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The Derech Eretz Show
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.
"By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion."
What causes many Jews in the Diaspora to have a distorted, off the wall orientation to Israel? Rabbi Kook informs us the reason – an alienation from the secrets of Torah. Here are excerpts from Chapter Two of the book, Lights on Orot, a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly on Rabbi’s Kook’s classic work Orot, Take your time. Print it out. Read it slowly. It will help you to understand what Yom Haatzmaut is all about. For readers who prefer shorter, more bloggier blogs, we will be getting back to them next week. Hag Samaoch!!
In the first essay of "Orot," we learned that Eretz Yisrael is not a secondary, external acquisition of the nation, but rather an essential, life-giving foundation of Clal Yisrael. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the future of the Jewish people depends not on strengthening the Diaspora, but rather on strengthening the connection to Eretz Yisrael. In this second essay, Rabbi Kook explains in greater depth how an alienation from the secrets of Torah causes a distortion in our comprehension of Judaism and a crisis in Jewish life."By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion."
We mentioned that the secrets of Torah which Rabbi Kook refers to are the deep Kabbalistic understandings which chart the inner spiritual blueprint of the Jewish nation. We are not speaking here about the Tree of Kabbalah which can be found illustrated in popular books on the subject. While this metaphor for the Sefirot, or differing levels of G-d's manifestation in the world, is a central understanding of Kabbalah, many other secrets of Torah appear throughout the Aggadah, and the Midrashim of our Sages. Works of wisdom such as the Zohar are the esoteric understandings of these writings. Rabbi Kook's great genius was in applying this tradition of knowledge toward understanding the development of the Jewish people in our times. His writings illuminate the inner workings of the national Israeli soul as it awakens to Redemption and physical expression in the rebuilding of the nation in Eretz Yisrael. The book, Orot, is in effect a deep esoteric study of these themes.
This deeper understanding is necessary in recognizing the vital importance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people. When we speak about Kabbalah, however, we are faced with an immediate dilemma. By its very nature, something secret is beyond our immediate awareness. Inner essences are hidden from mere superficial inspection. If a person is not educated to search for deeper levels, in Torah or any other field, he surely will not find them; he will not miss them; he will not even be aware that an inner dimension exists.
Not everything in life can be rationally explained. For example, the love between two people is something much more than a list of common attractions. A marriage partner or friend may be kind, smart, trustworthy, funny, and the like, but the attraction between two people is based on intangible reasons as well.
In light of all of the technical and scientific advances of modern times, the world recognizes the existence of forces which the human eye cannot detect. Microscopes, lasers, satellites, and telescopes have opened up worlds we never knew existed. The molecules, atoms, and genetic codes which were once hidden from our eyes are now recognized as the real building blocks of the physical world around us. Similarly, disciplines like psychology and sociology have led us to discover inner blueprints for both individual man and mankind. Only after a period of intensive probing can we uncover the inner secrets which rule a large part of our lives.
This invisible foundation of life is especially true in regard to the spiritual world. For example, G-d is invisible to the biological eye, yet He exists all the same. We recognize His presence either through a deep contemplation on the majesty of Creation; through faith in the traditions passed down from our forefathers; or through a profound personal experience in which G-d enters our lives. Yet we can never describe exactly His essence for, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways, says the Lord. For My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts."1
The Torah is comprised of levels, from the revealed surface understanding called, Pshat; to a more inner contemplation called, Remez; to explanations called Drash; and to esoteric secrets known as Sod. The compilation of the inner, transcendental level of Torah is called Kabbalah. Only through its knowledge can we grasp the exalted specialties of the Jewish nation, and understand the inherent symbiosis between the Jewish people, Torah, and Eretz Yisrael. In fact, our Sages have told us that it is precisely the study of this deeper aspect of Torah which will pave the way to Israel's Redemption.2
Beside the difficult path of learning and character refinement which a person must follow in acquiring the secrets of Torah,3 there is another reason why this branch of knowledge has remained the exclusive possession of a small number of elite Tzaddikim. Throughout the history of Galut, the focus of Torah learning was on the revealed, practical side of Torah alone. Gemara and Halacha were the primary topics of study. With our exile from Israel and the destruction of our national framework, the focus on the national perspective of Torah and on the Clal was displaced by a preoccupation with the individual Jew and the personal mitzvot he was commanded to perform. In the Diaspora, the private, ritual precepts were all that we had.4 The deeper, philosophical level of Torah was largely ignored. To be sure, a select line of Sages5 continued to learn Kabbalah, but their knowledge was not shared by the masses.
Without the inner formulas of Torah, a person only recognizes external realities. In effect, he sees only the upper part of the iceberg. His life revolves around his own private circle, and not around the life of the Clal. In consequence, he fails to recognize the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael and to understand its absolute value and importance to the nation.
The one-dimensional level of learning which sometimes characterized the Diaspora world gave way to a truncated observance of Judaism, an "orthopractice" which lacked a deep base. Jews dutifully observed the precepts, but often "the depths of Divine life" were missing. The outer shell of Torah was left without the heart. The Tikuney Zohar explains that people who do not delve into the secrets of Torah make Torah observance into a dry, routine, handed-down Judaism lacking genuine depth.6 Without the inner formulas of Torah, a person only recognizes external realities. In effect, he sees only the upper part of the iceberg. His life revolves around his own private circle, and not around the life of the Clal. In consequence, he fails to recognize the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael and to understand its absolute value and importance to the nation."By alienating oneself from the secrets of G-d, the highest Segulot of the deep Divine life become extraneous, secondary matters which do not enter the depths of the soul, and as a result, the most potent force of the individual's and of the nation's soul will be missing; and the exile is found to be pleasant in its own accord. For to someone who only understands the superficial level, nothing basic will be lacking in the absence of the Land of Israel, the Jewish Kingdom, and all of the facets of the nation in its built form."
An alienation from the secrets of Torah creates an alienation from the highest realms of Divine existence. It causes a barrier, blocking a person from being in tune with the most vibrant powers of his soul, and with the soul of the nation. When these aspects of Torah are missing, one can have a good life, a productive and meaningful life, but not a life of the Clal; not a life imbued with the spirit of G-d which infuses our national soul. This higher Divine life is only possible when one is deeply connected to the secrets of Torah and to Eretz Yisrael.
It is important to note that even an outstanding Torah scholar can develop a distorted understanding regarding Eretz Yisrael if he is not steeped in the esoteric teachings of our nation.7 In the Diaspora, with its emphasis on the individual, someone who only studies the revealed side of Torah can become alienated from the nation's inner yearnings and goals. A Talmid Chacham can be learned in Halacha, but distant from the deep philosophical reaches of Judaism.8 The Spies in the Wilderness were the Torah leaders of the tribes, yet they failed to recognize the necessity of living in Israel.9 The Gaon of Vilna teaches that this same sin haunts the Jewish people in every generation.10 When one puts a personal focus over the life of the Clal, the yearning for a national homeland can become weakened and confused. This tragedy arises when the Torah is not learned in all of its fullness.
It must be noted that an alienation from the secrets of Torah is not caused by intellectual shortcomings, but rather by a lack of identification with these concepts. Even an expert in Kabbalah can be estranged from the realm of inner Segulot if he approaches his studies in the spirit of intellectual endeavor alone. Only by sublimating one's entire existence to the Divine esoteric ideals can an honest and passionate love be developed for this branch of knowledge.
What are the exalted Segulot which Rabbi Kook refers to? We mentioned in the first essay that the concept of Segula is not something which can be defined by rational terminology. The usual English translation, "treasure," refers to something special, something of great value, something hidden. In this light, the Segula of Israel can be understood as the highest specialty of the Jewish people, as its inner uniqueness, the trait most exclusive to the Jewish people which only the nation of Israel possesses. Certainly Israel's Divine election is unique to the Jewish people alone. Israel, and only Israel, is the nation chosen by G-d to reveal His Kingship in the world.11
Furthermore, we are to be a Divine Clal, and not simply an amalgamation of Jews.12 We are a holy NATION and not merely individual Tzaddikim. This is a pivotal understanding. Among the gentiles, individuals can achieve levels of saintliness according to their deeds.13 But in Am Yisrael, THE WHOLE NATION IS HOLY, possessed with a Divine national soul.14
When we understand our Segulah in being a holy nation, we can readily understand our need for a holy land. But, by being alienated from the deep Kabbalistic formulas which express the inner workings and foundations of Jewish life, the individual Jew and the Jewish people as a whole will be estranged from this understanding, and from the highest and most precious aspects of G-d in the life of the nation. These highest Segulot are expressed by our connection to Am Yisrael, to Eretz Yisrael, to the Torah in all of its depth, to the Kingdom of Israel, and to the yearning for Salvation, for the Temple, the Sanhedrin, for prophecy, and for "all of the aspects of the nation in its rebuilt form." Our identification with these national foundations is what infuses the Jewish soul with its most potent force and expression. Thus the most outstanding heroes of Judaism are those Tzaddikim who have the greatest love for Clal Yisrael, and who most fervently yearn for Jerusalem and the nation's upbuilding.15
In contrast, someone who understands only the superficial level of Judaism will feel nothing lacking if he lives far away from the Land of Israel, in a foreign country, in a gentile land, under a gentile government. He is estranged from the deeper levels of Judaism and the more lofty aspirations of the Clal. He is satisfied with the individual obligations which he feels he can perform just as well in Chutz L'Aretz, and thus the exile finds favor in his eyes. He does not feel a need for his own Jewish land and government, nor for a Jewish army, nor for any of the other foundations of national Israeli life. His focus is on Shabbat, Kashrut, and Tefillin. To perform them, he does not need Eretz Yisrael. He may go to shul every morning, and learn a page of Gemara each day, but he does not miss living in Israel. The opposite is true – he enjoys the Galut. He enjoys his work, his community, the education he can give to his children, and the opportunity he has to experience the best of both worlds – his Judaism and the gentile world around him. If there is an inner, esoteric need to live in Israel, he does not feel it. To his way of thinking, the concept of nationhood has nothing to do with Judaism, or with being "Frum."
Even great Torah leaders can fall prey to this compromise with Galut. An example of this can be seen in Yaacov Avinu's descent to Mitzrayim. At first, he journeyed to Egypt to merely sojourn there, and not to settle down. "And he went down to Mitzrayim and sojourned there."16 The Sifre comments that Yaacov did not intend to settle down permanently, but rather to live there temporarily, until the years of famine in Canaan passed.17 With time, however, his family's orientation to the land of Egypt began to change, as it says, "And Yisrael settled in the land of Mitzrayim, in the land of Goshen, and they took possession of it, and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly."18
The commentary "Kli Yakar" writes: "This verse is a condemnation of the children of Israel, for Hashem decreed to Avraham that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, while they desired to be settlers and property holders in a land not their own. And they settled down so permanently that they did not want to leave Egypt until Hashem was compelled to take them out with a mighty hand, and those who did not want to leave died in the three days of darkness."19
Interestingly the word ויאחזו in the verse, "And they took possession of it," has the passive-tense meaning of, "And they were possessed by it." The Midrash explains that the land took possession of them.20 While Yaacov merely intended to sojourn in the land, his descendants let themselves be gripped by the land. Yaacov himself foresaw this danger and made his son Yosef swear to bury him in the Land of Israel, in order to make clear that Eretz Yisrael, and not Egypt, was their one and only true homeland.21
Similarly, today, after generations of Diaspora existence, many Jews identify themselves with the place in which they live, whether it be England, France, or Brazil. Israel is often considered a faraway dream, a nice place for a visit, but not a place vital to a Jew's day-to-day life.
Rabbi Kook tells us that when we are not immersed in the inner depths of Torah, we become vulnerable to the influences around us. After years of exile, the impure gentile cultures begin to seep into our national psyches.22 Our pure Jewish thinking becomes polluted. Slowly, we wander away from our own inner sources and strengths. We become alienated from our inner Segulot, from Clal Yisrael, from the Divine sensitivities which separate the Jew from the gentile, until finally we assimilate into the culture of yet another foreign land.
When we allow ourselves to become estranged from our deepest roots, we lose our longing for the exalted attachment to G-d which can only be achieved through our attachment to His nation. Without this deep connection, the yearning for Salvation from Galut becomes a side issue, an extraneous matter, a song about Mashiach which does not enter the depths of the soul."For him, the foundation of the yearning for Salvation is like a side branch that cannot be united with the deep understanding of Judaism, and this itself testifies to the poverty of insight which is found in this juiceless perspective."
We mentioned in Chapter One that one of the questions a person is asked when he reaches his Heavenly rest is, "Did you yearn for Salvation?"23 If a Jew is not longing for the Redemption, for Salvation from the Galut, then something is wrong. If he his happy in the Diaspora, then his Judaism is out of focus, and he is out of touch with his soul's deepest yearnings. As the Kuzari poignantly declares, his prayers for Jerusalem and Zion are like the chatterings of a nightingale, melodious but empty of meaning.24 Because he does not feel his soul's most inner desires, he does not feel the need to be saved. From what? From whom? Three times a day, he recites the words in the prayer book, "We yearn for Your Salvation all day long,"25 but when the davening is finished, he forgets. The prayers are talking about someone else, about some other time, about some other Galut. Because he is removed from the loftiest goals of Judaism, he may not even experience a sense of exile at all.
Elsewhere in Orot, Rabbi Kook writes: "A man of Israel who wants to merit the true light of life must be willing to immerse himself in Knesset Yisrael with all of his heart, with all of his senses, with all of his physical and spiritual strength. He must make the goal of his life the acquisition, to the extent that he can, of the proper Israeli attributes and the knowledge unique to the Jewish people, of which the foremost is Torah in all of its breath and multifarious aspects, and with this, all that relates to the deep wisdom of Israel . . ."26
How is one to achieve this immersion in the life of Clal Yisrael? Rabbi Kook continues: "The more a person increases Torah study and the performance of mitzvot, he is more connected to Knesset Yisrael, and he inwardly feels the soul of all of the Clal, in its most exalted essence; and he feels in all of his being the pain of Knesset Yisrael's disgraced fallen state, and he takes pleasure in the future cosmic joy which awaits her."27
Rabbi Kook calls for a more holistic approach to Torah, for a learning which encompasses all of the Torah, the hidden and the revealed, rather than dividing it into seemingly separate pieces. His son, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda, would emphasize this point again and again. On the verse in Tehillim, "The Torah of Hashem is perfect; it restores the soul,"28 Rav Tzvi Yehuda would explain that the Torah is complete only when it is learned in all of its encompassing perfection.29
This can be compared to a doctor. If he studies only about diseases without acquiring a deeper knowledge of human anatomy as a whole, he can only prescribe temporary remedies, which may alleviate the surface irritation, but which ignore the internal cause. Only by understanding the complex chain of reactions which occur throughout the body can he effectively cure the inner pathology.
The more a person connects himself to the depths of a matter, the more he unites with the thing itself. The more you know a loved one, the more you become united. Similarly, the more a scientist delves into the mysteries of life, instead of discovering a world of separate forces, substances, and species, he finds of world of unity comprised of the same fundamental molecules, atoms, genetic material and codes. Instead of particularization, he discovers harmony.
So too, the more a person delves into the inner realms of existence, he becomes more connected to the unifying oneness, to the universal aspect of Creation, because the inner soul of all Creation shares the same Divine spark.
Conversely, the more a person is externally oriented, the more importance he will place on the material world around him – his clothes, his car, his status among colleagues and peers. Instead of a world of unity, he lives in a world of division and competition.
The Zohar teaches that the nation of Israel and the Torah are one.30 When a Jew is connected to the secrets of Torah, he is connected to his inner soul, and thus to the inner soul of all of the nation. There, in the highest realms of the nation's Divine Segulot, he unites with the inner soul of Eretz Yisrael which is inherently bonded with the life and soul of the Clal. He yearns for a healthy national life in all of its facets. He comes to understand that the highest worship and sanctification of G-d's Name comes through the life of the nation of Israel, and not through the deeds of the individual Jew.31 Instead of living a private life, he raises himself up to identify with the eternal life of the Clal.
This deeper attachment to Torah, to Clal Yisrael, and to the yearning for a full national life in Israel is the Torah ideal. This is the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, the complete Torah; as our Sages tell us: "There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael."32
Thus, when a person is cut off from the secrets of Torah, he does not feel anything lacking in being a part of a foreign country and land. He sees no difference between the mountains and valleys of Israel, and the mountains and valleys of Italy or Vermont. His spiritual radar is broken. His recognition of Kedusha is lost. He is unable to feel anguish over the exile of the nation, because he does not feel a connection to the nation as a whole.
Zionism, whether religious or secular, isn't for him. He feels content where he is.
"We are not rejecting any form or contemplation which is founded on truthfulness, on sensitivity of thought, or on the fear of Heaven, in whatever form it takes; but rejecting only the specific aspect of this perspective which seeks to negate the secrets of Torah and their great influence on the spirit of the nation – for this is a tragedy which we are obligated to fight against with counsel and wisdom, with holiness and with valor."
This alienation to the deepest yearnings of the nation is "testimony to the poverty of insight which is found in this juiceless perspective," which emphasizes only the revealed side of Torah. A Judaism which negates the esoteric realms of Torah is a dry, lifeless Judaism, divorced from the Divine Spirit which rests on the nation. This is the Judaism which leads to the dry bones of Ezekiel's prophecy. It is a Judaism content with Galut, cut off from the nation's constant yearning for Redemption.
A great tragedy results when we make Jewish life in the exile the goal of Jewish existence. In the introduction to the Siddur, Beit Yaacov, Rabbi Yaacov Emden writes: "When it seems to us in our present peaceful existence outside of the land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, this is to me the greatest, deepest, most obvious, and direct cause of all of the awesome, frightening, monstrous, unimaginable destructions that we have experienced in the Diaspora."33 Whether the destruction comes through pogroms, a holocaust, or day-to-day assimilation, the tragedy is the same."We are not rejecting any form or contemplation which is founded on truthfulness, on sensitivity of thought, or on the fear of Heaven, in whatever form it takes; but rejecting only the specific aspect of this perspective which seeks to negate the secrets of Torah and their great influence on the spirit of the nation – for this is a tragedy which we are obligated to fight against with counsel and wisdom, with holiness and with valor."
When a Jew does not yearn for Salvation, a foundation of Torah is lost. This results from the superficial perspective of Judaism which Rabbi Kook decries. He is careful to add that all other Jewish outlooks based on true Divine service have their rightful place. When they stem from a pure fear of Heaven, all disciplines of Torah – Mussar, philosophy, Hasidut, pilpul, literature, prayer, and the like, all contribute positively to the whole. It is only the specific outlook which denies the secrets of Torah and their influence on our lives which he condemns. A simple, faithful service of G-d is proper, but it is not all that there is. The Torah includes not only the revealed understandings, but the hidden understandings as well.34 If a philosophy negates the esoteric teachings of Torah, and regards those who learn them as if they possess no Torah at all, this is a distortion of Judaism which must be combatted. It must be battled with counsel, with wisdom, with Kedusha and valor. Rabbi Kook raises up the banner of Redemption with the call for a deeper, more valiant illumination of Torah which will vanquish the darkness of exile by adding a holier light.
1. Isaiah, 55:8-9.
2. Orot, Orot HaTechiya, 64, Pg. 95, Translated by Rabbi Pesach Yaffe in "Celebration of the Soul," Genesis Jerusalem Publications, Pg. 208, Orot HaTechiyah, 57,59,67,69. Letters of Rabbi Kook, Vol. 1, Pg. 233. See Tikuney Zohar 30. Even Shlemah 11:3, by the Vilna Gaon, "The Redemption will not come except through the learning of Torah, and the main Redemption depends on the learning of Kabbalah." See also, Rav Mordechai Atia, Preface to the Pardes of Rav Moshe Kordevero.
3. See Mesillat Yesharim, and Shaare Kedusha by Rabbi Chaim Vital for a detailed study on the refined character traits needed to establish a proper foundation for the reception of Ruach HaKodesh.
4. Berachot 8A.
5. Isaiah, 12:3, Targum, "With joy you shall welcome a new learning from the elite Tzaddikim." See the book "Meditation and Kabbalah" by R. Aryeh Kaplan for an in-depth discussion of this topic.
6. Tikuney Zohar, Tikun 30. Orot, Pg. 101.
7. Torat Eretz Yisrael, The Teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda, Pgs. 248-255. See also Rav Mordechai Atia, loc cited above.
8. Orot, Pg. 101.
9. Numbers, 13:31. Mesillat Yesharim, HaRav Chaim Luzzato, Ch. 11, in the discussion on Honor.
10. Vilna Gaon, Kol HaTor, Ch. 5: "Many of the sinners in this great sin of, `They despised the cherished land,' and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in this sin of the Spies, that they have been sucked into the sin of the Spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the Rishonim and Achronim."
11. Exodus 19:5-6. Isaiah, 43:21.
12. See Torat Eretz Yisrael, Ch. 2, Clal Yisrael.
13. Tanna Debe Eliyahu Rabbah, Ch. 9. Shaare Kedusha, Part 3, Gate 7.
14. Orot, Orot Yisrael, Ch. 9.
15. Mesillat Yesharim, Ch. 19.
16. Deut. 26:5.
17. Sifre, Ki Tavo, 26:5.
18. Genesis, 47:27.
19. Kli Yakar, verse cited.
20. Midrash HaGadol, there. See also, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on the Torah, loc. cited.
21. Genesis, 47:29-31; and 49:29-32 (See the commentaries of Rabbi Munk and Rabbi Hirsch there).
22. Vilna Gaon, Likutei HaGra, at the end of Safra D'Tzniuta.
23. Shabbat 31A.
24. Kuzari, 2:24.
25. Shemona Esrei prayer.
26. Orot, Orot Yisrael 3:6.
27. Ibid 3:7.
28. Tehillim, 19:8.
29. Based on Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot, 5:3.
30. Zohar, Levit. 73A.
31. Orot HaTorah, HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, 13:7.
32. Bereshit Rabbah, 16:4.
33. Siddur Beit Yaacov, Introduction.
34. Torat Eretz Yisrael, Pgs. 13-15.
This week, when we will be celebrating Israel Independence Day, in order to better understand the supreme importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and Judaism, we will be examining a series of poignant essays written by Rabbi Kook. The full essays and commentaries appear in the book, "Lights on Orot," which I had the merit of co-writing with the distinguished Torah scholar, Rabbi David Samson of Jerusalem.
To understand who we are as a nation, and to actualize our role in the world, we first have to understand the special relationship between the Divinely-chosen people and the Divinely-chosen land.
Readers are encouraged to take the extra time and effort to read and understand these extremely important writings.
The book, OROT, explores the deepest understandings of the nation of Israel, and Israel's role in world redemption. In beginning the treatise with a series of essays on Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kook explains that a proper understanding of the nation of Israel can only be obtained after one first recognizes the significance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people. To understand who we are as a nation, and to actualize our role in the world, we first have to understand the special relationship between the Divinely-chosen people and the Divinely-chosen land.
The first essay of OROT is not only a study of our connection to the Land of Israel, it is also an introduction to the Segula of the nation, one of the main themes of Rabbi Kook's writings. This Segula, a Divine inner attachment to G-d unique to the Jewish people, is the key to understanding the unity of the nation of Israel, the Torah, the Land of Israel, and G-d.
To comprehend the depths of Rabbi Kook's writing, we first must recognize that the world has both a physical and spiritual dimension. A world perspective encompassing the physical and spiritual worlds does not come easily. Much work is needed to activate our inner natures, and to cultivate our spiritual powers. This is our task as Jews and a holy nation – to link the physical world with the Divine. As Rabbi Kook makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the G-d given place ideally suited for this task.
Upon a superficial examination, one might think that our attachment to Eretz Yisrael is based merely on a historical relationship, or on the need for a homeland to bring our oppressed and scattered people together. Rabbi Kook rejects this understanding outright. He calls upon us to probe beyond surface explanations toward a much deeper contemplation. Our connection to the Land of Israel, like the connection of the soul to the body, transcends rational explanations. The connection is a deep spiritual bond. Rabbi Kook tells us that Eretz Yisrael is an intrinsic and inseparable part of the nation, a deep inner root of the nation's existence – and not merely a branch.
For instance, our connection to Eretz Yisrael is not dependent on history. Eretz Yisrael was given to Avraham Avinu without previous historical connection. The bond between Avraham and the Land was not based on any external reason. The Brit between Avraham and the land was Divine. Only in the Holy Land can the national life of the Chosen People be totally uplifted to G-d. The prophecy exclusive to the Land of Israel, the mitzvot unique to the land, and the Beit Hamikdash are all manifestations of this Divine connection. It is an attachment based on Ruach Hakodesh, beyond scientific inquiry and rational explanation. This first essay of OROT introduces us to this higher vision and to the need to perceive Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael in a deeper, more poignant light. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
"Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter."
The Hebrew word, "Hitzoni," in this important first sentence has the meaning of external, superficial, peripheral, secondary; a side matter lacking central importance – something which is not integrally vital to existence. Before explaining what the land of Israel is in positive terms, Rabbi Kook tells us what the land of Israel is not. He first rejects the mistaken understanding which views Eretz Yisrael as a means to a goal, and not as a goal in itself. He wants to negate the opinion which maintains that while the Land of Israel has historical and even strategic importance, it is not something vital to Jewish existence.
A few simple examples will help us understand the difference between an external matter and the central matter itself. When a person wakes up in the morning, he dresses and begins his daily routines. The clothes he chooses to wear are an important part of his day, but they are not the person himself. While there is a popular expression, "The clothes make the man," one readily recognizes the superficiality of this phrase. Though a person may feel more attractive wearing a blue shirt than a black one, his choice of attire does not represent his essential self. Joseph Cohen remains Joseph Cohen whatever suit of clothes he wears.
Similarly, a person may feel different riding to work in a Cadillac than in a Chevrolet, but the car remains an external appurtenance and not the man himself. A man's identity is much more than his profession, his clothes, his car, his job, or his residence. All are external elements which influence his life, but they do not constitute his inner self.
The Jewish people without the Land of Israel are not the essential Jewish people, but rather a mere shadow of their inner potential.
One can readily understand these examples. In the case of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, however, the relationship is not an external one. The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is not a peripheral matter. On the contrary, the nation of Israel and the Land of Israel are inseparably united. As Rabbi Kook will explain, the Land of Israel is an absolute foundation of the Jewish nation. The Jewish people without the Land of Israel are not the essential Jewish people, but rather a mere shadow of their inner potential.
The thought that Eretz Yisrael is an accessory to Judaism, and not a central pillar in itself, is a tragic distortion which was caused by the nearly 2000 year exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. After years of wandering in foreign countries, scattered among the gentiles, and separated from our homeland, our orientation to the Land of Israel became distorted and confused. Instead of being a day-to-day reality integral to our lives, Eretz Yisrael became a faraway dream. In our Diaspora existence, the most important aspects of Judaism were the matters which affected our daily lives – Torah study, prayer, the Sabbath, Kashrut, and the mitzvot which we were still able to perform. Eretz Yisrael became something of secondary importance – a place to which we would one day return, but not an essential part of the Jewish experience.
This misconception results when we misunderstand the true culture of the Jewish people. The foundation of our culture is not just the holidays and the performance of precepts, but in our being the nation which brings the word and blessing of G-d to the world. As we will learn, our national attachment to G-d can be achieved exclusively through the Land of Israel.
To help us remember the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism and to the nation of Israel, let us reflect on a few teachings of our Sages regarding the special qualities of the land of Israel.
The Zohar calls the Land of Israel, the heart of all lands.
The word of G-d goes forth to the world only from the Land of Israel, as the prophet says, "From Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem."
The Midrash tells us that the goodness which G-d grants to the Jewish people emanates from Zion: "All of the blessings and consolations, all of the good which the Holy One, Blessed Be He, brings to the Jewish people, all of them come from Zion."
Additionally, all of the blessings which G-d sends to the world flow out of Eretz Yisrael: "All of the vitality of all of this world, and all of the blessings and Divine Influence to all – they all come down initially to Zion, and from there, they are proportioned to everyone on earth."
Hashem 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 center of His world blueprint, in the land particularly suited to its holiness. Eretz Yisrael enjoys a special relationship with the Almighty. It is the meeting place, the point of intersection between the Divine and the physical world. For example, when the Divine seeks written expression in the world, the result is Torah. When Hashem seeks a national, earthly expression, the result is Am Yisrael. So too, the manifestation of Kedusha in geographic terms appears only in Eretz Yisrael. "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). These Divinely designed receptacles of holiness, the Torah, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael, are united in their essence.
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).
In Chutz L'Aretz, 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.
Certainly, G-d reigns the world over. From our point of view, however, there is a great difference in our ability to receive the Divine content. Our Sages teach us that 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). In Chutz L'Aretz, 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.
This unique, life connection between Hashem and the Jewish people in Israel has very real quantitative and qualitative advantages. For instance, Eretz Yisrael is the land where the Shekhina appears, and where prophecy is transmitted to the Jewish people.
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 (See Ramban, loc cited). Our Sages teach that the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only reminders 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).
In the Land of Israel, we are a living people. The Gaon of Vilna writes that in the Diaspora, we are like bodies lacking spirit – the physical shell of a people without inner life (Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzniuta. Ezekiel, 37,12-14).
This seems preposterous. After all, the Jewish people survived in Galut for nearly 2000 years. Many of our greatest Torah scholars lived in Galut. Profound Talmudic works were written there. Orthodox communities thrived all over the world. How can this vast Jewish achievement be considered a mere physical shell?
First, it must be made clear that the lack of life and spirit referred to is not on the individual level, but in reference to our national life as Clal Yisrael. A proper understanding of Clal Yisrael, of the Jewish people as a whole, is vital to an encompassing understanding of Torah, and to the writings of Rabbi Kook. To understand the life-giving connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, we first have to comprehend who we are as a Clal. The normal definition of a Clal is a collective, a gathering of individuals for the purpose of furthering a common goal. In a partnership, when the goals have been achieved, the partners can split up and go their own way. The partnership or collective never takes on a life of its own, but rather only exists to serve the needs of its members. This is not the case with the Jewish people. Clal Yisrael is not just the sum total of the Jewish people at any one time. It is the eternal soul of the nation, past, present, and future. It is a Divine creation, above time and physical space, which was formed before the world came into existence. The soul of the Jewish people, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one. Their roots exist in transcendental unity in the most exalted realms of the Divine.
Our true life is as a Clal, and not as a collection of individual Jews. In the Diaspora, Jewish nationhood is shattered. We lack the Divine spirit which fills Clal Yisrael when the nation is living its full sovereign life in Israel. The prophet Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones is a picture of the Jewish people in Galut. Outside the Land of Israel we are like corpses without spirit. Only with the ingathering of the exiles to Israel do our dry bones come to life:
"Thus says the Lord G-d; Behold O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the Land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and have brought you up out of your graves, and I shall put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land..." (Ezekiel, loc cited).
Eretz Yisrael is the land Divinely created for Clal Yisrael. By Divine fiat, the Jewish people cannot be a nation in Germany, Uganda, America, or in any other land. Only in Eretz Yisrael can we be a sovereign people with our own government, language, and army. Everywhere else on the globe, we are citizens of foreign countries, alienated from our own true national framework and land. Thus, because Jewish nationhood is a foundation of Torah, the most complete Judaism is the Judaism practiced by the Jewish people when they are sovereign in their own land. As Rabbi Kook tells us at the end of this essay, true Jewish life is being Jewish in Israel.
In the light of this introduction, we can take a more meaningful look at the essay’s first sentence:
"Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of the general coalescing of the nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual."
Generally, people believe that the reason a nation needs a land is to insure its physical existence. Obviously, a place to live is a foundation of any nation. According to this world view, the land only provides a physical shelter. The culture of the nation evolves from the society which the people establish, and not from the land, which possesses only external importance.
Rabbi Kook begins his essay on Eretz Yisrael by rejecting this way of thinking. He tells us that Eretz Yisrael is not merely a means towards a goal, lacking value in itself. A means is something which you can live without if you have a suitable replacement. This is the world view which led Theodore Herzl to look toward Uganda as a possible site for the reestablishment of the Jewish nation. To his way of thinking, the land was merely the means toward the goal of creating a national homeland. Of course, the Land of Israel had historical significance, but Uganda or Argentina could do just as well. Herzl and other early Zionists also understood that a Jewish homeland was needed for cultural reasons – to prevent assimilation and shelter the nation from the dangers of foreign ideologies, but the land itself, its location, climate, features, and history were not the deciding factors. The goal was the physical coalescing of the nation – the land was merely a vehicle to help achieve this end.
Obviously, the plan for Uganda never materialized. "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of G-d is what stands." Among the laws of the universe which G-d created is that the Jewish people belong in Israel. Jewish life outside of Israel is abnormal – a devastating punishment and curse. Jews can live as scattered individuals throughout the world, from Yemen to Brooklyn to Paris, but they can only live as a sovereign NATION in Israel.
Rabbi Kook writes that Eretz Yisrael is not merely a place of physical refuge for downtrodden Jews. Nor is it even a place to attain spiritual heights or to do extra mitzvot. How then are we to relate to the Land of Israel? Once we are freed from erroneous understandings, we can attempt to discover a deeper, more encompassing vision.
"Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit, bound with a living attachment with the nation, bound with inner Segulot with the nation's existence."
Jews in the Diaspora can be successful and make outstanding contributions to world civilization, but only on an individual level. Without our own land, we exist as individuals, stripped of our national foundation and splendor.
What is the meaning of this difficult sentence? Firstly, the Land of Israel is not merely a means, but a value and goal in itself. It is connected by a living bond which is inseparable from the nation. The land and the nation cannot attain their full life and expression, one without the other. They are complementary, united, with an active spiritual and physical union. Without the Jewish people in Israel, the land is doomed to lie in desolation, as it had throughout nearly 2000 years of exile. Similarly, just as the land is desolate when Jews are not in it, the Jewish people are desolate when they are not in the land. Outside the land of Israel, the Jewish people are wanderers without their own country, waiting to rise to resurrection and rebirth. True, Jews in the Diaspora can be successful and make outstanding contributions to world civilization, but only on an individual level. Without our own land, we exist as individuals, stripped of our national foundation and splendor.
Rabbi Kook tells us that at the core of the bond between the Land and the nation is an inner Segula, a unique spiritual holiness granted by G-d which the land and the nation share in common. The concept of Segula is usually translated into English as "a special treasure." The Torah tells us that the Jewish people is to be G-d's Segula among the nations. "You shall be My own Segula from among all of the peoples." This Segula is expressed in Israel's Divine chosenness, in being G-d's special treasure amongst the other nations of the world. Our distinction as G-d's chosen people is manifest in our Kedusha, our eternity, and in our prophetic potential. We are the bearers of the word of G-d in the world.
The inner Segula of Clal Yisrael is also shared by Eretz Yisrael. A special Divine chosenness unites the two in an inseparable holy bond. For instance, in our daily morning prayers, in the section of Pesukei D'Zimrah, we say, "For the Lord chose Zion, He desired it for His habitation," and in almost the same breath, we continue, "For the Lord chose Yaacov as His own, Israel as His Segula." Both the Land and the nation of Israel are chosen. "For Hashem will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His heritage" (Tehillim, 94:14). G-d's heritage is the Land of Israel, as we learn from the verse, "Then He established it for Yaacov as a statute, for Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, `To you I shall give the land of Canaan, the lot of your heritage'" (Tehillim, 105:10-11). The nation and the Land are eternally intertwined in G-d's plan for creation. Even their names are the same. Yisrael refers to both the Land and the nation.
Thus, Eretz Yisrael is much more than a means. It is of supreme value in itself. The Kedusha of the land does not evolve from the mitzvot performed there. Rather, the unique mitzvot of the land stem from the inherent holiness of the Land. This is why they are called "the mitzvot that depend on the land." The Land is holy by itself.
Rabbi Kook tells us that the specialness of the land and of the nation is something above the general, rational understanding of man. For instance, one of the most outstanding aspects of the Segula of the land is prophecy. Just as the Jewish people are the people of prophecy, the Land of Israel is the place of prophecy on earth. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in his book, the Kuzari, explains how prophecy distinguishes Israel from all other lands. In the same way that one country may have an abundance of oil, and another vast resources of gold, Eretz Yisrael holds the monopoly on prophecy. It occurs only in the Land of Israel, or pertaining to the Land of Israel.
Prophecy is one way in which the Land of Israel facilitates the culmination and adulthood of the Jewish people. Only by living in Israel can the Jewish people attain their true and maximum potential, and be a kingdom of prophets as in the days of King Saul when prophets roamed the land. For Divine truth to be revealed in the world, the Jewish people need to be in Israel.
"The thought regarding Eretz Yisrael that it has merely a peripheral value to facilitate the subsistence of the unified nation; even when it comes to fortify the concept of Judaism of the Diaspora, in order to preserve its form, and to strengthen the belief and fear of Hashem, and to strengthen the performance of the commandments in a proper fashion – this orientation toward Eretz Yisrael is not worthy of lasting fruition, for its foundation is rickety in light of the towering, unshakable Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael."
Here, Rabbi Kook returns to re-emphasize his original teaching that the Land of Israel is not something secondary to Judaism and to the Jewish nation. He is addressing an erroneous belief that the Jewish people can live without Eretz Yisrael. This viewpoint asserts that the Judaism of the Diaspora is an end in itself, and that Jewish life in the Galut is a positive goal. In Rabbi Kook's eyes, this philosophy lacks foundation when compared to the towering Kedusha of Jewish existence in Eretz Yisrael. Like the exile itself, this weltanschauung of Galut lacks lasting value and the fruitfulness to insure its continued existence.
We mentioned that Herzl and other secular Zionists saw Eretz Yisrael as merely a means to unite the countryless Jews and thus preserve the physical nation. They failed to understand the vital connection between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael because they did not realize that the nation of Israel was essentially different from the nations of the world. They did not understand our true identity and our true national ideal which reaches culmination with the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and the export of Divine blessing from Zion to the rest of the world.
Rabbi Kook writes that this short-sightedness is not limited to secular Zionists, but can be found in religious circles as well. Sometimes it takes the form of an outright rejection of the land of Israel. Proponents of this view claim that Jews can live a full and even better Jewish life in the Galut than in Eretz Yisrael. Others, less extreme in their rejection of Israel, agree that Eretz Yisrael is the ideal Jewish homeland, but at some later date, with the advent of Mashiach.
As a general rule, Diaspora leaders focus on strengthening their Diaspora communities, and not on bringing their communities to Eretz Yisrael. This Diaspora outlook on Judaism downplays the centrality of Jewish nationhood in order to strengthen Jewish life in Galut. When Eretz Yisrael is made out to be a secondary matter, the building of Torah in exile is seen to be the highest and ultimate goal. For instance, many books have been written on Judaism which do not even mention Eretz Yisrael.
The Gemara states: "Always a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are idol worshippers, and not live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews."
In this philosophy, the mission of Judaism is to unfold in the Diaspora. The Torah is no longer to go forth from Zion, but rather from Berlin and New York. According to this theory, a Jew can be a more influential light to the nations when he is scattered amongst the gentiles. Eretz Yisrael is reduced to being a faraway, metaphysical, future ideal. This distortion can transform Galut communities into bastions of Judaism in much the same way as some Jews in Babylon erroneously believed they had discovered a new Jerusalem outside of Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim, 6:8)
Moreover, the material and physical demands of a homeland are seen as dangers interfering with Torah, mitzvot, and the service of G-d. This view relegates the Gemara in Tractate Ketubot to Aggadic legend. The Gemara states: "Always a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are idol worshippers, and not live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews."
This is also the Halachic decision of the Rambam (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12).
Placing the Diaspora in the center of Jewish life negates the inner Segula of Eretz Yisrael to the nation. Eretz Yisrael is seen as something external to the spirituality of Torah, without any spiritual content of its own. Only the Torah remains.
Torah, however, is more than a spiritual ideal. Judaism is G-d's plan for uplifting all of the world to the service of G-d, the physical side of life as well as the spiritual; the national as well as the individual. This exalted goal can only be achieved by the example of a nation – when Israel lives its complete Torah life in Eretz Yisrael. We are to be a light to the world, not just as righteous individuals scattered throughout the four corners of the globe, but as a Divine holy nation with an army of Torah scholars, as well as a army of tanks; a justice system founded on Torah; Divinely-ordained agricultural laws; and with the Temple at the center of national life. This is the call of Sinai which Moshe brings to the nation, in his very first teaching in the book of Devarim: "You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn away and take up your journey... go in and possess the land" (Devarim, 1,6-8).
The Torah was not given to be lived in the wilderness of Sinai, but in the hills and valleys of Eretz Yisrael. In desiring to keep the spiritual side of Torah alone, and not its holy, earthly component, the Spies brought about the death of their entire generation. The lack of faith they displayed in rebellion against G-d’s commandment to settle in the Promised Land reverberates until today when there are still Jews who argue against coming to Israel.
Of course, if our nation has been scattered in exile due to its sins, making it physically impossible to return to our Land, we are not punished for not fulfilling the mitzvah of living in Israel. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would compare this to a situation which frequently occurred in Russian communities when Jews were unable to procure an etrog during the holiday of Sukkot. In a case like this, a Jew has no recourse, and he cannot perform the mitzvah. But the mitzvah of taking an etrog on Sukkot does not disappear. So too with the mitzvah of living in Israel – the moment the mitzvah returns to our hands, it is our sacred obligation to fulfill it.
Thus, Rabbi Kook writes that if we look upon Eretz Yisrael as a sidelight to Judaism, our connection to Judaism will fail to bear fruit. As generations pass, Judaism will fail to survive in our children because Judaism's foundations in the Diaspora are weak in comparison with the towering Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, relegating Eretz Yisrael to a secondary role in the life of the Jewish nation is to be rejected even when it comes for the seemingly positive purpose of strengthening the Judaism in the Galut. Ultimately, any Jewish outlook which undermines our connection to Eretz Yisrael is destined to fail, because the Judaism of Galut is, by its very nature, temporary, a punishment and a curse.
"The concept of Judaism in the Diaspora will only find true strength through the depth of its involvement in Eretz Yisrael. Only through its longing for Eretz Yisrael will Diaspora Judaism constantly receive its inherent qualities. The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself."
Here, Rabbi Kook concludes his essay with a very illuminating insight. If one wants to truly strengthen Judaism in the Diaspora, the only lasting way is to strengthen its connection to Eretz Yisrael. This means that there is no essential independent essence to the Diaspora. It has meaning only in its relation to Israel. Galut is a passing phenomenon. A blemish which will heal. A punishment which is destined to come to an end. No matter how pleasant certain exiles may seem, Jewish life outside of Israel is an abnormal situation, an unhealthy Judaism, a destruction of our national format, and a curse. In Galut, we are ill with a lingering sickness. Our body is shattered and spiritually diseased. Thinking that Galut is our healthy ideal is to build a structure which is destined to collapse.
A Jew's true relation to Judaism comes not when he asks what Israel can do for him, but when he asks what he can do for Israel.
The strengthening of Torah learning and practice in exile will not come by minimizing the need to be in Eretz Yisrael, and by making Galut a valid Jewish option in itself, but by linking Diaspora Judaism to the source of Divine Jewish life and holiness in Eretz Yisrael.
In reality, the Diaspora is the means, and Eretz Yisrael is the goal. The exile is merely a way station, a detention center, a transitory stop until we return to our true life in Israel. For this reason, the Halacha forbids us to build houses of stone in the Diaspora, because stone is a symbol of permanence, while we are always to long to return home to Zion (See the "Shlah HaKodesh, Amud HaShalom," end of Sukkah; and Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 138).
Thus we learn that Eretz Yisrael is the true goal of the Torah, and not the Galut. In reality, it is Diaspora existence which is peripheral, external, secondary to Judaism. In this light, we can understand Rashi's commentary concerning the commandment of Tefillin which reappears in the second paragraph of the Shema. On the verse, "And you shall put these words of Mine on your heart," Rashi explains that the commandment of Tefillin is reiterated after the warning of exile to teach that we are to perform the mitzvot even after we are exiled from Eretz Yisrael, so they will not be new to us when we return – for the true place of Judaism and the mitzvot is in the Land of Israel (Rashi, Devarim, 11:18).
A Jew's true relation to Judaism comes not when he asks what Israel can do for him, but when he asks what he can do for Israel. The complete Judaism is the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael. This, Rabbi Kook teaches, is the Salvation itself:
"The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself."
In emphasizing the yearning for Salvation, Rabbi Kook is referring to a Gemara which relates that when a person dies and reaches the Heavenly court, he is asked several questions: "Did you deal honestly in business? Did you set aside fixed times for the study of Torah? Did you yearn for Salvation?" (Shabbat 31A).
What does it mean to "yearn for Salvation"? The commentary of the Ran explains this as a yearning for the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets in one's lifetime? A Jew has to have one eye on the Tanach, and one eye on the daily headlines to see how the prophecies of Redemption are being materialized in his lifetime. Many great Sages, including the Ramban, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the Gaon of Vilna, and Rav Kook himself, interpreted this yearning to mean packing up one's books and going to live in Israel. This is the Salvation itself – the return to our national Torah life in Israel.
What affords the Jewish people stamina through our long years of exile? The yearning for Salvation. This means salvation from the Diaspora. Our daily prayers for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael grant us the fortitude to survive. The Psalm, "If I forget you O Jerusalem," is the bond which holds us together and which gives Diaspora Jewry its meaning and form.
A Diaspora can be in Paris, in Crown Heights, or in a very lovely suburb of Johannesburg. It can be a very comfortable exile, but it represents a destruction of our national wholeness which we are commanded to mourn. The book, Mesillat Yesharim, explains that the mourning over the exile, and the yearning for Israel's Salvation are essential foundations in the righteous Jew's service of G-d:
"Every Sage in Israel who possesses the words of Torah according to their true understanding, and grieves over the honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He, and for the honor of Israel all of his days, and yearns and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and for the Temple, and for the swift flowering of Salvation, and the ingathering of the exiles, he merits Divine Inspiration in his words... A Hasid of this kind, aside from the Divine service he performs in carrying out the precepts with this motivation, must certainly feel constant and actual pain over the exile, and over the destruction of Jerusalem, because of their tendency to minimize the honor of the Blessed One. And he will long for the Redemption, so that the honor of the Blessed One may be raised" (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.19).
The Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is to be our true goal. Jerusalem is to be the center of Torah and Jewish life. This is the Salvation which every heart should long for. Our Sages teach us that the Geula unfolds a little at a time, like the awakening of dawn. Today, we are in the middle of the process, witnessing the gradual, inevitable cessation of Galut, and the equally gradual rebuilding of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael. Slowly, increasingly, the yearning for Salvation is giving way to the Salvation itself – the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael.
Let’s face it, in America, France, Italy, Japan, or South Africa, how long would an Israeli flag last sticking out the window of a car before it was ripped off and cast to the wind?
Please be advised that I am not writing this blog for my daily choir of detractors. They have fortified themselves with such a doctorate of excuses that they are incapable of admitting their mistake. I don’t know why they bother to read this blog if they so disagree with my opinions. If it is to spread their anti-Israel ideology to others, what difference is there between them and the Spies who brought disaster upon the generation of Jews in the Wilderness while they were on the way to Eretz Yisrael?
I am writing this blog to the majority of Diaspora Jews, lovers of Israel. Some don’t yet understand the great importance of living in Israel, and others have actually contemplated coming to Israel, but simply have not been able to take the step because of the many real difficulties involved.
INDEPENDENCE FROM FOREIGN IDENTITIES
Today, driving my kids home from school, my youngest asked if we could buy a flag for the car, from the youth who was selling them at the intersection where we had stopped for a red light. With four days to go before Yom Haazmaut, blue and white Israeli flags are everywhere, waving from windows, rooftops, storefronts, and cars. Youths stand at almost every intersection, peddling the small flag and plastic stick that clips onto the window of your car. We already have one at home, but who knows where it is in the after-Pesach upheaval, so I readily agreed. What a happy smile on my son’s face as I handed him the little banner!
Jewish children growing up in Israel celebrate the Independence Day of the Jews, and not of the Americans, Canadians, or Japanese. They learn about brave Jewish soldiers and heroes, and not about George Washington, Napoleon, or Hirohito. They sing Jewish songs like the holy "Hallel" prayer that is recited in many synagogues, and not "The Star Spangled Banner." Even the secular pioneer ballads being played on the radio are filled with a spirit of Jewish valor and love for the Land. In short, kids in Israel grow up with a one-hundred percent Jewish identity, and not the schizophrenic, dual loyalty of being Jewish-Americans, which is to say, Americans all week long, and Jews during Shabbos.
Let’s face it, in America, France, Italy, Japan, or South Africa, how long would an Israeli flag last sticking out the window of a car before it was ripped off and cast to the wind?
As Tarzan affirms, if a child is raised in the jungle with apes, he will grow up thinking that he is an ape too. Is this what we want for our children?
An adult can make his own decisions. He is free to do what he wants. But why should Jewish parents bring up their children with split mentalities, half-Jew-half-gentile, where their nationality comes from the gentile country they live in, and their Jewishness is reduced to a religion - when they could raise them in the Jewish Homeland as one-hundred percent Jews? How can a parent knowingly discombobulate their children’s minds and implant in them a spurious identity that they may never be able to shed? To me that’s child abuse. After all, a person forms his opinions, values, and judgments according to his upbringing and surroundings. As Tarzan affirms, if a child is raised in the jungle with apes, he will grow up thinking that he is an ape too. Is this what we want for our children?
LAG BAOMER IS COMING!
In Israel, the same night that Pesach ended, children all over the country began collected sticks and boards, branches and empty crates, wooden loading platforms and broken doors, in anticipation of Lag BaOmer bonfires weeks away. All day long, you can see kids dragging discarded lumber and dry branches through the streets. Already, with sixteen days to go, two-story high towers of wood can be see wherever you look. In the Diaspora, how many Jews have even heard of Lag BaOmer? The Hasidim, sure. But your average Jew? The minute he lights a match, the police are on the way. The Klu Klux Klan can burn bonfires, not Jews. He’d have to get permits from the Fire and Park and Police departments before he could even begin gathering wood. Boy Scouts have bonfires. High school football teams and their cheerleaders. But Jews in the Diaspora? No way. Jews have to keep a low profile in the neighborhood. They can’t ignite blazes that draw attention to something Jewish.
For those of you who have never experienced a Lag BaOmer, it is the 33rd day of Sefirat HaOmer. It is the day that the great and holy Sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, master of the secrets of Torah, and author of the "Zohar," passed on from this world to the next. The bonfires all over the country celebrate the flaming light of his Torah achievement, which can never burn out. It is a national celebration, religious and secular alike, young people and old. School is cancelled. Each year on Lag BaOmer, a half million Jewish pilgrims make the long trek to Meron in the north of the country to pay respects at his tomb. How many people go to George Washington’s grave on his yahrtzeit? Probably not even a minyan.
True, there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington, and a Jewish Museum in New York, but there, the Jews are viewing Jewish history – here we are making it.
The point is that on this festive holiday honoring the Torah, and the legendary Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, the children of Israel are involved with Jewish heroes. This is real, living, experiential Jewish education that builds kids into being completely Jewish, inside and out. It isn’t the virtual Diaspora education gleaned from Internet websites and books. True, there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington, and a Jewish Museum in New York, but there, the Jews are viewing Jewish history – here we are making it.
So if you want your children’s Jewishness to be more than a museum visit, bring them to the Land of the Jews, where they will grow up as true Children of Israel, the way that G-d wants them to grow up, speaking Hebrew in their own Jewish Homeland, not as virtual Jews, but as Jews through and through, just like in the days of the Bible.
I promised in the Pesach Eve confession that I was going to work on my hauntiness and my holier-than-thou posturing, so I am throwing away the towel and the "Mr. T’shuva" image that went with it. Instead, I have chosen a snapshot from my old Israeli Army days. I wasn’t the greatest of soldiers, and it is probably coincidental that Tzahal has gone downhill since I left it ranks. Nonetheless, the picture is appropriate to the new Hebrew month of Iyar, and its celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut and Jerusalem Day. Hopefully, it will remind readers that one needn’t be a gentilized Jew in the exile, like I used to be in my Hollywood days, always trying to be even more gentile than the gentiles.
Please do not mistake the vehemence of the debate for animosity. I am fond of my fellow Jews in the Diaspora, even the most strident debaters, and they probably have grown a cyberspace liking to me.
With the help of G-d, in the upcoming weeks, in addition to our usual potpourri of essays, we will be writing in depth about the holiness of the Jewish State, and clearing up some of the distortions, misunderstandings, and outbursts of ignorance still surrounding the subject. While we are certain that the great majority of INN readers have a great love and appreciation for the State of Israel, there are others who disseminate all kinds of negative nonsense about it. They do this in order to justify their own failure to come to Israel and contribute their share in rebuilding the Jewish Nation in its Land. Since these confused souls bring all kinds of proclamations and proofs to support their exile mentality, we are forced to restate things that are obvious to every healthy mind, so that the poison not spread to others who may be adversely influenced by their practiced glibness. We are not so naive to believe that we can change their opinions, rather we will write about the unparalleled mitzvah of living in Israel, so that their love of foreign countries does not lead others astray. Just as there are those who will hear the call of our Prophets resonating from these pages and see the actualization of their prophecies in the events of our times, there are others with blocked ears and blind eyes, who will be lost, like those who perished in the Plague of Darkness. Nonetheless, we pray to G-d, as the Jewish People have been praying for two thousand years, "May You blow the shofar of our freedom, and raise the banner to gather our exiles, and bring us speedily together from the four corners of the earth to our Land."
Ironically, this is also the prayer that our erring brothers, the Israel bashers themselves, say three times a day, though they merely mumble the words with no thought to what they are saying, like the chattering of parakeets in a cage.
Please do not mistake the vehemence of the debate for animosity. I am fond of my fellow Jews in the Diaspora, even the most strident debaters, and they probably have grown a cyberspace liking to me. True, I think their views are off the wall, but I understand that life in the exile has distorted their clearness of thought. Often my very own children think differently than me, but I love them just the same.
To conclude, a word about my credentials, lest detractors claim that I am a white-washer of the country’s ills. Though I love the State of Israel with a passionate ardor, I have no qualms about recognizing its faults and working to improve them. I can do this because I live here. I have served in the Israeli Army and so do my children. Though my house is filled with Israeli flags throughout the whole month of Iyar, and a blue and white flag flaps proudly on the antenna of my car, I have no problem with criticizing the faults of governments and political leaders who formulate policies detrimental to Torah and to the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. For example, together with friends, I designed and produced many of the most strident protest posters during the Oslo years. Posters we made protesting the traitorous evacuation from Gush Katif were plastered all over the streets and highways of Israel and were seen at every demonstration. When the Stop The Evacuation Committee in Gush Katif came out with their fawning, bootlicking, sychophantic "Love Will Win Out" campaign, we advised them that they were wrong, that Sharon would only step on them for their weakness. Unfortunately, they clung to their illusions, unable to distinguish between the holiness of the State and the evildoers in power. Thus they rejected the hard-hitting protest video we made for them, preferring a "la-la-la" musical video clip of settlements that were doomed for the chopping block and the cruel, heartless carving knife of the butcher. Later, after the tragedy, the video we made condemning the unpardonable crime and its perpetrators was seen by INN viewers all over the world. Another anonymous video, made with the help of talented friends, about the pogrom at Amona, was seen in unsparing detail by uncountable INN viewers who watched aghast as the Darth Vadar horsemen of the Israeli police trampled upon rock-throwing youngsters. That video, distributed all over Israel during the last elections, helped reduce the landslide of votes predicted for Olmert and his Kadima (Achora) party. We did it even though we knew that there would be Jews in the Diaspora who would use the cossack-like brutality of the police at Amona to bolster their long list of excuses for not coming to Israel. So, my friends, while I praise G-d with all of my heart for giving us the State of Israel, I feel no hesitation in fighting against those who seek to corrupt its Divine mission of making all of the Land of Israel, the Land of the Jews alone.
When a Jew steals, or watches pornography on the Internet, or speaks slanderously about life in the Land of Israel, his holiness is soiled, but he is still a Jew. We do not throw him in the garbage because he is not perfect.
Yes, the State of Israel is holy! Just like each and every Jew. When a Jew steals, or watches pornography on the Internet, or speaks slanderously about life in the Land of Israel, his holiness is soiled, but he is still a Jew. We do not throw him in the garbage because he is not perfect. Though he has sinned, his essence is still holy. If he repents and corrects his erring ways, his holiness will sparkle as before. So too with the State of Israel, which is
G-d’s great and holy gift to the Jewish People, the vehicle He has chosen for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the scattered and decimated Jewish Nation. We appreciate all the wonderful good that Medinat Yisrael brings to our nation, and at the same time, we work hard to improve its faults.
Jews of the world! Religious and non-religious alike. Take off your blinders! Cast off your pathetic, transparent excuses! Pick up your shovels, roll up your trousers, get your hands dirty, and come home and help with the work of rebuilding our holy nation in our Holy Land!
Lots of people are angry these days. Spouses, neighbors, motorists, writers of blog comments, jilted boyfriends with guns, the next guy in line. Anger is a general malaise of our times. The saintly Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, has a remedy for this. It is an essay explaining anger, which he recommends reciting every day. We are going to call time-out, and give everyone a chance to cool down. Let it be an opportunity for each one of us to turn inward and continue with the spiritual cleaning that we might not have finished before Pesach. That’s what this period of Sefirat HaOmer is all about.
TIKUN FOR ANGER
by the Kabbalist, HaRav Eliahu Leon Levi
"You should know, my dear child, you have arrived into this world in order to rectify character traits that you blemished in your previous reincarnation. And you are obliged to do this work now, as quickly as possible, before our righteous redeemer comes – may it be soon.
"Only in this manner will you reach the promised shore and be united with your Creator in the bonds of love, and thus merit to be called a friend and loved one to Hashem.
"It is known the attribute of anger is at the head of the ladder of character traits demanding correction. A Jew is the pinnacle and foundation of creation, and anger is a most evil sickness that causes him to lose all of the noble things within him.
"Rectifying anger is very difficult, requiring many days and nights of strenuous and painstaking work, but all to the good. In the majority of cases, this trait deceives you and has you believing that, "Baruch Hashem, I have finally mastered my temper, and thank the L-rd, I am not overly stringent with people and don’t get angry anymore. On the contrary, I control my emotions and almost resemble an angel, just like Hillel the Elder, may his name be for a blessing."
"Nevertheless, if you be tested, then at a moment’s notice, over some very small thing, you become angry and pollute your soul with your fury. All of your hard work and suffering comes to naught, and everything you accomplished is lost. In my opinion, your fall was caused by two factors. One is your pride, and the second is a lack of simple faith, for everything that comes about is sent from the Creator of the World, both happiness and sorrow, wisdom and ignorance, contentment and wealth, everything is from the Blessed One Holy Be He. So why get angry? Why get uptight? Why lose your temper? Why be jealous? Why take revenge? Everything comes about because of G-d’s providence. No one can tell him what to do or how to act, for everything comes from Him, may He and His Name be blessed, and He is pleasant and good to all.
"Therefore, you should know, my child, you are far too precious to act so foolishly, for you resemble the upper worlds. Your holy being is attached to the spiritual worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah, and composed of nefesh, ruach, neshama, chiya, yichida. In your body is a holy soul that has been quarried from beneath the Throne of Glory, and you are perpetually connected to the highest spiritual worlds, to our Father in Heaven. Divine illumination and influence descends to you from those exalted regions, along with a whisp of Ruach HaKodesh, as it says, "And behold, the L-rd stood over him," to constantly grant you life, goodness, and material blessing.
All of this goodness comes to you so that you may keep the Torah and commandments with an expanded consciousness, with health, contentment, wealth, fruitful marital relations, saintly children, a long life filled with the reverence of G-d. With so much goodness, what were you lacking that caused you to get angry?
You have arrived into this world in order to rectify character traits that you blemished in your previous reincarnation. And you are obliged to do this work now, as quickly as possible, before our righteous redeemer comes – may it be soon.
"Therefore, my precious child, be very careful not to get angry, for anger pollutes the soul. In its wake, a person not only loses the connection he had with the person with whom he is angry, but he most certainly causes a severe spiritual disconnection in damaging the channels of Divine influence, thus bringing darkness over his nefesh, ruach, neshama, chiya, and yechida, and over all of the elevated spiritual worlds that he carries within his body. And from this comes mental problems and serious illnesses like heart attacks, asthma, ulcers, and other evil things, may G-d have mercy.
"Thus, my dear child, please understand the degrading level that a person can be brought to by the evil trait of anger. If you do not stop yourself from getting angry by being patient toward the person who is upsetting you, or by reacting in some positive manner, or by thinking some good thought about him, and about saving yourself, then in a moment of anger, you turn yourself into the lowest of the lowly creatures in this world. You cause the Holy One Blessed Be He to flee from you, and your holy soul abandons your body, and a soul from the realm of impurity enters in its place, polluting your being. You become vile, like a carcass, for your soul is cast away from you, as if it had died, and everything, everything is lost.
Even if you are great in Torah learning and good deeds, and even if you are a genuine baal t’shuva who constantly works on rectifying himself by doing all sorts of tikunim, all of your efforts are lost, for your soul is replaced by another, and you must do everything you did anew. And all of the mitzvot that you did in your life, it is as if they never existed at all.
"See, my child, the place where your great anger has brought you. In the world, there is nothing so precious as you, the pinnacle of this holy creation, yet you have fallen to such a frightening and grievous state. Just the possibility of this should have brought you to tremble in anguish and shock.
"Therefore, my child, joy of my heart, take the time to ponder just how you came to this situation, to what fathomless depths you have fallen, and to what lowly place you have brought your soul and your body when you became angry without thinking. In the future, take heed! Constantly fix it in your mind to remove this evil obstacle from your life. Constantly, be on guard not to succumb to this ugly trait that separates you from celestial blessing, from happiness and wealth, and from all of the good that our Father in Heaven always seeks to grant. By guarding yourself from this evil, you will merit all of the blessings that are written in the Torah, and you will be awarded with long life with your family, lasting health, happiness, and great satisfaction in everything that you do. Amen."
[Other essays by Rabbi Levi can be found at www.jewishsexuality.com]