions is Chapter 96 of the Book of Psalms:
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name, announce His salvation from day to day”.
The meaning of this ‘new song’ is a song that is revealed in all constricted circumstances – in the entire world, and at all times. This is exactly how it breaches all boundaries; no longer are we talking about ohr ayn sofee (the “Infinite Light”), in which a person must attempt to separate himself from the world in order to embrace it – and this unsuccessfully, because, in spite of everything, man is limited and the ohr is infinite. Consequently, they are forced to define, in a partial and idolatrous manner, the ohr they are attempting to get close to. Israel’s message is that God’s infinite light is revealed in all the various aspects of the world – it shines in countless shades, in all places, and at all times.
This is Israel’s great message to the world, and therefore:
“Tell of His glory among the nations, among all peoples His wonders. For the Lord is great and very much praised; He is feared over all divine powers. For all the gods of the peoples are naught, but the Lord made the heavens.”
All faiths that view divine matters as being restricted to the heavens, in keeping with a distinct and limited spiritual value – their heaven is contrived, because the truth is that God commanded the Torah from the heavens, for the practical world on earth.
For that reason, God’s honor is revealed in his Temple, and all people are able to get close to Him in the splendor of holiness, in love, and in awe.
“Beauty and splendor are before Him, strength and joy are in His presence. Give to God families of peoples – give to God glory and might. Give to God the glory due His Name, bring an offering and come before Him, prostrate yourselves before God in the splendor of holiness. Tremble before Him all peoples of the earth.”
As a result, all the nations will recognize God’s kingdom, and will accept His right and just laws and judgments. Faith and justice will be revealed in the land, and great joy will spread throughout the world.“Say among the nations, "The Lord has reigned." Also the inhabited world will be established so that it will not falter; He will judge peoples with equity. The heavens will rejoice and the earth will exult; the sea and the fullness thereof will roar. The field and all that is therein will jubilate; then all the forest trees will sing praises. Before the Lord, for He has come, for He has come to judge the earth; He will judge the inhabited world justly and the peoples with His faith.”
Miracles and NaturePeople with limited faith, an approach which entails a certain degree of idolatry, believe that faith is mainly built on miracles – the more miracles that occur, the stronger one’s faith will be. Nature, therefore, is problematic for them, because it interferes with their beliefs. Consequently, they try to describe everything as if it happened miraculously.
“I was waiting for a ‘tremp’ (a lift), and was about to give up. No cars went by, and if they did, they didn’t stop. I had no idea how I was going to get to my destination. All of a sudden, miraculously, someone pulled up, and miracle-of-miracles, he had space for me, and by the grace of God, I made it on time.”
Or, “I got to the supermarket and all the cucumbers were almost gone, but miraculously, there were a few left – exactly the amount I needed, and even more… and with the grace of God, I bought them! Baruch Hashem, whose grace has not forsaken me, and has performed for me this great miracle of cucumbers!”
This is limited faith. In their small-mindedness, they believe that God is only revealed in matters beyond nature, and therefore they attempt to invalidate the natural order of nature. In truth, however, their statements represent grave heresy – as if nature is remote from Hashem, God forbid (see, Shabbat 53b, that it is easier to perform a revealed miracle than to change the order of nature).
Miracles, Science, and Medicine
Science poses a big problem for people with limited faith, because in their opinion, it expresses the grandeur of nature’s wisdom at the expense of miracles. Thus, every so often we hear people say: “All the doctors said he had no chance of living, so we went to a certain kabbalist, and miraculously, he was healed. All the doctors were astonished, and on the spot, agreed to become religious and wear a streimel…”
Perhaps I over exaggerated a bit – the doctors did not agree to wear a streimel, and unfortunately, they also did not agree to become religious. And perhaps they really weren’t so astonished, because, from the onset, they never said he had no chance of living – the fact is – they tried to find a cure for his illness. All in all, out of politeness, they agreed with the person who said a miracle had occurred, and maybe even agreed there was a certain amount of truth to it – because after all, without God’s assistance, no medicine will help.
In addition to the fact that people who seek out miracles frequently over- exaggerate the details of what actually happened, this has no benefit, but only shortcomings. For in fact, it was God who created the heavens and the earth; he is the one who gave man the wisdom to develop science and the medical profession – indeed, this is included in God’s command to Adam concerning the Garden of Eden “to work it and preserve it” – to extract the hidden forces in nature.It is true that because of nature’s logic, there are some people today who are satisfied with limited explanations, without thinking about the Creator and faith, and conversely, others attempt to emphasize miracles. Absolute faith, however, views the whole of nature as God’s creation, and is not content with that, but aims to reveal the sacred value of everything found in nature with the guidance of the Torah.
The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of IsraelThus, it is possible to understand the importance and centrality of the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel, since this mitzvah compels us to reveal all the ideals in the Torah in the physical world – with all its earthly, realistic considerations.
According to the limited view of faith, the mitzvah should be revealed without taking into account any realistic considerations – for if we are commanded to conquer the Land, indeed, we must do so without taking into account our military capabilities or the armed forces facing us. Because such an approach is illogical and impractical, as a result, those who advocate it claim the mitzvah can only be fulfilled with the coming of the Mashiach, and only then, by means of a revealed miracle beyond all realistic considerations, we will conquer the Land.The Torah, however, teaches us that in the Land of Israel we do not require miracles, because holiness is revealed in the Land. In contrast to the signs and miracles which were revealed in Egypt, in the land of Ham, and afterwards in the revealed miracles in the desert – upon entering the Land of Israel, the miracles ceased; the manna and quail no longer fell, the people’s shoes and clothes began to wear out as is normal, and the pillars of fire and cloud and the well no longer accompanied the camp of Israel. All the miracles that did occur in the Land of Israel were intended solely to indicate certain ideas, but they are not the type of miracles one cannot live without.
Similarly, we see in the Book of Numbers that God commanded Israel to prepare for the conquest of the Land, and therefore commanded Moshe to count all those fit for service –men aged twenty years and older.How He Sanctified God’s Great Name
We have also found in the Midrash: “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things…David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed’. God answered him, and helped him kill his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary’. God said to him ‘I will do it’, and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary’. God said to him ‘I will do it’, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary’. God said to him ‘I will do it’ (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30).
People with limited faith might think that Chizkiyahu was the greatest among them, but the truth is the exact opposite. The Midrash expresses Israel’s terrible deterioration, from the days of King David until close to the destruction of the Holy Temple.An Example from Our Forefather Avraham
We also find that that after our forefather Avraham made aliyah to Israel according to God’s command, there was a great famine in the Land, and he was forced to leave and go down to Egypt. From this we learn an important lesson: this is exactly the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the land – an earthly, physical mitzvah. If this was a miraculous mitzvah, even in a time of famine, one should seemingly rely on a miracle and remain in the land. But since it is an earthly mitzvah, indeed, when it is extremely difficult to live in Israel, one is permitted to leave. The mitzvah is to make an effort to settle the land in a way one can live here reasonably.The Magnitude of a Mitzvah Fulfilled out of Realistic Consideration
Seemingly, if the realistic consideration is the deciding factor, is it no longer a mitzvah? This, however, is exactly the mitzvah – to remember the command, and make every realistic effort to accomplish it. When, against our will, we are unable to fulfill the mitzvah, it is deferred until a time when it can be fulfilled; and then, we must immediately return and make every effort to conquer and settle the Land.This is a mitzvah that must be revealed specifically in the land, with practical and realistic tools! Unlike the hareidim, who are remiss in the need to fulfill this mitzvah in Israel; nor like the leftists, who ignore the importance of this great mitzvah.
The Divine revelation in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is deeper than regular mitzvoth, whose effects are more pronounced in the Heavens. But through our efforts to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, physical reality is gradually transformed.
True, it remains physical, but the big chiddush (innovation) is that by Israel engaging in Torah and observing the mitzvoth in the physical world, material reality is increasingly blessed. Pathways are opened, and Divinity is revealed in the world. At that time, all of creation will sing praise; all of creation will be a tool revealing the word of God. Let the Lord rejoice in his works.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.