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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.
Cheshvan 26, 5771, 11/3/2010
It turns out that INN’s Baruch Gordon is in New York on a kiruv and aliyah project, working to bring people closer to Judaism and Eretz Yisrael. He was sighted twice in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, and today someone sent me a photo of him in New York, posing with one of the locals.
Baruch Gordon in New York
Luckily, I was able to reach Baruch on the phone.
“Baruch, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Great!” he responded with his usual up-beat enthusiasm. “I love the Jews here in America! They’re the greatest! Some of them look like they’ve been through Hiroshima with all the spiritual impurity they have to live with here, but they’re Jews all the same and I love ‘em. If you show them you care, you can uncover the shtikaleh Yidden in all of them. To me they’re like diamonds. Sure, they’re a little dirty and beat up from the exile, but when you clean and polish them up with a little Torah, they all turn out to be sparkling gems.”
“Who’s that guy you’re with in the photo they sent me?” I asked him.
“A new friend,” he answered. “The poor guy’s had a real down and out battle with guarding the Brit. For a while he was married to a gentile, then went through a long bout of addiction to porn on the net, but he wants to give it all up now and come live in the Holy Land. He’s starting to keep Shabbos and is even growing a beard. You can probably see it in the picture.”
“That’s great! Yasher koach!” I told him. “Hatzlachah! You should have a lot of success!”
“I’ve got him booked on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel next week. Kiryat Arba has agreed to set him up in an apartment and start him off in an ulpan. The poor guy doesn’t know any Hebrew at all, but he’s gun-ho to learn.”
“When are you coming back home?” I asked.
“I really don’t know. There’s lots of work to do here,” he replied. “There's over two million Jews in the naked city. Each one could make a whole blog.”
“Listen, Baruch,” I told him, lowering my voice. “Bring me back a pastrami sandwich on rye with real New York mustard. I’ll pay you 1000 shekels.”
“No problem, my friend,” he told me.
I can’t wait till he gets back – not to see him, but to bite into that pastrami. Oh man. Just thinking about it drives me crazy! Come home, Baruch, soon!!!
Cheshvan 25, 5771, 11/2/2010
You have to live here in a holy fashion as well. Not just as Jew in Israel. A Jew, wherever he or she lives, is obligated to live his or her sexual life in a holy fashion. That’s one of the main things that distinguishes the Jewish People from the nations of the world.
When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and subsequent generations angered G-d with ever-increasing sexual transgression, G-d chose Avraham to father a holy nation that would lead the world out of its immoral darkness to the light of holiness and morality. In promising the Jewish People the Holy Land, G-d entered into a Covenant with Avraham for all time, the Covenant of Brit Milah, whereby Avraham and his descendants were to circumcise their offspring and guard the holiness of their sexual lives, as the Torah says: “And G-d said to Avraham: therefore you shall safeguard My Brit, you and your seed after you in their generations” (Bereshit, 17:8-10).
While the nations of the world wallow in the smut of sexual immorality, the Torah calls upon the Jewish People to set a higher standard. The pursuit of selfish animal pleasures championed by the cultures of the world are all forbidden by the Torah, such base and carnal actions as masturbation, pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexuality, viewing pornography on the Internet, dressing immodestly, and the like.
To help fellow Jews survive the tsunami of promiscuity that surrounds us everywhere, in our homes and out on the street, we have created the website jewishsexuality.com which is a virtual library of important information and knowledge about the laws of proper sexual conduct. Here’s a brief sample of some of the Questions and Answers posted on the site:
The list goes on….
Have a good time.
Cheshvan 24, 5771, 11/1/2010
Now that we’ve established beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is a great mitzvah to live in Israel, we have to ask why more people don’t come on aliyah?
In my humble opinion, the answer is fear. People are simply afraid. Some are of afraid of leaving their parents. Others are afraid of leaving grown children behind. Some are afraid of Israeli army service. Others are afraid they won’t find suitable work. Some are afraid of starting life all over. Others are afraid of tackling Hebrew. Some are afraid of losing the standing they have in their Diaspora communities to come to a new place where no one knows them. Others are afraid of culture shock. Some are afraid of terrorism. The bottom line is fear.
All the other excuses are smokescreens in an effort to hide this basic underlining fear. The real reason why people don’t choose to come is not because of Bibi, or the bikini beaches in Tel Aviv, or because of what happened in Gush Katif, or because of Israeli rudeness, but because they are afraid.
I don't mean the people who truly can't come because of whatever sincere reason, but rather the majority of people who could come, but don't.
Also, I don’t mean to be critical or condescending. Making aliyah is indeed a difficult and challenging endeavor. Surely, it is the hardest mitzvah there is. In my case, in addition to the great and constant kindness of G-d, my successful absorption in Israel was aided by Israeli friends whom I had met through the volunteer work I did for several Israeli organizations while still in America. Plus, while it was painful for my parents that their son was so far away (until they themselves made aliyah) , they always were there to offer financial backing in times of need. I understand that making aliyah is not easy. It wasn’t easy for our forefather, Avraham. It wasn’t easy for Joshua and the Children of Israel. It wasn’t easy for Ezra and Nechemia and the olim who came up to Israel with them from Bavel. It wasn’t easy for the pioneer settlers of our time.
So what’s the solution? Emunah. Faith in G-d.
This isn’t something new. A lack of emunah was the cause of the tragedy of the Spies, who rebelled against G-d’s commandment to journey on to Eretz Yisrael. They were afraid of the giants they saw, who made them feel like “grasshoppers.” They were afraid of dying in battle. On a deeper level, the Zohar and “Mesillat Yesharim” reveal that they were afraid of losing the honor they enjoyed as the Torah leaders of the tribes in the wilderness. They realized that a new, more all-rounded type of leader would be needed to meet the challenges of settling the Land, a more physical, fighter, farmer, activist, and organizer; and so, to protect their positions of esteem, they rebelled against G-d and refused to journey on to Israel.
Even though the Spies were the distinguished leaders of the Jewish community in the wilderness, they didn’t have emunah, as the Torah testifies: “In this matter, you did not believe in the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim, 1:32). In other matters, they did believe. But in the matter of aliyah, they didn’t have emunah. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook called this a state of half-emunah. However, the foundation of emunah begins with Avraham Avinu, as it says, “And he had emunah in the L-rd” (Bereshit, 15:6). He wasn’t a half-believer. He believed with complete faith, “emunah shelama” (Thirteen Principles of Faith of the Rambam). When G-d told him to go to Israel, he went without hesitating, with no questions asked.
Rabbi Kook emphasized that emunah has to be learned. A lack of emunah, as in the case of the Spies, occurs when the Torah isn’t studied or understood in the proper fashion. This comes about in the darkness of exile when people forget that living in Eretz Yisrael is the foundation of keeping the Torah, when they are not taught by their local Diaspora rabbis that the goal of Judaism is to build the Jewish Nation in the Land of Israel according to the laws of the Torah.
For now, I’d like to leave you with a practical tip. It’s always helped me in times of uncertainty and fear. I memorized it by heart and say it like a mantra. The 23rd Psalm of King David. He had plenty of difficult trials and opposition in his life too, and he conquered them all with his great emunah. Immediately upon reciting this Psalm, it reminds me that Hashem is with me, and that there is nothing to fear. Here’s a translation in English:
A PSALM OF DAVID
The L-rd is my shepherd, I shall not lack anything that I need.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For Thou art with me,
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cups runs over.
Sure goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the House of the L-rd forever.
Cheshvan 21, 5771, 10/29/2010
Concluding the memorial tribute to Rabbi Meir Kahane, may Hashem avenge his murder, here is the final abridged portion of the chapter, "The Mitzvah to Live in Eretz Yisrael," from his book, "The Jewish Idea:"
THE JEWISH IDEA - Must reading for every Jew!
The Blight of Assimilation
How many souls have been lost and destroyed under the press of assimilation in the exile! “For she has cast down many wounded; yea, a mighty host are all her slain” (Prov. 7:26). Surely, this, alone, makes every Jew duty-bound to “cry out, and not hold back!” (Isa. 58:1).
As Isaiah proclaimed, “Depart! Depart! Get out of there! Out of her midst! Touch nothing impure! Be you clean, you who bear the L-rd’s vessels” (Isa. 52:11). Isaiah is calling upon Israel, the “bearers of the L-rd’s vessels,” because they bear the yoke of G-d’s mitzvot, to depart the defilement of the exile. Metzudat David comments, “Cleanse yourselves of all defilement, you who bear the L-rd’s vessels,” and Ibn Ezra comments:
“Get out of there”: Every single Jew from the place of his exile; “Touch no unclean thing”: Separate yourselves from the nations of the world; “Get out of her midst”: Everyone from the country of his exile.
"Rise up from thy graves! Get thee forth to the Land!" (Scene from the movie, "Night of the Living Dead"
Rashi wrote, “‘Get out of her midst’: The midst of the exile.”
Likewise, Jeremiah said regarding the Babylonian exile, “Flee the midst of Babylon! Exit the land of the Chaldeans! Be the he-goats before the flock!” (Jer. 50:8). Mahari Kra comments, “Jeremiah told them, ‘I know that in the future, whoever is in Babylonia will die by the spear or sword... so flee first, before calamity comes.’”
Today, when the last redemption looms before us and the Mashiach’s traces are visible, and when we have already merited, through G-d’s kindness, to return to Eretz Yisrael and establish a state, G-d’s cry is heard in all its might. Depart! Get out! Depart the defilement of exile, in order to be separated from the nations and protect the purity of G-d’s Torah; in order to save Jewish souls from the blight of assimilation; in order to sanctify Heaven’s Name by shedding foreign control.
The very exile is a Chilul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem. I shall further expand on this most basic principle, yet it would be worthwhile right here to explain that the very exile is a Chilul Hashem, and our return to Eretz Yisrael is the opposite — Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of Hashem. The nations’ having control over a Jew, and Israel’s lowliness in the exile, are called Chilul Hashem, in that the non-Jew rules over the People of Israel, and thereby, over the G-d of Israel. I have already made clear that this is Rashi’s intent regarding the verse, “My Holy Name will I make known in the midst of My people Israel. Neither will I suffer My Holy Name to be profaned any more. The nations shall know that I am the L-rd, Holy One of Israel” (Ezek. 39:7). Rashi said, “Israel’s lowliness is a Chilul Hashem, in that the nations say of them, ‘These are the L-rd’s people, [and they are gone forth out of His land]’ (Ezek. 36:20), yet He is unable to save them.”
The very conquest of Eretz Yisrael by the nations, and Israel’s exile from its land, allow the non-Jew to think that there is no G-d in Israel, Heaven forbid; because if there were, and if He were truly all-powerful, He would not let the nations destroy His land and Temple, and exile His people. Even if Israel do not endure real suffering at the non-Jew’s hand, the very fact that they must live in their lands at their mercy, dependent on their tolerance and benevolence, is a Chilul Hashem. Only when Israel dwell in sovereignty and might in their own land is G-d’s Name sanctified. If Israel stubbornly refuse to leave the exile, G-d — with fury poured out — will liquidate their exile in order to blot out the Chilul Hashem. Now is surely the time to “flee before calamity comes.”
"What's he talking about? We're not living in darkness!"
In a word, the idea of Israel living under the dominion of the nations and their alien culture, is by definition a Chilul Hashem, and clashes with G-d’s will to establish a chosen, treasured people in a chosen, treasured land. There, Israel would be separated and isolated from the nations’ cultures and alien beliefs, fulfill pristine, complete Torah lives, and establish a sovereign, independent state and society under G-d’s rule, and that is a Kiddush Hashem.
Every Jew has a sacred, absolute duty to live in Eretz Yisrael, because living in the exile contradicts and profanes G-d’s will.
What mental gymnastics and sophistries are employed to justify loathing the Desirable Land! Just as G-d liquidated the exile in Egypt and allowed no Jew to remain, killing those who refused to leave for Eretz Yisrael, so, too, in this period of final redemption, G-d will liquidate the exile with fury poured out and will annihilate any who refuse to leave it — Heaven help us!
G-d is Creator of the universe and Owner and Master of the earth and all it contains: “The earth is the L-rd’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). He gave Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People as their land, to enable them to fulfill their mission of building a state and society in accordance with the laws and foundations of the Holy Torah: “He gave them the lands of nations; they inherited people’s toils, that they might keep His statutes and observe His laws” (Ps. 105:44-45).
G-d took Eretz Yisrael from the nations who lived there and saw it as their home and birthplace, and He did it for one simple reason, the only reason that could justify Israel’s taking the land: because G-d, Who fashioned and created the universe, is its Owner and Master. He acquired the universe by having created it, and men, who are likewise just G-d’s creations, occupants in G-d’s house, are not entitled to protest. If G-d wishes, He brings a specific people into a specific home, or land, and if He wishes, He removes them, and they have no mastery over a land unless He permits them to live there.
As far as Eretz Yisrael is concerned, no apologies or justifications are necessary. The Jewish People came to the land where the seven nations dwelled and took it from them by decree of the Owner. G-d uprooted the nations who dwelled there and brought in His chosen people, Israel, because the land is His and does not belong to those who lived there as occupants.
All the nations who claim that we, Israel, are pillagers, are hypocrites. After all, many nations took lands from nations who lived on them without any right or pretext for doing so. For example, the Kaftorim annihilated the Avvim and occupied their land. [See Deut. 2 for further examples of nations who pillaged other nations and took their lands.]
The world and all it contains is G-d’s. When He so desired, He took it from you and gave it to us. Thus it says, “He has declared to His people the power of His works in giving them the lands of nations” (Ps., Ibid.).
Before Israel respond to the nations with the main answer, that the world belongs to G-d, they can advance a side argument, namely: How can you and the Canaanites attempt to pose as innocent? After all, Eretz Yisrael was given to the descendants of Shem, and the Canaanites, descendants of Ham, took it from them. As Rashi wrote regarding the verse, “The Canaanites were then in the Land” (Gen. 12:6): “The Canaanites were gradually conquering Eretz Yisrael from Shem’s descendants, for it had fallen to Shem’s portion when Noah divided up the earth amongst his sons.”
Thus, in response to the nations’ claim that Israel stole the Land, Israel can respond that the Land belonged to the sons of Shem, the Canaanites took it from them, and they are the thieves.
Afterward comes the main argument: The world and all it contains were created by G-d and belong to Him. He is the Owner, and He gives to whomever He wishes and takes from whomever He wishes. He chose Israel to be His chosen people, His supreme, treasured nation, and He gave them the Land to be theirs and not the Canaanites’.
It also says, “He will drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you, so as to bring you to their land, and give it to you as a heritage, as He is doing today” (Deut. 4:38). S’forno comments, “‘To give you [their land]’: Which is the land of G-d, ready to acquire the perfection directed from Above.” It likewise says (Deut. 6:10-11):
“To give you great, flourishing cities that you did not build. You will also have houses filled with all good things that you did not put there, finished cisterns that you did not quarry, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant. You shall eat and be satisfied.”
Thus, there really is no place for apologies and self-justification before the nations, and no need to seek “moral” pretexts for conquering Eretz Yisrael. It belongs to the Creator of the universe, the Owner and Master of the world. He took it away from the evildoers and gave it to us, and there is no higher morality than this - nor any greater acceptance of G-d’s yoke. Neither the nations nor Israel can claim any ownership of the earth. As it says, “All the earth is Mine. You are foreigners and resident aliens as far as I am concerned” (Lev. 25:23). To G-d belongs all the earth — it and all it contains are His alone. It also says, “Mine is the silver and Mine the gold” (Haggai 2:8); and, “For all things come of You, and of Your Own have we given You” (I Chron. 29:14).
Among the nations and the alien culture, all sorts of outlooks have been formed regarding property, and despite the superficial differences between them, all are based on the perception that the world and property belong to man. In this regard, there is no difference between what the non-Jews call “Capitalism,” “Socialism” or “Communism.” Whether a non-Jew argues that property is a private possession or argues that it belongs to society, he means that it is the property of man.
Not so, G-d, Whose Torah states that everything belongs to Him, and that property and possessions were given to mankind only for use. Thus, when G-d decrees that we must give tzedakah, it is our duty to do so. Tzedakah does not at all come from the property of the wealthy man. He has no ownership whatsoever over what is given him by Heaven. Hence, we force a man to give what G-d’s tzedek, justice, dictates that he give. Such is our sages’ intent in Avot 3:7, “Give to G-d of His own, for you and yours are His,” as well as in Torat Kohanim, Behar, 4:8: “The Land is Mine” (Lev. 25:23): “Do not scorn it.”
In any event, it is plain that Eretz Yisrael, G-d’s property, was given to Israel as their resting place and inheritance, their place to be set apart and isolated, to establish and maintain a perfect Torah state and society, a place where they will be immune to the depraved influence of the alien culture.
G-d took the Land from the nations and removed them from it, and He brought Israel into it so that they would keep His Torah and mitzvot. From the moment G-d decided to give the Land to Israel, it became Eretz Yisrael, the Land of the People of Israel — G-d’s land which He gave Israel to use as the Holy Land.
It is a mitzvah and duty upon every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael, and a Chilul Hashem when Israel lives outside of it. Furthermore, once G-d decreed that Israel must be separated from the nations and their alien, dominant culture, it clearly is forbidden to let the non-Jew live in Eretz Yisrael unless he is denied mastery and sovereignty over the Land and willingly accepts this. No non-Jew has the slightest right to ownership over the Land, and any non-Jew who denies G-d’s mastery and the ownership of His people Israel over the whole Land is rebelling against G-d, denying G-d’s sovereignty on earth and profaning G-d’s Name. He has one fate — to leave the Land or to relinquish his right to existence.
His biography is a chronicle of our times.
Cheshvan 19, 5771, 10/27/2010
As part of the memorial tribute to Rabbi Meir Kahane, we are posting the continuation of his chapter, "The Mitzvah to Live In Eretz Yisrael" from his book, "The Jewish Idea."
Kahane was right!
ERETZ YISRAEL is acquired through suffering and devotion. The deterioration in our values, and the blunting of Israel’s emotional attachment to Eretz Yisrael, emerged because we distorted the halachah, due to the wretched exile which conquered our minds and souls. We are also tempted to flee the difficult challenge and duty of isolating ourselves from the nations, and the hardships of earning a living in rebuilding our homeland. It all goes back to our Sages’ comment in Berachot 5a: “G-d gave Israel three fine gifts and all come only through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and the World-to-Come.”
G-d's gift to the Jews
A person’s whole life is a test to see whether he will accept the yoke of Heaven and of mitzvot. There is nothing precious that does not exact a heavy price. Eretz Yisrael, a precious gift, requires self-sacrifice, as befits a treasure of the Chosen People.
Wherever we go, we are obligated to prove our faith and trust in G-d, and certainly so in Eretz Yisrael, the Chosen Land, symbol of Israel’s isolation and their belief that “The L-rd alone guides them” (Deut. 32:12). Yet time after time we have failed in this. Our Sages learned (Tanchuma, Tazria, 6):
“A kohen who used to observe plague-spots (see Lev. 13) became poor and wished to leave the Land. He summoned his wife, saying... “Let me teach you how to observe plague spots. If you see that the well-spring of a person’s hair has dried up, know that he is smitten, for G-d created a well-spring for every single hair to drink from”... His wife replied, “If G-d created for every hair a well-spring of its own, how much more so will He provide a livelihood for you, who are a human being, with much hair, and have children whom you support!” Therefore, she did not let him leave the Land.
Lack of trust in G-d’s ability to support and defend us was, from time immemorial, the plague that severed us from the great mitzvah of living in the Land, causing us to distort the mitzvah and contrive all sorts of warped excuses to exempt ourselves from it. In the days of the Judges, Micah set up an idol in his house and found one person who agreed to officiate as its priest. According to our Sages, this was the grandson of Moses, the son of his son Gershom. When they asked him how he had agreed to this, he answered (Bava Batra 110a): “Such is the tradition I received from my grandfather’s house: “Better to hire oneself out to idolatry [avodah zarah] than to depend on charity.” He thought “avodah zarah” means actual worship of idols, whereas here it really refers to “strange work,” work [avodah] that one finds alien [zarah].”
Here is a lesson for every Jew who explains his scornful treatment of the Desirable Land in terms of inability to find satisfactory employment there. Such a person, instead of going up to Eretz Yisrael with trust in G-d, taking any work he can find, even if it is alien to him, the main thing being his fulfilling the mitzvah of living in the Land, prefers to worship idols in the exile, for it says (Ketuvot 110b), “If someone lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Let us consider in this light G-d’s command to Israel, immediately upon entering the Land and ascending to Gilgal from the Jordan, to circumcise themselves. At that moment, “all the males who left Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness.... and all those born in the wilderness... had not been circumcised” (Josh. 5:4-5). Yevamot 71b asks why they were not circumcised all forty years, and answers (Ibid., 72a):
“No northerly wind blew upon them [all those years, and without a northerly wind circumcision poses a danger]. Why was this? Possibly as rebuke to them, and possibly so the clouds of glory would not disperse.”
Yet the last explanation is hard to understand. Could it be that for the sake of the clouds of glory not dispersing, G-d nullified the great mitzvah of milah?
Rather, it is clear to me that G-d, despite milah’s grave importance, intentionally postponed its fulfillment so that all Israel would be able to fulfill it concurrently with entering the Land. Milah involves pain and blood, symbolizing the principle of self-sacrifice and faith in G-d. A lesson was thus imparted that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering. Moreover, combining milah with Eretz Yisrael served to set the Jew apart and to separate Israel from the nations and their abominations.
How could we as a nation have failed regarding this mitzvah, fleeing the suffering entailed in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, when ultimately it is the greatest gift G-d gave us? As it says (Jer. 3:19), “I gave you a Desirable Land.” So terribly has the cursed exile warped our nation, that many see no personal duty to leave the exile, and they do not at all consider it a punishment! What a perversion this is! This is a distortion of the Torah — through love of the Exile.
Indeed, the Jewish People do not wish to see the truth, as our Sages said regarding the spies. How can they explain to themselves the words of the Men of the Great Assembly, who ordained in the festival Musaf prayer, “Because of our sins we were banished from our Land,” while they expect to serve out their punishment in wealth and ease? Foolishness!
Woe to us from those who distort the Torah! Such persons quote Pesachim 87b, “G-d performed a charitable act for Israel, for He dispersed them among the nations,” and they derive from it that G-d’s casting us into the exile was a kind, charitable gift! Could there be a more terrible perversion than that? Every child knows that the Torah constantly presents the exile to us as a frightful punishment for our sins. In the second paragraph of the Shema, which we morning and night, it says, “You will rapidly be lost from the good land that the L-rd is giving you” (Deut. 11:17). We likewise find in the terrible Tochachah (chastisement) of Leviticus (26:33,36), “I will scatter you among the nations and keep the sword drawn against you.... I will bring insecurity upon those of you who survive in the lands of your enemies.”
Also, in Deuteronomy (28:64-65): “The L-rd will scatter you among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other.... Among those nations you will feel insecure, and there will be no place for your foot to rest. There the L-rd will make you cowardly, destroying your outlook and making life hopeless.”
Truthfully, the Talmud’s statement above regarding charity is making a simple point: It is not that the exile is something positive — surely it is the worst punishment there can be — but, rather, that it contains “charity.” If G-d has already condemned us to exile, He at least dispersed us. As Rashi explains, “So that the nations could not destroy them all at once.”
This is only partial consolation, for even in this there is a drawback. As our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 6): “I will scatter you among the nations” (Lev. 26:33): This is a hard blow for Israel, for whenever all of a country’s citizens are exiled to one place, they see one another and find comfort. With you it is not so, however, for in the future I shall scatter you among all the nations.”
Thus, exile is an intrinsically calamitous and shocking punishment, yet there is partial consolation in our not having been exiled to one place, where it would be easy for the nations to annihilate almost all of Israel. Clearly, however, those who quote the above exposition to prove the positive side of exile are either ignoramuses or the exile has warped them. Following is Torat Kohanim, Behar, Parsheta 5:
“To give you the Land of Canaan, to be for you a G-d” (Lev. 25:38): Based on this our Sages said, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.” Likewise, regarding King David it says, “Cursed be they before the L-rd, for they have driven me out this day that I should not cling to the inheritance of the L-rd, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19). Might we suppose King David would worship idols? Rather, he would expound, saying, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Our Sages also said (Sifri, Ha’azinu, 333), “R. Meir would say, ‘Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael, and recites the Shema morning and evening [which constitutes accepting G-d as King] and speaks the Holy Tongue [Hebrew] is assured a place in the World-to-Come.’”
The rejecters of Eretz Yisrael bring destruction. Israel’s refusal to cling, with faith and trust, to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, a mitzvah of equal weight to all others combined, is what has brought about, and, G-d forbid, will bring about, national calamities. Our Sages said (Yoma 9b):
“Resh Lakish was bathing in the Jordan, and Rabbah bar Channah [who had come up from Babylonia to study Torah] came and extended him his hand. Resh Lakish said to him, “I swear that I hate you! [i.e., the Jews of Babylonia.] Rashi comments, “By their not going up to Eretz Yisrael in Ezra’s day, they prevented the Divine Presence from returning and resting on the Second Temple”. It says, ‘If she be a wall, we will build upon her a silver turret, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with cedar boards’ (Song of Songs 8:9). Had you come up to Eretz Yisrael like a wall [en masse] in Ezra’s day, you would have been compared to silver, which cannot rot. Now that you have come up to Eretz Yisrael like doors, you are like cedar, which can rot.”
This shortsighted refusal to go up out of the exile is the primal sin which blocked the path to final redemption already during the Second Temple period. And the sin of Babylonian Jewry is repeating itself today, as exile Jewry sit tranquilly in a foreign land — Heaven help us — in a blind lack of faith and vision.
It was this that the spiritual giant R. Yehudah HaLevi intended in his great philosophical work the “Kuzari” (II:24, in which the Jewish philosopher responds to the non-Jewish king of Kuzar as follows): “You have shamed me, O King. This sin [the Jews’ refusal to return to Eretz Yisrael] is what has prevented us from completing what G-d ordained as the mission of the Second Temple. As it says (Zechariah 2:14), “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; [for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in your midst, says the L-rd].” The Divine plan was ready to unfold as in the First Temple, had everyone agreed to return willingly. Instead, some returned while the majority, including their great leaders, remained in Babylonia, preferring exile and servitude — just so they not be separated from their homes and business interests.”
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Cyrus, king of Persia, had said (II Chron. 36:23), “All the kingdoms of the earth has the L-rd, G-d of heaven, given me; and He has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people - the L-rd his G-d be with him - let him go up.”
Had the whole nation gone up en masse when G-d brought things about that Cyrus gave permission, G-d would not have destroyed the Temple. Rather, the Divine Presence would have rested there forever, and G-d would have brought the Messiah, by virtue of their faith. Yet Israel, who were in Babylonia, settled down there and did not wish to return, and only a minority returned to Eretz Yisrael, as it says (Ezra 2:64): “The whole congregation together was 42,360.” This is the pitiful sum that returned to Eretz Yisrael, when the vast majority of Israel chose to settle down in the depravity of exile and to scorn the Desirable Land. Later, Cyrus decreed that whoever had not yet gone up would remain behind.
We are descended from people who turned their backs on Eretz Yisrael and prefer the defilement of the exile for the sake of tranquil lives. Our generation, as well, has exchanged the glory of the Desirable Land for the worship of gluttony and drunkenness in the exile, and there is no one to take up the insult to Eretz Yisrael. Quite the contrary, the prominent people of the generation express their approval of exile and abomination. As the brilliant Rabbi Ya’akov Emden wrote in the introduction to his Siddur Bet Ya’akov (Sulam Bet El, letter 6):
“Not one in a thousand is aroused to take hold of it and settle there; only one per country and two per generation. No one pays it any heed or seeks to love it. No one seeks to know its welfare or looks forward to seeing it. We imagine that since we live in peace outside the Land, we have already found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem like the first. This is the reason that Israel, dwelling in peace and great honor in Spain, and other countries during the exile, were beset by so much misfortune... and then banished from Spain until no remnant of Israel remained there.”
These words were written by Rabbi Ya’akov Emden in cursed Germany several hundred years ago. Who listened? Who took his words to heart? Rabbi Emden continues, answering those hypocrites who raise empty claims regarding risks and hardships involved in settling in Eretz Yisrael:
“Risks posed by desert and sea crossings surely do not suffice to exempt one from such a great mitzvah... Consider your path through valley and glen. Upon every mountain and hill, rich people and poor run swift as steeds to acquire possessions... What great danger we put ourselves in each day! For a crust of bread you take long strides that dim the luster of your eyesight and shorten your life, yet when it comes to the glory of your Maker and the immortality of your soul, you say, “A lion blocks my way!” (Prov. 26:13). How long, sluggard, will you lie on the bed of laziness? Until the foundations of the earth are laid bare! Why not acquire means of fleeing for your life while you still have the power to do it?”
All of us, great and small, should feel ashamed.
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