The holy soul of Zionism

Galut and Geula (Exile and Redemption) part 5. Click on the writer's biography for the previous articles.

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Tzvi Fishman,

Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman
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As the holiday of Pesach approaches, our last few essays have dealt with the vast difference between Jewish life in the exile and Jewish life in the Land of Israel, as the Jewish People rise from the “dry bones” of Galut to mega-powered nationhood in the Promised Land. The ideas  we have presented are indeed very deep, requiring a penetrating understanding of Torah, which the great Sages of Israel have illuminated for us throughout history, reminding us that the Torah is far broader than the “four cubits of halacha” which exist in the exile. True Judaism, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, is a national Torah. At the time of Redemption, our learning demands deeper insights, and the realization that Judaism is far more than performing individual commandments like kashrut, tefillin, and Shabbat in alien, gentile lands.  

In the light of the matters which we have explained, let’s return and examine the history of Zionism beginning with the period of the “Enlightenment.” Once again, we will quote freely from Rabbi Moshe Bleicher’s book, “Binyan Emunah.”

Approximately one hundred years before the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, a great upheaval shook the world, which brought about a widespread heresy, which also crept into the ranks of the Jewish People. This new “Enlightenment” championed “modernity” and raised up a flag of intellectual freedom and liberation from the oppressive yoke of religion, which gave way to an extreme animosity toward religion and the ridiculing of everything sacred to it.

On the surface, this was a terrible crisis, a difficult and negative development in the life of the Jewish People. We would have expected that the spread of heresy would have brought forth a generation lacking idealism and morals, but that wasn’t always the case. To a large decree, the opposite occurred. A spirit of innovation and new ideals was born, including grandiose social concepts, and dreams for a utopian society for which adherents were willing to sacrifice their lives.

A vibrant thirst for freedom circled the globe, along with noble, universal aspirations, and political and social movements which all promised to be a panacea for the pains and ills of mankind. The frameworks of the past were scorned for being too antiquated, myopic, and Victorian to meet the demands of this new Age of Enlightenment.

Rabbi Kook explained that all of the movements which were shaking the world and the Jewish People within it, were a manifestation of birth and global growth. The external crisis which arose in face of this new spirit was the sign of a deep, inner, developmental process, grand in scope and value, which the world had to undergo, in order to reach an even greater inner awareness that a Universal Ideal existed at the foundation of the existence, which would gradually come to expression through the appearance of a new level of life in the Nation which represented the heart of the world – Am Yisrael.  The crisis carried within it a yet hidden thirst for a living encounter with Divine Life in This World. And the rebirth of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael was to be the vehicle to bring about this ultimate world revolution.   

Paralleling the Enlightenment, Jews began to experience a profound transformation which revealed itself in a new national awakening to return to the Land of Israel.

The first settlers who made aliyah in order to settle and rebuild the Land were the students of the Torah giant, the Gaon of Vilna, who taught that the time had arrived to abandon the exile and to begin resettling the Promised Land. His inspiring words are recorded in the Introduction to the book, “Paat HaShulchan,” written by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Sklov, a close student of the Gra (another name for the Gaon of Vilna). Subsequently, Rabbi Kalisher and Rabbi Eliahu Guttmacher, students of the Torah giant, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, made aliyah with their students. Only afterwards did the secular Zionist movement begin.

Because of the prolific writers involved in the secular Zionist enterprise, along with the media attention they received, it was taken for granted that the Zionist idea began with the secular Jews who had abandoned the Torah. This misconception was furthered due to the cause’s wealthy philanthropists, and to the Zionist organization that was founded to promote this new agenda, but, in reality, the foundation of the national awakening, and of the yearning to return to Eretz Yisrael, began from a holy source, from the exalted holy aspirations of Gedolei Yisrael, the Torah giants who said that the time had come to rebuild the Jewish Nation in its Land.

The Gaon of Vilna, his students, and other prominent Torah scholars, verbalized the inner, recondite yearnings in the depths of the soul of the Nation, which found its most visible outward expression in the growing masses of secular Jews who immigrated to Eretz Yisrael without being aware of the deeper spiritual factors which were motivating their aliyah, inwardly compelling them to give up their previously self-centered  lifestyle for the far more idealistic identification with the Clal in rebuilding the Nation of Israel in its Land.

In practical terms, to the surface view of things, Benjamin Zeev Herzl was the catalyst behind the Zionist idea, its organization and expansion. While many of his dreams and aspirations were never realized, his dedicated efforts within the Jewish community, and in meetings with world leaders, caused the Zionist movement to spread and attract more and more followers.

Among the leaders of Torah, there were those who didn’t see value in the Zionist agenda which Herzl propounded wherever he went, since his general beliefs and lifestyle were anathema to the Torah. In their eyes, there was no connection between the establishment of a secular Jewish State and the spiritual concept they held of Geula. In contrast to this viewpoint, there were great Rabbis who saw G-d’s hand in the Zionist awakening, whose roots, they maintained, were seeped in holiness, grounded in the Torah’s promises of Redemption, and further substantiated by the Prophets of Israel.

One of these outstanding Torah scholars was Rabbi Yehoshua from Kutna, who wrote in his halakhic Responsa, “Yeshuot Malko”:  

“There is no doubt that the aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is a great mitzvah, for the ingathering is the beginning of the Redemption (Atchalta D’Geula), and especially now that we see the great yearning, both among those who are distant from Torah, those in between, and amongst the devout of heart, all of this is almost a certain sign that the spirit of Redemption is shining in this matter.”

The fact that a great spirit arose in the hearts of the Tzaddikim to return to Zion, and in those who harbor a natural empathy for our history and traditions, is something we can understand. After all, the importance of Eretz Yisrael is repeatedly emphasized by the Torah. Furthermore, our return to the Land is promised in the Torah and throughout the writings of our Prophets. Anyone who learns Torah and wants to practice its precepts is likely to have the thought of aliyah somewhere in his mind, if not for the immediate present, then certainly for the future.

However, when we find this spirit of national revival sparkling in the hearts of those who are far from the Torah, in Herzl, and in scores of other champions of Enlightenment – this phenomenon cries out, “Explain what is going on!” What is driving them? What is the source of love affair with Zion? It is this widespread awakening which moves a Torah giant like Rabbi Yehoshua from Kutna to declare that almost certainly the spirit of Geula has awakened.

What is the meaning of his words? What is so significant about the fact that a passionate spirit to return to Eretz Yisrael has arisen in Jews who are far from Torah? How is a secular national spirit connected to the Redemption for which we’ve been waiting?

We have explained that the difference between Galut and Geula is extremely profound, and basically antithetic. When the Jewish People are in Galut, the Nation’s Clalli spirit disappears. When the unifying Soul of the Nation, which combines and attaches all of the details, all of the generations throughout our history, all of the different ethnic groupings, all of the religious and non-religious alike, to one Divine Source and Truth – when this all-encompassing Divine Israelite Soul abandons us in our descent into exile, we are literally left like a corpse, a body without it soul. 

It is not a small, peripheral matter when our Clalli life-force leaves us. In effect, the entire essence of our life is missing. We must remember that Hashem created Am Yisrael as a NATION. He gave the Torah to us as a NATION, not to scattered individuals, or even individual tribes, but to our NATIONAL format. In the exile, this national format is shattered, and we remain scattered, individual bones without our NATIONAL SOUL to bring us to life.  

Rabbi Bleicher uses an example to explain. Obviously, there is a difference between a monkey who doesn’t speak, and a man who doesn’t speak. When an ape doesn’t talk, we don’t think twice about it – that’s something natural. But if a man doesn’t speak, he loses the main aspect of the Divine Image in which he was created. He is missing an essential ingredient of his life. So too - and much more so - when the Jewish Nation loses it living soul as a Nation, we are like dead bodies in the graveyard of the gentile nations of the world. Individual Jews can thrive in their private lives in a wide assortment of spheres, but the all-important national aspect of the Jewish People, through which Hashem is sanctified in the world, doesn’t exist.

Therefore, Rabbi Bleicher explains, citing the teachings of Rabbi Kook, if we see that a national spirit, filled with courage, joy, and mesirut nefesh, with a willingness to fight and die for the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel in its Land, begins to blaze through the exiled Children of Israel, shining forth in tens of thousands of Jews, accompanied by a new national psyche, and a willingness to give up one’s life for the general wellbeing of the Clal, we know that this could not grow out of external and secular goals, but that the phenomenon is rooted in holiness, stemming from the national, Clalli Soul of the Jewish People which is now awakening and coming to life.






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