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Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Iyar 12, 5767, 4/30/2007
A reader comments that according to his understanding of Jewish law, a husband is permitted to do whatever he pleases with his wife during marital relations, and asks for clarification. At a time when the nation is focused on the scathing report of the Winograd Commission concerning the arrogant and criminal ineptitude of Israel’s leaders during the War in Lebanon, the matter of marital relations might seem totally insignificant and out of place. However, several elder Kabbalists have pointed to the widespread immodesty and sexual transgression in Israel as the deep inner cause of the war, asserting that the majority of man’s sufferings, whether through pestilence, war, or famine, result from transgressions to the Brit of sexual purity. Therefore, in dealing with the issue of sexual transgression, we are dealing with the real inner causes of the war, as the Torah states:
"When thou goest out to encamp against thy enemies, then keep thee from every evil thing. If there be among you any man that is not clean by reason of an impure emission of semen at night, then he shall go abroad outside of the camp, he shall not come within the camp" (Devarim, 23:10-11).
It is true that the halachic authority, the Rama, writes that a man can do anything he wants with his wife (with her approval) but he adds that the husband must take care not to spill his semen in vain. Furthermore, he emphasizes that while many liberties are permitted, it is preferable to sanctify oneself in what is permitted and not to engage in immodest practices (Aven HaEzer, 25:10). However, the commentary, "Hilchat Michukek," comments on this ruling, by emphatically questioning the validity of any marital behavior that results in the spilling of semen in vain (see loc. cited).
In his book, "Darke Tahara," former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechi Eliahu, Shlita, sums up the matter:
"Even though there are things which are permitted for a husband to do, nothing good will come from them. Regarding this, the Gemara lists physical blemishes that can occur to a newborn when the manner of sexual relations was not conducted in a proper way, even though permitted (Nedarim 20A).
"Thus, even though it is permitted to have relations at whatever time one wants, the Jewish People are holy and don’t have relations during the daytime hours (Niddah 17A). And even though one may kiss whatever part of his wife’s body that he wants, it is forbidden to look at or to kiss his wife’s sexual organ" (Aven HaEzer, 230:4).
For more specific guidelines regarding the holiness of the marital union, readers are encouraged to browse through our website www.jewishsexuality.com for an in-depth exploration of the subject.
Another reader questioned the need for added holiness during marital relations, saying that couples have enough problems just living together without complicating their lives in the bedroom.
In more cases than not, the opposite is true. Kabbalists tell us that it is precisely unholy behavior in the bedroom that causes most marital problems. For example, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi warns that a lack of modesty in marital relations such as immodest positions, or engaging in relations in a lit room or during the day, can cause serious medical, emotional, and spiritual defects in ones offspring. In many places, the Zohar describes the damage that results from immodest, lightheaded behavior in the bedroom, emphasizing that a Jew is commanded to sanctify himself in his marital relations and not to be drawn after his lusts:
"Rabbi Abba said, I see that the masses pay no attention to, and are ignorant of, the honor due to their Master. It is written of Israel, ‘I have set you apart from the nations to be mine’ (Vayikra, 20:24), and it is written, ‘You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I, the L-rd, am holy’ (Ibid, 11:44).
"If they distance themselves from G-d, where is their holiness, since their lusts turn them away from Him? About this, the verse proclaims, "Be not as the horse, nor as the mule which have no understanding" (Tehillim, 32:9). How are men distinguished from the horse and the mule? By sanctifying themselves, and by perfecting themselves, and by distinguishing themselves from all other creatures.
"If men distance themselves from Him and behave like beasts during their marital relations, where is their holiness in their duty to be holy? Where are those holy souls that could have been brought down from Above? Regarding this, King Shlomo cried out and proclaimed, "Also the soul without knowledge is not good" (Mishle, 19:2). What lack of knowledge does this refer to? The knowledge of HaKodesh Baruch Hu (during marital relations). When this occurs, then the soul is not good. This is the soul that is drawn down to their offspring through their marital relations, it is not good, for this soul is drawn down from the Impure Side, and this is not a good soul, for their hearts are not concentrated on G-d.
"A man who incites himself with the evil inclination, and who does not focus his intention and the desire of his heart on G-d, the soul which he draws down comes from the side of the evil inclination, and this soul is not good. This is the meaning of, ‘Also the soul without knowledge is not good.’
"And this is the reason that evil diseases fall upon men, and bear witness against them of their brazenness, and reveal that G-d is repelled by them, and that He will not look on them with favor until they repent and mend their ways and return to their original purity" (Zohar, Vayikra 49b).
We saw that our Sages explain holiness as not only avoiding sexual relations that are clearly forbidden by the Torah, but also in sanctifying oneself in things that are permitted. The need for carefulness in one’s marital relations is underscored in the classic treatise on Jewish morality and holiness, "Mesillat Yesharim," a book esteemed by all of Orthodox Jewry. Regarding the need for separation, the book’s author, the holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Haim Lutzato, states:
"The rationale of Separation is epitomized in the words of our Sages of blessed memory, ‘Sanctify yourself through what is permitted to you’ (Yevamot 20a). "This is the meaning of the word separation – separating and withdrawing from something that is permitted, as if it were forbidden. The intent is to keep oneself from that which is forbidden. The understanding is that a person should withdraw and separate himself from anything which might give rise to something that could bring about evil, even though it does not bring about it at the moment, and even though it is not evil in itself.
"One might ask, What basis is there for multiplying prohibitions? Have our Sages of blessed memory not said, ‘Are the Torah’s prohibitions not enough for you that you come to create new prohibitions for yourself?’ Have our Sages of blessed memory in their great wisdom not seen what was necessary to forbid as a safeguard; and they have not already forbidden it? And does it not follow then that anything they did not prohibit, they felt should be permitted? Then why should we now initiate edicts which they felt no need for? What is more, there is no limit to this. One would have to live in desolation and affliction, deriving no enjoyment whatsoever from the world, whereas our Sages of blessed memory have said that a man will have to give an accounting to the Almighty for everything that his eyes beheld and he did not wish to eat, though permitted and able to do so (Yerushalmi, Kiddushin, 4:12). They quoted Scripture in their support, ‘Anything my eyes asked, I did not keep from them’ (Kohelet, 2:10).
"The answer to all of these arguments is that Separation is certainly necessary and essential. Our Sages of blessed memory exhorted us concerning it, explaining the Torah command ‘Be holy!’ to mean, ‘Separate yourselves!’ (Sifre, Vayikra, 19:2).
"For there is no worldly pleasure upon whose heels some sin does not follow. For example, kosher food and drink are permitted, but over imbibing causes one to put off the yoke of Heaven, and the drinking of wine brings in its wake licentiousness and other evils....
"There is no question as to the permissibility of cohabitation with one’s wife, but still ablutions were instituted for those who had had seminal emissions, so that scholars should not be constantly with their wives, like roosters. Even though the act in itself is permissible, it plants in a person a lust for it which might draw him on to what is forbidden; as our Sages of blessed memory have said, ‘There is a small organ in a man which, when it is satiated, hungers, and which, when it is made to hunger, is sated’ (Sukkah 52b).
"The best way for a man to acquire Separation is to regard the inferior quality of the pleasures of the world, both in point of their own insignificance and in point of the great evils to which they are prone to give rise. For what inclines one’s nature to these pleasures to the extent that he requires so much strength and scheming to separate himself from them is the gullibility of his eyes, their tendency to be deceived by good and pleasing superficial appearances. It was this deception that led to the commission of the first sin. As Scriptures testifies: ‘And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat from and that it was desirable to the eyes...and she took of its fruit and ate’ (Bereshit, 3:6). But when it becomes clear to a person that this ‘good’ is deceptive and illusive, that it has no healthy permanence, and that it contains real evil, or is prone to give rise to it, he will certainly come to despise and decline it. All that a man need teach his intelligence then is to recognize the weakness and falseness of these pleasures so that he will naturally come to despise them and find it not at all difficult to spurn them....
"What one must be heedful of in the process of acquiring Separation is not to desire to leap to its farthest reaches in one moment, for he will certainly not be able to make such great strides. He should rather proceed in Separation, little by little, acquiring a little today and adding a little more tomorrow, until he is so habituated to it that it is second nature with him."
In conclusion, in order to make certain that Israel annihilates its enemies in upcoming wars, we must not only revamp our political leadership and army, we must also revamp our minds and our morals by turning away from the bestial ways and licentious lifestyles of the West, and return to our true holy calling.
Iyar 11, 5767, 4/29/2007
We have seen that the teachings of Rabbi Kook establish beyond any shadow of a doubt that Israel is the natural, optimum, healthy place for a Jew. But it is not enough to dwell in the Land of Israel as if it were anyplace else – we must also live here in a holy fashion. This week’s Torah reading is a perfect place to begin our discussion of sexual modesty and its connection to the Land of Israel and to healthy Jewish living.
At the end of the Torah portion, "Achare Mot," the Torah cites a long list of sexual prohibitions, including familial incest, adultery, sexual relations with non-Jews, homosexuality, bestiality, and the like. The section concludes with a warning: "Do not defile yourselves in any of these things; for in all of these doings the gentile nations were defiled and I cast them out before you; and the Land was defiled; therefore do I punish its iniquity upon it; and the Land vomits out its inhabitants" (Vayikra, 17:24-25).
The great Sage and Kabbalist, the Ramban, explains that Eretz Yisrael is not like other lands. The Land of Israel has a living soul that cannot tolerate sexual transgression. When the Land of Israel is defiled by sexual wrongdoing, it vomits out its inhabitants. To live in the Holy Land, one must live in a holy fashion, according to the precepts set down in the Torah. This is because, the G-d of the Jewish People is more zealous toward sexual sin than any other transgression (Zohar, Bereshit 66b).
The Ramban explains that G-d created a special holy nation for Himself, the Jews, and gave them a special Holy Land, the Land of Israel. We saw in the essays of Rabbi Kook how G-d divided the world between nations and gave each nation a land suited to it. He fashioned and formed the nation of Israel, and set it in the land particularly suited to its holiness. Eretz Yisrael enjoys a special relationship with the Almighty, as the verse attests: "For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place; here I will dwell" (Tehillim, 132:13-14). A special Divine Providence graces Eretz Yisrael to the exclusion of all other lands. It is, "The Land where the eyes of the Lord our G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year till the end" (Devarim, 11:12).
Certainly, G-d reigns the world over. However, as the Ramban explains, G-d has placed angelic forces to rule over all other lands. Only in the Land of Israel is G-d's Providence direct, without any intermediary angels (Ramban on the Torah, Vayikra, 18:25). Only in Israel is the worship of G-d pure without any barriers or impurities. This is how the Ramban explains the Gemara's startling declaration that "All who live in Eretz Yisrael resemble someone who has a G-d, and all who live outside the land of Israel resemble someone who has no G-d" (Ketubot 110B). Outside of the Land of Israel, the worship of G-d only reaches the level of the celestial angels, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, Divine service is direct to G-d Himself, with no interference whatsoever.
As we have seen in previous blogs, this unique, life connection between G-d and the Jewish people in Israel has very real physical and spiritual advantages. For instance, Eretz Yisrael is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The commandments themselves were only given to be performed in Israel. As the Ramban explains, the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only to serve as reminders, so that we don’t forget them until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). The true value of the mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside the land, the precepts have an educational value, but the Torah repeatedly tells us that Eretz Yisrael is the place for their performance. Accordingly, our Rabbis have told us that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).
Because of the special relationship between G-d and the Land of Israel, the Land will not tolerate sexual transgression. Should the measure of sexual wrongdoing become full, the Land vomits out is inhabitants. We can readily understand this when we remember that G-d’s gift of the Land to the Jewish People was made dependent on safeguarding the Covenant of Circumcision, known as the Brit. In reward for keeping the Brit, G-d promises to Avraham in the Torah: "And I will give to thee, and to thy offspring after thee, the Land in which thou dost sojourn, all the Land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d." (Bereshit, 17:8). This Covenant did not merely mean circumcising Jewish children, but also safeguarding the laws of sexual purity, as the Zohar repeatedly stresses . This is what guarantees our settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Should we violate this Covenant, and defile the Land with sexual sin, G-d forbid, the Divine punishment is exile from the Land, as this week’s Torah portion makes clear.
The importance of sexual holiness is reinforced in this week’s other Torah reading, "Kedoshim." The portion begins: "The L-rd spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the L-rd your G-d am holy" (Vayikra, 19:1). The Torah commentator, Rashi, explains that the command, "You shall be holy," means to be removed from sexual prohibitions and sexual sin. Because the Nation of Israel is holy, we must be removed from the perverse sexual practices that characterize the other nations. Sexual purity is the mark of our holiness as symbolized by the sign of the Brit. Not only are we to avoid all of the sexual prohibitions described in the Torah, but we are also called upon to sanctify our behavior while engaging in things which the Torah permits (Yevamot 20A).
For example, regarding the command to be holy, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, writes:
Thus, while the marital act is a supreme mitzvah, our Sages have warned that a man shouldn’t be like a rooster with his wife. In the upcoming blogs, we will continue to discuss the vital importance of sexual holiness to the Jewish People, both in the Land of Israel, and for our brothers and sisters still stuck in the unholy lands of the Diaspora.
Iyar 8, 5767, 4/26/2007
Yesterday, someone came up to me on the street, held out his palm, and asked for some tzedaka. At the time, the only thing in my wallet was a check for 10,000 dollars, so I held it out for him to take it. "What’s that?" he asked. "A check for 10,000 dollars," I answered. "No thanks." he said. "I only need a shekel for a phone call." I told him that he could make 40,000 phone calls with the money that I was offering him. "No thanks," he repeated. "I only need to make one phone call and that check won’t fit into the pay phone."
What is the point of the story? Here I am offering readers a priceless essay of Rabbi Kook into the deepest understandings of Torah, and some readers say, "no thanks," they would prefer a blog. It may be true that in the age of cyberspace, people are no longer able to process and absorb any message requiring an attention span of over two minutes. That’s why blogs are so great. But there are some things that can’t be compressed into a blog. Eretz Yisrael is one of them. So for the next few days, we will continue to present the illuminating essays of Rabbi Kook from his classic, "Orot," as explained by Rabbi David Samson and your humble blogger. The truth is that these essays are worth not just 10,000 dollars, but millions. Someone who is unfamiliar with the writings of Rabbi Kook simply does not know what is going on with the Jewish People in our time. In effect, without these deep Torah insights, a person does not know what Judaism is all about. As the song says, "Something is going on, Mr. Jones, and you don’t know what it is."
I remember that on my very first trip to Israel, while riding on a bus through the Biblical, terraced hillsides of Judea to the city of Hevron, I was seized by the overwhelming revelation that Eretz Yisrael was the real thing. I suddenly understood that Eretz Yisrael was the real place for a Jew. That this Land was the Major Leagues – the Yankee Stadium of Judaism. The feeling stayed with me when I returned to the States. Every other Jewish community was a miniature, Lilliputian village in comparison, like the fake Indian Villages, and Frontier Towns on the way to Lake George in upstate New York. Whether it be Monsey, the Lower East Side, or Boro Park, in comparison to Eretz Yisrael, every other Jewish community seemed like a make believe Hollywood set that is destined to be razed once the production is over.
Rabbi Kook’s deep esoteric essay tells us why the Land of Israel dwarfs every place else. So, ladies and gentlemen, let us begin....
If we could dissect a soul, what would we discover inside? What would a microscopic examination reveal? What are a soul's components? Its atoms? When we probe as deeply as we can into the anatomy of the soul, suddenly under our high-powered lens, an Alef comes into focus. Then we see a Mem, and a Taf. If a soul had a genetic make-up, we would discover that its DNA helix is made up of Hebrew letters.
The Hebrew letters are the atoms and basic building blocks of the Jewish soul. The letters which Rabbi Kook describes are not only the outer, graphic shape of the letters, which have meaning in themselves, but the inner essence and content of the letters. In another work, "Rosh Millin," Rabbi Kook writes in depth on the meaning of each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Unlike the letters of the English alphabet which are mere symbols of sounds with no inner meaning of their own, the letters of the Holy Tongue have an independent existence, and spiritual roots in the celestial worlds above.
In the wisdom of the Kabbalah, letters are understood to be powerful, life-giving forces. The Gemara teaches that the Hebrew letters were used to create heaven and earth. Bezalel knew how to combine the letters which were used in Creation. It was this secret wisdom which enabled him to build the Mishkan.
The Torah itself is made up of letters. Each letter is said to represent one of the basic 600,000 Jewish souls in the world. In addition to their alphabetical form, each letter has a deeper, living nature. Every letter contains a concept, a direction, a will which finds expression in the soul. Beyond a person's individual ego is the deeper, general will of existence. There is a force of life which is Divinely inspired, and this is what inspires each individual ego and psyche. The inner components of this deeper life-force are the Hebrew letters. Just as the letters are the building blocks of Torah, and of the world, they combine to form the molecular blueprint of the soul. What atoms are to the physical world, Hebrew letters are to the spiritual. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
"The soul is filled with letters which are infused with the light of life, full of knowledge and will, full of spiritual seeking, and full existence."
The soul is filled with letters which contain the Divine life-force which grants us existence. They themselves have knowledge and will and a quest for spiritual inspiration. All of a Jew's primary activities, whether his thought, will, deed, and imagination, stem from the letters of his soul. Different combinations of letters make for different types of souls. There are high-powered combinations, and there are souls of lesser might. According to the brilliance of these life-giving letters, a man's soul radiates with more and more energy.
"From the rays of these living letters, all of the other levels of life's building are filled with the light of life – all of the aspects of the will, of knowledge, and of deed, of the spirit, and of the soul, in all of their values."
Like atoms, these letters exist in a constant, dynamic flow. They are active, full of knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and will, constantly affecting the life of the soul. They are full of vision and imaginative flight. They are filled with full existence, not bounded in nature, containing a blueprint for all of Creation within them; in the same way that a molecule contains a solar system of atoms within it, and a cell contains the genetic structure of the body as a whole. Every soul contains a blueprint for all of the world. Letters activate letters in a constant chain reaction which is the motivating force of all life.
"Upon approaching a mitzvah, the mitzvah is always full of the light of life of all of the worlds – every mitzvah is filled with letters, big, incredible letters from among all of the 613 precepts which are, in turn, interdependent on each individual precept – from all of the life of the worlds which is in the secret of faith."
What happens in the soul when a person approaches a mitzvah? A mitzvah of the Torah is also filled with pulsating letters and a stream of Divine inspirational force. The commandments themselves are fountains of life, as the Torah says, "These are the mitzvot which a man shall do and live." The mitzvot are the channels which enable letters to flow from their Divine source to the soul. The life-force in the mitzvot adds vitality to the life-force in man. They are the circuits and conduits of life. And they too, like the letters, are microcosms of existence, bursting with the energy that G-d supplies to the world.
When a Jew performs a mitzvah, he receives a new dose of energy and life. When the letters of his soul collide and combine with the letters of the mitzvah, an explosion occurs. Like a nuclear fusion of atoms, new life is released to the soul and to all of the worlds. The union of the soul and the mitzvah is what gives the world its constant renewal. And because each individual mitzvah is integrally connected to all of the 613 precepts of the Torah, when we perform one mitzvah, we release the power of them all in a chain reaction which sends waves of Kedusha and light throughout the universe. This is the mechanism which brings life to the world. Thus, our Sages have taught that if the Jews were to stop learning Torah, G-d forbid, for even a moment, the whole world would come to an end.
The interrelationship between all of the 613 precepts of the Torah offers both tremendous potential and problems. Because every mitzvah is integrally connected to every other, the performance of a mitzvah can only be perfect if all of the other mitzvot are performed. This can be likened to a symphony made up of hundreds of notes. When they are all played together, they blend into a pleasing harmony. But if one note is flat, or missing, the harmony of the whole is destroyed. This is true in the life of an individual, and in the life of the nation. When a person is only performing a portion of the 613 mitzvot, his life-force is lessened. Similarly, if the Jewish nation as a whole is missing the full range of mitzvot, either because of spiritual weakness, or because of Galut, the entire life of the nation is crippled, and Divine goodness appears in the world in a dim, shattered light.
"The light of the G-d of life, the light of the life of the world, lives in complete harmony in the glory of every mitzvah."
In the observance of a mitzvah, the soul meets with the light of G-d. This is the meaning of the Yichud prayer which some Jews say before performing a mitzvah. The mitzvah is the vehicle which unites G-d and His Presence with all of Clal Yisrael.A Jew cleaves to G-d, not only through abstract meditation, but through the performance of the practical mitzvot as well. When we perform the commandments, we connect our lives to G-d's will, and to the Divine life-force which He implanted in them. This is the path to true life, through cleaving to the Divine life-force in the mitzvah, as we say upon reading the Torah: "Those who cleave to Hashem your G-d are all alive today."
"As soon as we approach a commandment's performance, all of the living letters which constitute our essence expand – we grow bigger, and become stronger and more forceful in the light of life and sublime existence which is resplendent and rich with the wealth of universal holiness and with the light of Torah and of wisdom, and all of the universe is renewed with light and life. The judgment of the world turns meritorious because of our deeds; light and truth, good will and inward satisfaction grace every face."
When we come to perform a mitzvah, the energy in our souls and the mitzvah interact, and all of the letters which make up our essences grow bigger with an injection of Kedusha, Torah, exalted wisdom, and life. If we were on the proper level to experience this spiritual union, if our sensitivities were in tune with the immeasurable wealth of our Divine inner life, when we approached a mitzvah, we would feel the same ecstasy and joy that a bride and groom feel when they step under the wedding canopy to become husband and wife.
When a Jew performs a mitzvah, the letters of his or her soul are magnified with an accelerated life-force. Letters of Torah from the upper worlds of existence merge with the letters of the individual soul. This "wedding" between the upper and lower worlds causes a union of splendor and joy. Our will and G-d's will become one. We and the world are filled with supernal strength, wisdom, holiness, valor, harmony, and joy. The same wholeness which returned to the world upon the giving of the Torah now returns to our souls. In the meeting of man and the mitzvah, the purpose of life is achieved. Man stands in line with G-d's will for existence. The soul cleaves to G-d. Worlds merge, and the union brings rebirth to all of Creation.
Because of the soul's connection to all of the world, each seemingly small mitzvah is, in truth, a cosmic deed which fills the world with untold blessing. The performance of a mitzvah fills the world with Torah, and with inner goodness and truth. We hold in our hands the fate of existence. Our good deeds infuse the world with merit. By observing the commandments of the Torah, we not only elevate our own life, we make the world a better place. In the Heavenly court, G-d's judgment is sweetened.
In effect, the Almighty has put in our hands the key to existence. Divine blessing and life are released in the world according to what we do. In a sense, when we perform a mitzvah, we give strength to G-d Himself, as we say in our morning prayers, "Give strength to G-d." Israel is figuratively the source of G-d's power. It is our deeds which enable G-d's goodness to appear in the world. Because of the unity of all Creation, the mitzvot which we perform on earth open valves of Heavenly blessing in the exalted worlds above. By doing G-d's will, we bring about the wedding of heaven and earth.
This union, Rabbi Kook writes, brings a look of inward satisfaction to every being's face. If this is so, why don't we see it? A part of the reason is because the union between G-d and the world is still incomplete, as the verse in Tehillim implies: "How can we sing the song of the Lord in an alien land?" As long as the nation of Israel has not returned in its fullness to the Land of Israel, as long as we can perform only part of the Torah and mitzvot, as long as the Beit HaMikdash is missing, then G-d's blessing and light is diminished. Only with our redemption from physical and spiritual bondage, when we return to national Torah wholeness, will smiles grace every face, as the verse says, "Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with happy song." This happens when the nation is living its true life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. For, as Rabbi Kook teaches, in Eretz Yisrael THE LETTERS OF OUR SOUL GROW BIGGER, MAGNIFIED THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF TIMES, EVEN WITHOUT DOING A MITZVAH, BECAUSE JUST BEING IN ISRAEL IS A MITZVAH IN ITSELF.
"In Eretz Yisrael, the letters of our souls grow bigger; there they reveal shining light; they are nurtured with independent life from the light of life of Knesset Yisrael; they are directly influenced from the secret of their original creation."
In simple language, Rabbi Kook is saying that if there were a Geiger counter which could measure the existence of Hebrew letters, it would start to crackle with a thunderous noise the moment it approached the borders of Israel. For Eretz Yisrael is the land of GIGANTIC 3-D LETTERS. It is the land of indigenous ALEFS and BETS. Like the giants which the spies encountered in Hevron, and the gigantic fruit they found in the land, the ALPHABET of Eretz Yisrael dwarfs the Lilliputian alphabet of Galut. The letters thrive in the air of Israel and draw body-building nutrients from its holy soil. In contrast, the letters of Chutz L'Aretz are stunted, like plants grown outside of their natural climate.
When a Jew makes Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, the letters of his soul shift into high gear and multiply in size. All of his being gets bigger. He grows closer to G-d. Compared to the person he was in Galut, he becomes larger than life. He transforms into a giant, filled with greater valor, greater holiness, greater happiness and wisdom.
What is the secret of this change? IN ERETZ YISRAEL, OUR LETTERS, LIKE OUR SOULS, BECOME THE GIGANTIC LETTERS OF CLAL YISRAEL. They are no longer small, private, individual letters – THEY MULTIPLY AND MULTIPLY THROUGH THEIR UNION WITH KNESSET YISRAEL. IN THE LAND OF CLAL YISRAEL, OUR LETTERS MERGE WITH THE MEGA-SOUL OF THE NATION.
In his connection to the nation, the Oleh to Israel becomes a more complete Jew. He becomes a co-builder of the Jewish nation. He becomes a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force, in the army of G-d. He speaks the language of his forefathers. He becomes independent in his own land. His aspirations are filled with idealism. He becomes an architect of history, an active partner of Redemption. His outlook and psyche are exponentially expanded by his new identification with the national aspiration and will.
Because he is living in Israel, his whole life is a mitzvah. A mitzvah which is equal in weight to all of the mitzvot of the Torah. Divine life flows and flows into his being through the infinite channel of his new mitzvah life. His house is a mitzvah, his job is a mitzvah, every step which he takes in the Holy Land is a mitzvah, every four cubits earns him a greater share in the world to come. Every holy breath he takes fills him with holy life. Letters and letters of Torah pour into his soul.
Rabbi Kook quotes a verse from the book of Isaiah:
"And it shall come to pass, that he who is left in Zion, and he that remains in Jerusalem, they shall be called holy, everyone in Jerusalem who is written to life" (Isaiah, 4:3)
In Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, the letters of our souls are inscribed for eternal life.
Like the land's giant letters, the mitzvot of the land are giant mitzvot too, performed where G-d's commandments are supposed to be performed. They burst with energy and life through the full force of their value. In Israel, the performance of the mitzvot is pure, without static and pollution, performed in the land of G-d. In Israel, each mitzvah reverberates through the myriad of souls in the Clal, multiplying beyond measure, echoing through the universe, filling the world with harmony, completeness, and order. When the nation is living its true Torah life in Israel, G-d's will for the world is fulfilled. The vaults of heaven spread open, and Divine blessing flows uninterrupted to all of creation.
So too, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is the complete Torah. As our Sages teach: "There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael." The Torah in Israel is the all–encompassing Torah, the Torah of the nation, the Torah of the Clal, none of whose mitzvot or letters are missing. In the Land of Israel, the Torah is in its true place, radiating its influence in intimate pleasantness, its heavenly letters glowing with the light of the Shechinah.
"The yearning to see the glory of the cherished land; the inner longing for the land of Israel, increases the letters of holiness, the letters of independent Israeli life that are at the depth of our essence and being; it increases their inner spiritual growth. `One who is born in it, and one who yearns to see it' – `And to Zion it shall be said; a man, and a man who is born in it, and He will establish it in exaltation, the Lord will count in the writing of the nations, this one has been born there, Selah.'"
Rabbi Kook tells us that not only by being in Israel can this heroic life be achieved, but also the soul which aspires to live in Israel is invigorated with increased holy energy. The Diaspora Jew who logs on to the Arutz 7-INN website first thing in the morning, and sincerely yearns to be in Israel, is influenced by its greatness. In yearning to link himself with the Land, he too is like someone approaching a mitzvah, running to embrace his beloved. His pulse quickens, and the letters of his soul expand to receive a giant new infusion of life. He grows spiritually bigger in his attachment to Eretz Yisrael and to the aspirations of Clal Yisrael. Both "One who is born in it, and one who longs to see it," both of them share in her blessing; both attain wholeness by living the maximum life of a Jew.
So you too my INN friends and readers, you too have GIANT LETTERS in your yearning to be in Israel. In the next blog, G-d willing, we will discovery the vital importance of bringing those Hebrew letters here, back to the LAND OF LIVING LETTERS, back where they, and you, belong.
Iyar 8, 5767, 4/26/2007
In this long, perhaps difficult, and immensely important blog, we will continuing our in-depth examination into the writings of Rabbi Kook, in order to understand how Jewish thinking became so distorted in the Diaspora. For example, because of the pernicious influence of Western and Christian concepts, Mashiach is erroneously imagined to be a cross between Superman, Harry Porter, Santa Claus, and Rambo who will fly out of the sky, vanquish the enemies of Israel, gather the exiles to the Holy Land, and rebuild the Temple with a wave of his wand, all in one fell sweep, without needing any help on our part. In some up and coming blogs, we will, G-d willing, set forth an alternative, healthier understanding of Mashiach. Right now, we will continue with Rabbi Kook’s teachings on the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael. In this Samson/Fishman commentary on "Orot," we will see how Eretz Yisrael has a positive influence, not only on a Jew’s imaginative faculty, but on the intellect as well.
The human soul is comprised of several faculties which constitute human nature. Like others creatures, man eats, moves, senses, and breathes, but he has other abilities as well. The Rambam, in his study of the human personality, in his Introduction to Pirkei Avot, describes two faculties which distinguish man: his imagination and intellect.
The faculties of imagination and intellect are interrelated. Intelligence is pure knowledge, while imagination is how to apply it. For instance, through our intellect, we know of the existence of sound waves. Our imagination is what enables us to transform this knowledge into radar and radios. Imagination puts our intelligence to practical use. Because they are both rooted in man's soul, they influence each other. Thus for the intellect to be healthy, the imagination must be healthy too.
Today, imagination is most often associated with artists, and with the talent that produces novels, music, paintings, comic books, and movies. In its original pure state, however, imagination is the faculty of man which facilitates the reception of prophecy. A person's imagination is the sense which enables him to be most directly connected to G-d.
Prophetic imagination is the channel which enables man to transform exalted spiritual messages into a comprehensible, material form, whether in visions, symbols, dreams, hearing, or speech. Only Moshe Rabenu, the humblest of men, was able to receive prophecy directly from G-d without any allegorical language. Communication between G-d and all other prophets was couched in visions or dreams.
While imagination can be a uniquely positive tool in a person's spiritual development, it can also be the most dangerous. Our imagination can easily fool and mislead us. Because of its susceptibility to pollution from surrounding sources, imagination can be distorted and false. Consequently, something essentially evil can be imagined as something good.
Imagination appears in many forms. It can be healthy, or sick. Imagination can be neurotic, paranoid, and grandiose. It can cause delusions, visions, hallucinations, dreams, and inspirational ideas. Prophecy is its highest level. Because imagination is free and unbounded, it affords the channel which prophecy needs. Yet, its very unboundedness is also its danger, enabling it to leap over moral borders and healthy restraints. The direction of a person's imagination, its health or disease, depends on the person's surroundings and his directional drives. A person with a refined, ethical sensibility and positive character traits will have a refined imagination. A person possessed of Torah and spiritual elevation will have an imaginative channel capable of Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration). Conversely, a person with impure morals will have a polluted imagination given to base, impure thoughts.
The book, "Mesillat Yesharim," describes the rigorous path toward Ruach HaKodesh. Only after a long course of Torah study and character refinement can a person hope to be granted Divine Inspiration from G-d. Ultimately, his success is not only dependent upon his efforts, but also upon his surroundings. A person can receive a doctorate in prophetic training; he can learn "Mesillat Yesharim" one-hundred times, but if he is not in Eretz Yisrael, prophecy won't come.
In our previous essay, we saw how the spiritual and cultural pollution of the Diaspora interferes with true Israeli creativity and thought. Outside of the Land of Israel, the ugly spiritual climate does not allow for a pure prophetic flow. Even if a Jew were filled with Torah and the very best character traits, the impurity of Chutz L'Aretz seals up his prophetic channel. And even if a prophecy were to occur, a person could not receive it, because of the inability to be true to one's imagination and intellect while living in an alien land. This is the reason why the Gra refused to receive the angels that came to visit him in Vilna.
A reader may wonder, why all of this preoccupation with prophecy? What does prophecy have to do with the Jewish people today? The question is quite understandable. For more than 2300 years, the Jewish people have not experienced prophecy. For centuries, the Divine channel in the world has been silent. We have forgotten about prophecy, as if it no longer exists. For this reason, Rabbi Kook is writing to remind us who we really are. We are the people of prophecy. Our greatest profession and talent is not banking, nor medicine, nor moviemaking, but prophecy. Today, we are a mere shadow of our true potential. Even the State of Israel, with all of its tremendous rebirth, is still in diapers, still only learning to walk, far from its mature potential as the future Kingdom of Israel with a rebuilt Beit HaMikdash, the Sanhedrin, Mashiach, and myriads of prophets. In the future, the word of G-d will go forth from Jerusalem through the prophetic channel which will return to our nation. This is the goal toward which our history is heading.
In educating a child, one has to teach the child who he is. He has to know about his family, about his country, about his history. To be successful, education has to guide the child along his unique inner paths. To help him achieve his potential, a teacher has to help the child discover himself and understand what lies before him. In re-educating the reborn Jewish nation after 2000 years of Galut, Rabbi Kook helps us to understand ourselves. Many of our foundations have been forgotten and must be restored. The Creator of the world has a plan for us which we can neither ignore nor escape. Before creating the world, Hashem decreed what would be. Our identity was implanted in our souls from the start: "This NATION I have formed for Myself; THEY shall declare My praise" (Isaiah, 43:21). First, we must remember that we are a nation, and not a scattered congregation of individual Jews. We must rediscover our homeland, the cradle of our nationhood, the place we belong. And we must remember that we are the nation of prophets, with the national task of transmitting the word of G-d to the world.
Just as there is a purpose to every individual life, there is a purpose to every nation. Every people and country has its own international role, its unique contribution to the world as a whole. Russia gives the world Tolstoy, Communism, and vodka. France contributes Sartre, perfume, and champagne. England gives Shakespeare, Churchill, and the Beatles. Japan exports advances in transistor technology. Switzerland manufactures chocolates and clocks. America fosters democracy and Hollywood dreams. And the nation of Israel brings the knowledge of Hashem to the world. Through the nation of Israel, all of the contributions of the nations are uplifted to their proper place in the Divine harmony of existence.
In light of this background, we can once again look at the words of Rabbi Kook and discover new insights within his often complex and poetic style.
"The imagination in the Land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and ready for the revelation of Divine truth, and for the embodiment of the high, uplifted will of the idealistic trend which is found in the higher echelons of holiness. It is prepared for the explanation of prophecy and its lights, for the enlightenment of Ruach HaKodesh and its illumination."
What is Rabbi Kook saying? Simply, he tells us that the imaginative faculty in the Land of Israel is pure. It is capable, therefore, of conveying prophecy and transmitting the word of G-d to the world. It is capable of revealing Divine truths and embodying the ideal values which G-d desires to bestow upon all humankind.
"And the imagination which is found in the land of the nations is murky, clouded in darkness, in shadows of defilement and pollution. It cannot rise to the heights of Kedusha (holiness), and it cannot afford a basis for the influx of Divine light that rises above all of the baseness of the worlds and their oppressive straits."
In contrast to the imagination of Eretz Yisrael, the imaginative faculty which exists outside of the land is clogged with pollution and unable to provide a channel for prophecy, for Kedusha, and for enlightenment from G-d.
In Eretz Yisrael, our imaginative faculty is capable of providing a vehicle for the Divine Inspiration which reveals the will of G-d in the world. A person tuned into this level of Kedusha can receive the Ruach HaKodesh which comes to the world through Israel. In Galut, if he is searching for contact with the Divine, there is a danger he may tune into the polluted static of mantras, I Chings, hallucinogenic mushrooms, swarmis, Zen motorcycles, Hari Krishnas, false messiahs, and Brahma cows. In the shadows and darkness of this polluted existence, these distortions and falsehoods seem to be true. People believe they are worshipping G-d, but it is all a delusion. They are worshipping their imagination alone.
The fine line between delusion and truth can also creep into Judaism. This is the illusion which can lead a Jew to call Berlin the "New Jerusalem", or America, "the Promised Land."
This concept of geographical pollution is not merely a metaphysical phenomenon – it has Halachic consequences as well. As we learned, venturing beyond the borders of Eretz Yisrael is like setting off to worship idols. Halachically, a Jew is forbidden to leave Eretz Yisrael, except for a few specific reasons set down in Jewish law, such as marrying, learning Torah, or to do business, but to settle permanently there is forbidden (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:9). When a person leaves Israel for Chutz L'Aretz, he descends to a lower world. It is a constricted existence, or in Rabbi Kook's language, a world of oppressive spiritual enclosures and straits. This state of deprivation cannot be the foundation for the exalted light of the Divine. The Jewish people can not receive the Torah in Mitzrayim (Egypt), where they are spiritually and physically oppressed. The root word of Mitzrayim means narrow straits, the same word Rabbi Kook uses to describe the Galut. Hashem's light cannot be shrunken to fit this narrow world. Attempts to contain it lead to distorted and partial truths, to the deification of rivers, Pharoahs, crocodiles, and statues. The Divine Ideal which G-d wants for the world, the unbounded blessing and goodness and knowledge, cannot appear when the Jewish nation is scattered all over the globe. The Kingdom of G-d which Israel's existence declares cannot be established when the Jewish people are serving other kingdoms, whether it be in a democracy or a totalitarian state. For the Sovereignty of G-d to be manifest on earth, first the sovereignty of Israel must be established in its Land. And for the Sovereignty of G-d to be complete – in the world, and in the minds and hearts of all of mankind, all of the nation of Israel must be living in Israel, ruling over all of its Land.
After emphasizing the profound differences between the power of imagination in the Land of Israel, as compared with the rest of the world, Rabbi Kook explains why the air of Eretz Yisrael can lead to a greater wisdom than the wisdom which can be attained outside of the Land.
"Because the intellect and the imagination are bound up together, and act and interact one upon the other, the intellect which is outside the Land of Israel is also incapable of being illuminated with the light which exists in the Land of Israel. `The air of Eretz Yisrael causes wisdom'" (Bava Batra 158B).
The faculties of intelligence and imagination are intertwined. In Eretz Yisrael, where the imagination is clear, the intellect can also be clear. In contrast, outside of the Land, where the imagination is clouded, the intellect is clouded too. In a purely physical, technical realm like mathematics or science, the difference is not apparent. But in the finer, higher, exalted reaches of Kedusha, the discrepancy appears. The pure interaction between the mind's two faculties of imagination and intellect is what causes the greater wisdom of Eretz Yisrael. For this same reason, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is a higher Torah (Bereshit Rabbah, 16:4), a purer Torah, a more encompassing Torah, the Torah of Clal Yisrael. Far transcending the constricted "Four cubits of Halacha" (Berachot 8A) of Galut, Torat Eretz Yisrael is the complete Torah, the national Torah of the Kingdom of Israel which sends blessing and light to all of mankind. It is the Torah of Mashiach which brings the word of G-d to the world.
This understanding is not something which Rabbi Kook invented. On the contrary, it is based on the teachings of our Sages, handed down through generations. We will quote only a few of their insights:
"There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael"(Bereshit Rabbah, 16:4).
"If you wish to see the Shechinah in the world, learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael" (Midrash Tehillim, 105).
"Amongst the goyim, there is no Torah. From this we learn that the Torah is in Eretz Yisrael" (Sifre, Reah).
"`He has set me in dark places, as those who are long dead.' Rav Yirmiyah said, this is the Talmud of Bavel" (Sanhedrin 24A).
"You have no greater Bittul Torah than the exile of the nation of Israel from its place" (Chagiga 5B).
"Those in Eretz Yisrael have a great advantage over those in Bavel, in that they are directed more to the truth since the air in Eretz Yisrael is pure from all impurity and does not add falsehood and mistaken ideas, which is not the case in Bavel" (Chatam Sofer, Drashot, Pg. 374).
In the Gemara in tractate Shabbat, Rav Yochanon's students ask why the Torah scholars in Chutz L'Aretz dress in a distinguished, dapper style. They answer that because they are not Bnei Torah, they have to enhance their stature by presenting a distinguished appearance. But immediately, Rabbi Yochanon protests. "How can you say they are not Bnei Torah?" Rather, he concludes, they are not "Bnei Mikomam" – they are not living in their place. (Shabbat 145B).
The Gemara is telling us that Chutz L'Aretz is not the natural place for Torah scholars. Certainly, they possess vast Torah learning, but they are not in the Land of Israel where they belong. The great scholars of the Babylonian Talmud achieved their great wisdom, even in the darkness of Galut, because they knew their true place was in Israel and yearned to return. Their yearning for Jerusalem kept them attached to the Clal, and to the Shechinah, which shines on the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.
See you here soon!
Iyar 7, 5767, 4/25/2007
In this essay from the book, "Orot," Rabbi Kook examines Jewish creativity. He begins by telling us that a Jew cannot be faithful to his thoughts, logic, ideas, and imagination outside the Land of Israel. When we understand the reasons for this, we can more readily comprehend why Eretz Yisrael is vital to the health and wholeness of every Jew.
There is a famous story concerning the Gaon of Vilna which is related by his student, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. Magidim, or heavenly messengers, would regularly visit the Gaon, but he repeatedly refused to listen to them. He would not even glance at their heavenly form. When one of these messengers came to reveal Torah secrets to Rabbi Chaim's brother, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, the Vilna Gaon commanded the Torah scholar not to receive it, or even glance at its celestial radiance. Rabbi Zalman asked why not – after all, the Beit Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, had a Magid who informed him of secrets from heaven. The Gaon of Vilna answered that, first of all, the Beit Yosef had lived several hundred years before, and secondly, he was in Eretz Yisrael. The Gaon told him that outside of the Land of Israel, it is impossible to receive heavenly messengers without the polluted interference and Klipot of Chutz L'Aretz (the Diaspora). Heavenly information can only be properly received in its purity in Eretz Yisrael. This is why when a Magid first appeared to Rabbi Yosef Caro in Chutz L'Aretz, the Magid told him to go to Eretz Yisrael.
Similarly, when Hashem first appears to Avraham, He tells him to journey to the land that He will show him the land uniquely created to facilitate a special connection to G-d. Only in Eretz Yisrael can Avram be transformed into Avraham in order to fulfill his potential of leading mankind to a knowledge of G-d. Only in Eretz Yisrael can he produce the offspring who will become the foundation for a holy nation destined to bring the word of G-d to the world.
.Hashem created the Jewish people and the Land of Israel for each other. He created Eretz Yisrael with the spiritual and material properties uniquely suited for the life of His holy nation. Put an Eskimo in Paris, and he seems out of place. Take a Jew out of Israel, and put him in Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Spain, Germany, Russia, or Brooklyn – as much as he strives to fit in, he simply does not belong.
We mentioned in our commentary on Essay One how the Ramban describes the very real differences between the spiritual environment of Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora. Outside of the Land of Israel, lesser celestial forces rule over the nations. The idol worship and hedonistic cultures they breed contaminate the environment. This spiritual pollution pervades the very air. The world's preoccupation with sex, violence, money, adultery, robbery, homosexuality, and murder all stem from the spiritual impurity found in the gentile lands. In Chutz L'Aretz, the physical world reigns supreme, cut off from the spirit. The quest for physical pleasure, fame, honor, and wealth all come to fill up the vacuum created by the distance from G-d.
Therefore, Rabbi Kook tells us that it is impossible for a Jew to be faithful to his true creative, intellectual, imaginative life when he is outside of the Land of Israel. The spiritual and cultural pollution enters his psyche and distorts his world of perception. With this introduction, we can better understand Rabbi Kook's first sentence:
"It is impossible for a Jew to be devoted and faithful to his contemplation, logical reasonings, conceptualizations, and imagination, when he is outside the Land of Israel, compared to the quality of their faithfulness in Eretz Yisrael."
If, as Rabbi Kook asserts, a Jew cannot be true to his thoughts, intellect, ideas, and imagination outside of the land of Israel – how are we to explain the magnitude of Jewish creativity and achievement in the Diaspora? Jews have excelled in all fields: in literature, song, comedy, theater, filmmaking, journalism, philosophy, law, science, medicine, government, banking – and the list goes on and on. The answer is that this outstanding creativity does not represent our unique Israeli creativity, but rather, it is a part of the general world inspiration which we share with all of mankind.
What is this true Israeli creativity in thought and idea? Emunah, prophecy, and the ability to bring sanctity to both the spiritual and physical worlds. This is why Avraham had to journey to Eretz Yisrael to become a Jew. To become complete in his worship of G-d, he had to dwell in the land of prophecy and Emunah.
Complete Jewish health and wholeness can be attained only in Eretz Yisrael. On the verse, "And Yaacov came Shalem to the city of Shechem" (Bereshit, 33:18), the Gaon of Vilna explains the word Shalem in its meaning of wholeness, and says that Yaacov was not complete until he came to Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Avraham Azuli was the Rabbi of Hevron some 400 years ago. In his book, "Chesed L'Avraham," he writes that when a Jew comes to the Land of Israel, he receives a new soul. The soul of the exile leaves him, and he undergoes a spiritual transplant. The egocentric soul which characterized his individual life in the fractured world of Galut is exchanged for the exalted soul of Clal Yisrael. His Aliyah to Israel is an Aliyah of souls. He becomes attached to the Divine soul and life of the nation. In Rabbi Azuli's terminology, Yaacov's wholeness came only upon receiving his new soul of Clal Yisrael upon returning to the Land of Israel. Only in his attachment to the Clal could he earn his new name and calling – Yisrael.
Elsewhere in OROT, Rabbi Kook writes: "The general soul of Knesset Yisrael does not rest on the individual except in Eretz Yisrael, and the moment a person comes to Eretz Yisrael, his private soul is nullified before the great light of the general soul which enters him; and its exalted content exerts its influence whether he wants and recognizes its effect, or whether he does not want it, or is not aware of its value" (Orot Yisrael, 7:18).
Just by his living in Israel, a Jew attaches himself to the higher life of the Clal. The more he recognizes his new spiritual status, and the more he strives to unite with the Clal, the greater his elevation will be. As Rabbi Kook writes in "Hazone HaGeula:" "Whoever has a greater love for the Land of Israel, and whoever exerts himself more ardently in the settlement of the Holy Land, he is blessed first, and he is closer to perfection."
Certainly, a Jew can be intelligent and imaginative in Chutz L'Aretz. But only on a personal, individual level. His creativity, no matter how gifted he may be, is limited to his own personal talents. In Israel, by attaching himself to the nation, his intellectual and imaginative faculties are uplifted to the higher realm of the Clal, where the pure spring of Israeli inspiration flows freely. The unique Clal Yisrael talent which combines thoughts, logical reasoning, ideas, and imagination, is now open to him. This is prophecy, the special creative Segula of the Jewish people which we encountered in Essay One. It is the unique Israeli creativity which unites the spiritual and physical worlds by bringing the word of G-d down to earth. Only in Eretz Yisrael can the people of Israel be steeped in the Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration) which rests on the nation as a whole. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the "Kuzari" makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the unique land of prophecy, and Am Yisrael is the nation of prophets.
Thus, when Rabbi Kook writes about Israel's creative potential, he is not only talking about art, poetry, music, or literature. He is referring to the inner creative power of Clal Yisrael which finds its highest expression in prophecy. This is a Jew's inheritance as a member of Clal Yisrael. Along with the genetic foundations of our bodies, we have spiritual genes as well. We are the children of prophets. The Hebrew letters which abound in our souls are our double-helixes of prophecy. Through his connection with Clal Yisrael, every Jew has the capability of experiencing G-d on an enhanced spiritual level – if not as a prophet, then on whatever level of Ruach HaKodesh which he or she can attain. Unlike Western cultures which exalt the individual ego and the unfettered reign of the id, a Jew is to find his life's deepest meaning by connecting his life to the eternal life of the nation. Through his devotion to the higher life of his people, he attains his true individual calling. The Ruach HaKodesh which rests on the Clal opens his vistas toward the horizons of transcendental expression.
"Revelations of holiness, on whatever level, are clean in Eretz Yisrael according to their value; while outside the Land of Israel, they are mixed with abundant dross and Klipot."
There exists a general universal Kedusha (holiness) outside the Land of Israel which sustains all of the world. The environment there, however, is spiritually polluted, and even Halachically impure. When Kedusha descends into the world in Chutz L'Aretz, it is immediately attacked by the impure Klipot and forces of evil which reign there. The Klipot is a Kabbalistic concept, translated as shells or husks. It refers to shells of impurity and evil which surround and imprison sparks of exiled holiness. The nations of the world are the Klipot of Am Yisrael, just as Chutz L'Aretz is the Klipah of Eretz Yisrael. The lower celestial beings which Hashem has set to rule over the gentile nations create barriers to holiness. Forces of evil are given free reign, creating the impure cultures, religions, and governments which dominate world history.
For example, what is the cultural world of America? Mickey Mouse, George Washington, Billy Graham, baseball, Christmas trees, Barbie dolls, comic books, Watergate, Hollywood, Wall Street, hippies, slam dunks and marijuana. Where is there Kedusha? Where is there something Jewish?
Outside of the Land of Israel, Kedusha is mixed up with polluted forces. The result is mixed marriages, and a mixed-up orientation to Torah. The Gemara says that because a Torah scholar in Chutz L'Aretz lives in a place of darkness, he speaks dark confused words (Pesachim 34B). In the Diaspora, one cannot be sure whether inspiration is true or false. For this reason, the Gaon of Vilna refused to receive the celestial messengers who visited him. Divine emanations outside the Land of Israel are polluted, not because they descend in that manner from Heaven, but because they become contaminated upon contact with the dross and Klipot in the air. And even if they were to be pure, the thinking and imaginative faculties of a Jew in Chutz L'Aretz are not pure enough to receive them. Thus, Avraham Avinu is commanded to leave Haran and journey to Eretz Yisrael; Moshe Rabenu is commanded to bring the Jews up from Mitzrayim to the Promised Land; and the Magid tells the Beit Yosef to go to the Holy Land before their Divine conversation can continue.
"However, according to the magnitude of an individual's yearning for and connection to Eretz Yisrael, his contemplations become clear due to the foundation of `the air of Eretz Yisrael' which hovers over everyone who desires to see her."
What is "the foundation of the `air of Eretz Yisrael' which hovers over everyone who desires to see her"? The special "air of Eretz Yisrael" refers to a Gemara which states that "the air in Eretz Yisrael causes wisdom" (Bava Batra 1598B). Not only is the Land of Israel holy – the air is holy too. The atmosphere of Israel is pure, without the polluted Klipot of the Galut. In Eretz Yisrael, the connection between the individual Jew and Hashem is direct. "The eyes of the Lord are upon it from the beginning of the year till the end" (Devarim,11:12). The purity of this direct attachment brings wisdom. And the beginning of this wisdom is to understand that life outside of the Land of Israel is detrimental to the spiritual health of a Jew.
One might wonder – if the air in Israel grants wisdom, why are not all Israelis bursting with Torah? As we mentioned, the Redemption of the Jewish people from the political, cultural, mental, and spiritual bondage of the Galut is a slow, gradual process requiring patience and diligent work. We should remember that in the days of Ezra, the return of the Jews to Israel was plagued with intermarriage and spiritual decline. Only gradually did the returning exiles form into a flourishing Torah society. As the prophecy of Redemption in the book of Ezekiel implies, the spiritual cleansing from the impurities of Galut is a process of Tshuva which can take generations to complete (Ezekiel, 36:24-28). However, one should not underestimate the wisdom of Israel's population, even today. Not only is Israel the Torah center of the world, every ordinary citizen comprehends that the Jewish people need their own sovereign nation. This national awareness is a great understanding. It is a wisdom which elevates a man above his private life to the recognition that he is more than his passing, individual existence. This is what leads the people of Israel to be willing to serve in the army and endanger their lives for the nation.
The wisdom which the air of Israel affords is not limited to the Jews who live in Israel, but, as Rabbi Kook tells us, it "hovers over everyone who yearns to see her." You do not have to be in Israel to be graced by its wisdom. Every Jew who yearns to live there has a share in its secret treasures. By yearning to be united with her soil, a person attaches himself to the soul of Clal Yisrael, and is uplifted in its magnified light. In his attachment to the Land, he is freed from all Klipot and lower celestial forces. His soul ceases to be a private Diaspora soul and is transformed into the transcending, Divine soul of the nation.
The meaning of yearning to see Eretz Yisrael is when a person truly longs to be there. If a Jew prays in the morning for the ingathering of the exiles, and does not think about Israel again until the next time he opens a prayer book, chances are that he is not really yearning. If, on the other hand, his desire to live in Israel is an active, constant passion that he would act on if he could, then he merits to share in the Land's special blessings.
Rabbi Kook tells us that the ability to share in the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael "hovers" over everyone who yearns to see her. The word "hovers" denotes something of a temporary nature, something which lacks permanence, something which comes and goes. A lifeline to Eretz Yisrael exists in Galut, but it is not as permanent and lasting as being in Israel itself. Once, Rabbi Kook was asked how he enjoyed learning in the famous Volozhin Yeshiva, under the tutelage of the Netziv, author of the "HaEmek Davar." "It is like being in Eretz Yisrael," he answered. It is "like" being in Eretz Yisrael because of the Rosh Yeshiva's ardent love for the Land of Israel – but it is not the real thing.
Rabbi Kook ends his essay with a verse from the prophet Isaiah: "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her" (Isaiah, 66:10). Jerusalem is the meeting point between Heaven and earth. It is the place of the Shechinah, and the eternal capital of Clal Yisrael. Not only those who reside in Jerusalem are able to experience her joy, but also all those who love her and seek her well-being with all of their hearts. The Jew who mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the nation is the one who can participate in her great joy when her banished children return (Taanit 30B).
Thus, if a Jew longs to be closer to G-d; if he wants to be faithful to his thoughts, his talents, his creativity and full spiritual potential, the place to live is the Land of Israel, at home, ever close to Jerusalem, taking a part in the higher, Divine life of the nation.