Life Lessons with Judy Simon
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.
Gevalt! The virus is out of control. A virus far more deadly than Swine Flu. Its germs are all-pervasive, floating everywhere in the air. Gevalt! Gevalt! Who will save us?
The virus is Internet porn.
This week, schools started in Israel. At my 14-year-old-son’s new yeshiva high school, I, along with other parents, attended a welcoming talk from the Rosh Yeshiva. After speaking about the goals of the school, he spoke openly about the dangers of the Internet. He called it a plagued that was wreaking spiritual havoc on the entire generation.
He said he made a survey of two groups - top students and average students. He asked them to estimate what percentage of their friends watched forbidden material on the Internet. The average response rounded out at 85%.
“Once a youth starts polluting his mind with this impurity,” the Rosh Yeshiva said, “It doesn’t take long before he doesn’t show up to pray and has no desire to study. He falls into a depression, thinking that since he is so soiled, what’s the point of praying and studying Torah?”
Besides the computer problem, there is a huge problem now that every youth has a cell phone, he said. Even if parents block the access to Internet from the cell phone company, there are new “Generation Three” wireless phones that can pick up Internet signals from the air. So, while Mommy and Daddy think they have dealt with the problem, their kid is watching porn on his suped-up cell phone and sharing the smut with his friends. And even if the kid doesn’t have wireless capabilities, chances are that he has something called “Bluetooth” which enables him to download all the smut in the world from one of his buddies. So, while in the old days, a kid had to go through the trouble and embarrassment of finding or stealing a Playboy magazine, today, thanks to modern technology, he has a mansion of playmates in his side pocket.
To put it simply, my friends, (even the most liberal and secular amongst you), the situation is a disaster for the holy people of Israel.
I was happy to hear the Rosh Yeshiva speak about the problem. Educating parents is one of the best ways of getting the situation under control. But it won’t be easy. We are speaking of a horrendous, horrendous problem.
After hearing him, I did a little private investigating on my own. With my work on jewishsexuality.com, I am not what you would call a newcomer to the subject. My home computer has several filters, and I made sure to block access to the Internet when I opened a cell phone line for my son. But, it turned out the phone that he had, a gift from his older brother, was one of the new wireless varieties that can receive Internet anywhere that there is a strong signal in the air. Having already heard about Internet problems with some of his friends in our neighborhood, and speaking with a few other fathers, I put two and two together, and realized I had a tough decision to make.
One the one hand, my son was starting out at a new yeshiva high school, and I wanted him to begin on a happy, positive note. Plus, it is a sleep-away school with a dormitory, and he would be away from our supervision all week long, with all of the difficulties, temptations, and character-building potential involved. I knew that if I took away his cell phone on his very first day of high school, he would flip out, and be angry, not only at me, but with his teachers, the Torah, and the Holy One Blessed Be He as well.
On the other hand, after the speech of the Rosh Yeshiva, how could I let him do more damage to his holy Jewish soul, and possibly get other kids hooked on the poisonous virus?
So, when the opening day’s speeches and meetings with teachers was over, I told my boy that he had a choice – either to hand over his wireless cell phone, which I would replace with a regular model when he got home; or to have me turn off his phone line the next day. Angrily, he told me to turn it off on my own, and walked away in a huff toward his dormitory, without a parting smile or hugging me goodbye, no doubt thinking what a terrible father he has.
The next morning, after discussing the matter with my wife, and obtaining her agreement, I went to his phone server and temporarily disconnected his phone line. All week, he has been without a cell phone. When he comes home at the end of the week, and gives me his wireless phone, I will give him a less highfalutin model in exchange and reopen his line.
I have heard that many parents don’t do what I did, because they don’t want to cause friction between themselves and their children.
Once again, to put the matter in context with Judaism, let’s look at last week’s Torah portion. The Torah states:
“When you go out to encamp against your enemies, keep yourself from every evil thing. If there be among you any man that is not pure because of a nocturnal seminal emission ("mikre liela"), then he shall leave the camp – he shall not come within the camp… for the L-rd your G-d walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He see no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you” (Devarim, 23: 11-15).
Holiness is the foundation of the Jewish Nation. The Torah tells us here that the key to G-d’s watching over us and protecting us from our enemies is directly related to our sexual purity. When we are in a state of impurity due to sexual transgression, the Divine protection of the Shekinah flees from us, G-d forbid.
The Talmud explains that when the above Torah verse says to “keep from every evil thing,” it means that a man should not arouse himself by looking at women and fantasizing about them, because this will lead him to the impurity of a seminal emission, and the squandering of the life-force and souls that are contained therein (Avodah Zara 20B).
This is exactly what happens when men and boys gaze at immodest images on the Internet, whether on their cell phones, or on the computer at work or at home. They pollute themselves and the whole Jewish camp around them, causing the Shechinah to flee.
At the end of the Torah portion is the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us when “he met you by the way.” The Hebrew verse contains the root of the same word which we saw above – “karcha b’derech.” Rashi explains that the word “karcha” comes from “mikre,” which means a seminal emission. Rashi explains that Amalek led weak members of the Jewish People into sexual sin, and when the holy Clouds of Glory (the protecting Shekinah that surrounded the Jewish camp) spit them out, then Amalek was able to kill them. Rashi goes on to explain that Amalek further castrated these fallen Jews and derisively threw their foreskins into the air toward Heaven, as if to say to G-d – “What’s the difference between your supposed holy people and us?”
The same strategy of luring the Jewish People into sexual sin, and weakening our connection to G-d, is very much with us today, fostered by the spirit of evil behind the perverts and purveyors of pornography who infect all of cyberspace with their murderous viruses of seduction and sin.
Be warned my good friends, be warned. Download a filter on your home computer. And employers must do so at work. And, parents, check out what cell phones your children are carrying, to make sure they don’t have access to the poison which threatens us more than any other enemy today.
We have seen that the return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel is a necessary stage in the t’shuva of the individual, and redemption of the Jewish Nation as a whole.
It follows that a Jew who becomes a baal t’shuva (a penitent who returns to a life of Torah) in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, or Toronto, has only returned a part of the way home. While his personal character and behavior have been purified by the light of the Torah, he has traveled only half of the journey. The “t’shuva train” is continuing on to Israel. The final stop is Jerusalem. Every Jew needs to bring his little light home to the Holy Land where it can join the great flame. He has to raise his private, individual life, to the higher life of the “Clal” (the entire Jewish community in all of its generations), by merging his personal goals with the goals of the Nation (Orot HaT’shuva, 4:7).
To rectify the blemish caused by galut (the exile from the Land of Israel), he has to stop living in foreign lands and join the ingathered in Israel. He has to actualize the words of his prayers, “And gather us together from the four corners of the earth” (Amidah prayer). This is the ultimate meaning of the word t’shuva – to return. By bringing our bodies and souls back to where we belong.
Thus, Rabbi Kook writes that the true t’shuva of the Jewish people is in our return to Eretz Yisrael. Again and again, in his letters and speeches, he called the Jewish people to return home to Zion. One public proclamation, sent out all over the Diaspora, years before the Holocaust, was entitled, “The Great Call.”
THE GREAT CALL
“To the Land of Israel, Gentlemen, To the Land of Israel! Let us utter this appeal in one voice, in a great and never-ending cry.
“Come to the Land of Israel, dear brothers, come to the Land of Israel. Save your souls, the soul of your generation, the soul of the entire nation; save her from desolation and destruction, save her from decay and degradation, save her from defilement and all evil — from all of the suffering and oppression that threatens to come upon her in all the lands of the world without exception or distinction....
“Escape with your lives and come to Israel; G-d’s voice beckons us; His hand is outstretched to us; His spirit within our hearts unites us, encourages us and obliges us all to cry in a great, powerful and awesome voice: Brothers! Children of Israel, beloved and dear brethren, come to the Land of Israel - do not tarry with arrangements and mundane matters; rescue yourselves, gather, come to the Land of Israel...
“From the time we were exiled from our Land, the Torah has accompanied Israel into exile, wandering from Babylon to France, Spain, Germany, Eastern and Central Europe, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. And now, how happy we would be if we were able to say that she has returned to her first place, to the Land of Israel, together with the People of Israel, who continue to multiply in the Holy Land.
“And now, who is so blind that he does not see the L-rd’s hand guiding us in this, and does not feel obligated to work along with G-d? A heavenly voice in the future will cry aloud on top of the mountains and say, ‘Whoever has worked with G-d, let him come and receive his reward’ (Vayikra Rabbah, 27:2). Who can exempt himself from doing his part in bringing additional blessing and swifter salvation; from awakening many hearts to return to the Holy Land, to the L-rd’s legacy, that other Jews may become a part of it, to settle it with enterprises and buildings, to purchase property, to plant and sow, to do everything necessary for the foundation of life of a stable and organized settlement....”
BANNER OF JERUSALEM
Another public proclamation was addressed to Orthodox communities to urge their aliyah to Israel. In establishing a movement called “The Banner of Jerusalem,” Rabbi Kook called upon all religious Jews to come to Israel to rebuild the nation’s spiritual life, just as the secular Zionists were rebuilding the physical:
“Jews! We call you to the sacred task of building our Jewish Nation in our Holy Land, in Eretz Yisrael. Come to us, rally together under the ‘Banner of Jerusalem’ which we now raise aloft before the whole Jewish religious public.
“We all know the ‘Banner of Zion’ which unites a certain portion of our brethren on the basis of our Jewish secular interests in the Land of Israel. But there are many who have not joined the union of those who bear the Zionist flag, and a great many who feel it impossible to do so. We simply record the plain fact that this is so, without questioning its veracity.
“Yet it cannot be that the largest, most natural, and earnest portion of Jewry, the majority of the Jewish religious public, should remain indifferent to the wonderful events of the present, and not lend a hand in the holy task of building our nation on our sacred soil because of so-called objections....
“Jews, all the loyal believers in the Jewish faith, there can be no doubt that the Divine power is now manifesting itself in us amidst the great world events. We are certainly called to return to our ancient home in the Land of Israel, there to renew our ancient holy life....
“We religious Jews must all profoundly know and believe that the Divine hand is now leading us openly to our high, ideal destiny. We must make known to the whole world, the true meaning of the present wondrous happenings, whose purpose is so clearly the hastening of our redemption and salvation, from which alone will also spring forth the redemption and salvation of all mankind.
“With the flaming, illuminating, Divine faith, with all the luster of our holy Torah, with the vitality of all of the most refined and devout Jews, we shall carry our flag, the ‘Banner of Jerusalem’ by which alone the ‘Banner of Zion’ will also be properly hoisted. For the value of Jewish secular power will be demonstrated to the world only in the light of our holy Jewish spiritual power, emphasized by the uplifted voices of the whole religious Jewish world community, setting with holy enthusiasm to the task of our national construction, of our return to the Land of Israel, by the grace of the Divine and illuminating light, O House of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of the L-rd.”
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, lovers of Israel, and dedicated readers of Arutz 7, this year, make your t’shuva complete. Come home! Return to the Land! As Rabbi Kook urges – put all of your reckonings and affairs behind. Return all the way. Give up your love affairs with foreign lands, and return to your roots, return to yourselves – return to the Land of your G-d.
Rabbi Kook teaches that even in the return of the nonreligious Zionists to Israel there is a profound holy core. The inner source of their desire to return is the Divine Ideal itself. At first, it is an unconscious call toward t’shuva which motivates them, but with time, it will surely be awakened and actualized in their return to the Torah. This great transformation may take 100 years. It may 200. We need to remember that after nearly two-thousand years in exile, a few generations is like the blink of an eye. The important thing to know is that the t’shuva of the nation is sure to come to pass (Rambam, Laws of T’shuva, 7:5).
Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
“The awakened yearning of the Jewish People as a whole to return to their Land, to their roots, to their spirit and way of life — truthfully, there is the light of t’shuva in this” (Orot HaT’shuva, 17:2).
The book of Ezekiel includes an overview of Jewish history which traces Israel’s exile among the gentile nations, and our ultimate return to the Land of Israel and Torah. Only after the nation’s physical revival in Israel do the Jewish people undergo the period of spiritual cleansing which leads them back to Torah:
“For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and I will bring you into your own Land. Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be clean; from all of your uncleanlinesses, and from all of your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart will I also give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit in you, and cause you to follow My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. And you shall dwell in the Land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I shall be your G-d” (Ezekiel, 36:24-28).
The return to our true national identity, and the spiritual revolution which follows, encompasses all aspects of Jewish life. This great return, while still in its nascent stages, is something we have witnessed in our time. First, out of the graveyards of exile, came a new hope and zest for life, as if our scattered, dry bones were rising to rebirth, in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (Ezekiel, 37:1-14). Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jewish nation was reborn in Israel. The Hebrew language was restored. After two-thousand years of wandering, the Jews returned to being an independent nation in our own Land. An incredible, new awakening of Jewish valor and physical prowess, epitomized by the Israel Defense Forces, startled the world. The ingathering of exiles from the four corners of the earth led to the building of a dynamic, progressive society. Yeshivas were opened all over the country. Today, Israel is unquestionably the Torah center of the world. All of these things are aspects of national t’shuva, of a nation returning to its roots.
As Rabbi Kook writes:
“Without question, the light of Mashiach, and the salvation of
Israel, the rebirth of the Nation and the Land, the revival of its language and literature — all stem from the source of t’shuva, and everything will be brought out of the depths to the heights of the highest t’shuva” (Orot Ha’Tshuva, 4:11).
The return of a scattered people to its Land is no simple matter. Because of the magnitude of the undertaking, there are numerous problems. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook assures us that our inner longing for G-d will overcome all of the barriers. Even the brazen secularism, which seems so contrary to the nation’s holiest goals, will become a powerful vessel bursting with Torah.
“Out of the profane, holiness will also come forth, and out of wanton freedom, the beloved yoke (of Torah) will blossom. Golden chains will be woven and arise out of secular poetry, and a brilliant light of t’shuva will shine from secular literature. This will be the supreme wonder of the vision of redemption. Let the bud sprout, let the flower blossom, let the fruit ripen, and the whole world will know that the Spirit of G-d is speaking within the Nation of Israel in its every expression. All of this will climax in a t’shuva which will bring healing and redemption to the world” (Ibid, 17:3).
FIRST THE BODY THEN THE SPIRIT
Indeed, the revival of the Jewish Nation in Israel is a wonder that is impossible to explain in any mundane fashion. Clearly, there are powerful inner forces at work as we return to our homeland. Increasingly sensitized to our own national longings, we realize that gentile lands cannot be called home. The process takes time. The nation is not transformed overnight. But gradually, the curse of galut (exile in foreign lands) is erased. From being a scattered people, the Jewish Nation returns to have its own sovereign state. G-d’s blessing is revealed in all facets of the nation’s existence; military success, economic prosperity, scientific achievement, the resettlement of the nation’s ancient cities and holy cities — all leading to a great national t’shuva, the renewal of prophecy, and, of course, the return of the Divine Presence to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of our daily Amidah prayer.
Rabbi Kook explains that the secular, physical rebuilding must necessarily precede the spiritual building. The Talmud teaches that the Beit HaMikdash (Jerusalem Temple) was first constructed in a normal, profane manner, and only after its completion was its sanctity declared (Me’ilah 14A). First, Adam was created from the dust of the earth, and then the soul was placed within him. So too, a Jewish youth only becomes responsible to keep the Torah at the age of thirteen - after his body and mind have developed in strength. This is the pattern of spiritual building; first comes the physical vessel, and then its inner content. First the ark is constructed, and then the Tablets are placed within (see Rashi, Shemot, 38:22).
It must be remembered that the Zionist movement did not begin with Herzl, but rather with the giants of Torah, the Baal Shem Tov and the Gaon of Vilna, more than a hundred years earlier. The Gaon sent his students to settle Eretz Yisrael, teaching them that the active resettlement of the Land was the path to bring the long-awaited redemption (see the book, “Kol HaTor”). Other great Rabbis, Rav Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher, Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher, and Rav Shmuel Mohliver were the actual builders of the early Zionist groups like the “Lovers of Zion.” As the movement spread, its message attracted many non-religious Jews as well. Rabbi Kook explains that the newcomers embraced the call to Zion in a way which fit their own understandings, national aspirations, and dreams. While this temporarily lowered the loftiness of the message, it insured the necessary first stage of physical rebuilding:
“Occasionally, a concept falls from its loftiness and its original pureness after it has been grounded in life when unrefined people become associated with it, darkening its illumination. The descent is only temporary because an idea which embraces spiritual goodness cannot be transformed into evil. The descent is passing, and it is also a bridge to an approaching ascent” (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:12).
The original, pure, lofty idea of Zionism, as handed down by our Sages, is that the revival of the Jewish nation in Israel is the earthly foundation for the revelation of the Kingdom of G-d in the world. For the secular Zionists, the return to Israel became something else. For some, the Land of Israel was merely a refuge from the persecutions of the gentiles. For others, it was a place to build a utopian socialist society. Because of their large numbers, the influence of the secular Zionists was widespread. Additionally, Rabbi Kook explains, the secular Jews were more suited to the task of settling the barren, swamp-ridden land. The religious Jews of the time lived in a spiritual world, having little contact with earthly matters. The physical sides of their natures were neglected and weak. The secular Jews, on the other hand, had an abundance of physical energy and prowess, along with the subsequent “will and desire to work and achieve, to carry out one’s goal through physical force and concrete endeavor” (Ibid, 12:13).
Rabbi Kook explains that when a holy idea needs to be grounded in reality, it necessarily descends from its exalted elevation. When this happens, people of lesser spiritual sensitivities seize the idea and profane its true intent. Because greater numbers of people can grasp the idea in its minimized form, its followers increase, bringing more strength and vigor to its practical implementation. This trend continues until powerful spiritual figures arise, girded with the strength of Divine righteousness. They grasp the idea in its original purity and hold it aloft, rescuing it from the depths where it had plunged, stripped of its holiness and spiritual splendor. As a result of this new infusion of light, the original idea is resurrected in all of its majesty and power. All who embrace it are elevated with its ascent. Even those who attached themselves to the idea in its fallen state are raised up, and they are inspired to a powerful, lofty t’shuva.
“This process will surely come about. The light of G-d, which is buried away in the fundamental point of Zion, and which is now concealed by clouds, will surely appear. From the lowly valley, it will raise up G-d’s Temple and Kingdom and all of its branches. All those who cling to it, the near and the distant, will be uplifted with it, for a true revival and an everlasting salvation” (Ibid, 12:12).
At the turn of this century, as the Zionist movement grew in influence and attracted more and more followers, many religious Jews rose up in protest. In their eyes, the movement to resettle the Land of Israel was brazenly secular, even defiant of Torah. While Rabbi Kook exhorted the pioneers to return to a sanctified life of Torah, he saw the inner source and positive side of their courageous endeavor. The return of the Nation to Israel was in itself a great, holy act. Simply because they were Jews, in the depths of their proud Jewish souls, the Zionists also shared the yearning for a full Jewish life (“Orot,” 2:8). Their scorn of the commandments was a blemish that was destined to heal.
Rabbi Kook’s deep spiritual insight did not blind him to the unholy lifestyles of the secular pioneers. However, he knew that the holy essence of Am Yisrael guaranteed that the Nation would return to its roots. Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, Rabbi Kook described this process in almost prophetic terms:
“We recognize that a spiritual rebellion will come to pass in Eretz Yisrael amongst the People of Israel in the beginnings of the Nation’s revival. The material comfort which will be attained by a percentage of the Nation, convincing them that they have already completely reached their goal, will constrict the soul, and days will come which will seem to be devoid of all spirit and meaning. The aspirations for lofty and holy ideals will cease, and the spirit of the Nation will plunge and sink low until a storm of rebellion will appear, and people will come to see clearly that the power of Israel lies in its eternal holiness, in the light of G-d and His Torah, in the yearning for spiritual light which is the ultimate valor, triumphing over all of the worlds and all of their powers” (“Orot,” pg.84, para.44).
In another essay, Rabbi Kook writes:
“Our Nation will be built and reestablished; all of its foundations will return to their full might, through the reactivating, strengthening, perfection, and spreading of its faith, its Divine inner holiness, and its reverence of G-d. All of the Nation’s builders will come to recognize this truth. Then with a mighty, valorous voice, they will call out to themselves and to their brethren, ‘Let us come and return to the L-rd.’ And this will be a true return. It will be a t’shuva filled with valor, a t’shuva which will give strength and vigor to all of the Nation’s spiritual and physical aspects, to all of the endeavors needed for the building and perfection of the people, inspiring it to rebirth and to stability. The Nation’s eyes will be opened, its soul will be cleansed, its light will shine, its wings will spread, a reborn Nation will arise, a great, awesome, and numerous people, filled with the light of G-d and the majesty of nationhood. ‘Behold, the people shall rise up like a great lion, and like a young lion, it shall lift itself up.’” (Bamidbar, 23:24; Orot Ha’Tshuva, 15:11).
(To be continued)
More Rav Kook essays on T'shuva are online for your reading pleasure!
Every month of Elul, I try to read over Rabbi’s Kook’s book, “Orot HaT’shuva,” which explores the phenomena of individual, national, and cosmic t’shuva (repentance), all in Rabbi’s Kook’s unparalleled style and Torah brilliance.
I had the great merit to co-write a commentary on “Orot HaT’shuva” with the noted Torah educator, Rabbi David Samson. Our book is called “The Art of T’shuva.” Condensed chapters of the book can be found online for everyone looking for a refreshing guide to repentance, and to enhance his familiarity with Rabbi Kook’s writings in English.
In the next few blogs, we will present another chapter from “The Art of T’shuva,” explaining Rabbi Kook’s teachings on the connection between repentance and Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Kook teaches that t’shuva encompasses far more than personal repentance. The ever-streaming waves of t’shuva influence the world in its entirety, lifting it toward perfection. It is the Nation of Israel who will lead mankind to world repentance, when all the world will come to recognize G-d and His chosen Nation, Israel.
This is all well and good. But what will bring the Jewish People to t’shuva? What will awaken the Divine voice in our national soul? What will cause the scattered, exiled Jewish Nation to return to the glorious days of our past – in fulfillment of our prayers and the words of our Prophets?
Rabbi Kook writes that the rebirth of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for the ultimate t’shuva, both for the Nation of Israel, and for the whole world (Orot HaT’shuva, 17:1).
THE HOLY LAND
To understand this concept fully, one must understand the incomparable holiness of the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) and its importance to the nation of Israel. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to explore this subject in depth, we will mention a few of the things which point to the unique connection between the Jewish People and their Land.
The Jewish People possess true national vitality only in the Land of Israel (Isaiah, 42:5). Outside of the Land, Jews can excel as individuals in all fields of endeavor, but the light of G-d cannot appear in a national format. Only in the Land of Israel can the Jews be a KINGDOM of priests and a holy NATION (Shemot, 19:6). The Zohar emphasizes that the Jews can be a nation only in Israel, and not outside of it (Zohar, Vayikra, 93B). Prophecies of redemption all involve the return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Land (Ezekiel, 37:21-22). The Jewish People’s unique prophetic talent is dependent on being in the Land of Israel (Kuzari, 2:8-24). The Temple can only be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and the full revelation of G-d’s Presence is exclusive to Eretz Yisrael, as the prophet teaches, “For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem” (Isaiah, 2:3).
In a letter, Rabbi Kook writes:
“The source of the moral baseness which continues to darken the world stems from the lack of recognition regarding the value and wisdom of the Land of Israel. Thus the sin of the Spies, who spoke derogatorily about the pleasant Land, remains uncorrected. To rectify this, the Land’s praise, splendor, holiness, and honor must be declared to all the world” (Letters, Vol.1, Pgs. 112-113).
While Rabbi Kook emphasizes that the t’shuva of the Jewish People and a return to the Torah go hand-in-hand, he indicates that a preliminary stage of national revival will bring this spiritual awakening to pass. First, the Jewish people must return to Zion to rebuild their homeland. Once the physical body that houses the nation is built, then the revitalized Jewish soul will yearn for spiritual completion as well, and our people will flock back to the Torah.
The concept of t’shuva means to return. Suppose a man is expelled from his house by thieves. The wrongdoing will only be corrected when the owner returns to repossess his house. The same is true for the Jewish People as a whole.
For the world to reach perfection, G-d decreed that the Jewish People must live a life of Torah in Israel. G-d’s first commandment to Abraham is to go to the Land of Israel in order to serve G-d in the most complete way (Bereshit, 12:1). Afterwards, G-d commands Moshe to bring the Jews out from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. Over and over, the Torah repeats that the Jewish people are to live their unique Torah life in Israel. When the holy Jewish Nation lives a holy life of Torah in the Holy Land, the vessel is formed to bring the light of G-d to the world. The Nation of Israel becomes an international beacon, an example and light to all of the nations in the world (Isaiah, 42:6).
At the time of the Second Temple, when we failed to uphold the high moral standard demanded of us by the Torah, we were punished and exiled from the Land. G-d’s worldly vessel was shattered. Israel was conquered, Jerusalem was razed, the Land was laid waste. G-d’s chosen people were scattered and debased. Like the Jews, G-d’s Presence went into exile. His light in the world became hidden. In effect, mankind was cut off from G-d. Thus, to rectify this tragedy, and return the world to G-d, the Nation of Israel must return to their previous stature, including a national life in Israel, the only place in the world where the Torah can be observed in all of its wholeness, because of the many commandments unique to the Land.
Each Jew has a bit of the Shekhinah, or the Presence of G-d, within him. When a Jew returns to the Land of Israel, he is, in effect, bringing G-d back with him (Rashi, Devarim,30:3). This is the Kabbalistic concept of “raising up the buried sparks of holiness from the kelipot.” Since the soul of a Jew is infused with the light of the Shekhinah, when the Jewish people return en masse to Israel, the light of G-d in the world returns with them. The nations of the world see with their own eyes that the prophecies in the Bible are true.
A visual illustration will help us envision what Rabbi Kook is seeing when he looks at the awakened Zionist movement. It is a global vision, spanning all human history. To raise ourselves to a more encompassing perspective, imagine being in a satellite orbiting the earth. Down below, scattered all over the globe, are tiny, little lights. These lights are the Jews, scattered all over the world. Slowly, lights begin to travel to a certain point on the globe — the Land of Israel. More and more lights begin to congregate there. From all over the world, the scattered lights start to unite in Israel. Lights that do not make the journey begin to flicker and disappear. Soon, a great beacon of light is formed in Israel, sending out rays of light to all of the world. These rays are the lights of t’shuva, summoning mankind back to G-d, through the re-establishment of the People of G-d in their Land.
(To be continued)
Since the month of Elul has unique spiritual properties, we are going to go over a few things from the last few Torah portions, with the hope that their teachings will be grasped by everyone.
Sometimes people ask, “What is the purpose of the Torah?”
G-d Himself gives us the answer. The Torah states: “All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your fathers (Devarim, 7:8).
G-d gave us the Torah so that we could live fruitfully in the Land of Israel. That’s what the verse says. There is no way else to interpret it. This means that living in the Land of Israel isn’t just an extra mitzvah for which you get bonus points if you fulfill it. Living in the Land of Israel is THE mitzvah. It is the reason all of the commandments were given to us – to enable us to refine ourselves in order to live in this unique Holy Land. Why? Because only when the Jewish People live a life of Torah in the Land of Israel is G-d’s Kingship manifest in the world. When Jews are in exile outside of the Land of Israel, it is a desecration of the Name of G-d, as the Prophet states: “And when they came to live amongst the nations, into which they came, they desecrated My holy Name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the L-rd and they are gone out of His Land (Ezekiel, 36:20).
In other words, when a gentile sees Jews living in Canada, and Brooklyn, and Australia, he says, “Hey, the L-rd gave the Jews the Land of Israel, and they prefer living here with us instead of obeying their G-d.” That’s called a “Chillul Hashem,” or desecration of the G-d. The opposite – when the Jews return to the Land of Israel – is called a “Kiddush Hashem,” or a sanctification of the Name of G-d, as G-d Himself states: “And I will sanctify My great Name, which was desecrated amongst the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the gentiles shall know that I am the L-rd, says the L-rd G-d, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes – for I will take you from among the gentiles, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own Land” (Ezekiel, 36:23-24).
Is that clear? Or do I have to repeat it another 10,000 times before it sinks in? Jewish life in the Land of Israel is a sanctification of the Name of G-d, and Jewish life in the Diaspora is a desecration of the Name of G-d – that’s what the Prophet says.
Let’s read on a little further in the Book of Devarim. The Torah states: “Like wise, when the L-rd sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the Land which I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the L-rd your G-d, and you believed Him not, nor hearkened to His voice” (Devarim, 9:23).
The Torah says it plain and simple – going on aliyah is a commandment. Rejecting aliyah is a rebellion against G-d. That’s what the Torah says. I’m not making it up. Look for yourselves. I haven’t changed the words. The Torah clearly states that not going on aliyah is a rebellion against G-d and an expression of lack of faith, as it says, “and you believed Him not.”
Not only does the Torah make it clear that G-d wants the Jewish People to live in Israel, the Torah states this over and over again. For instance, just a little later, the Torah states: “Therefore you shall keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that you may be strong, and GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND, into which you go in to possess it, and that YOU MAY PROLONG YOUR DAYS IN THE LAND which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them AND TO THEIR DESCENDANTS, a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim, 11:8-9).
My friends – do you get the message yet? Eretz Yisrael is not some tinsel town LA, or honky town Detroit, or some second rate borough like Brooklyn – Eretz Yisrael is “the Land which the L-rd your G-d cares for; the eyes of the L-rd your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end” (Devarim, 11:12).
And what follows that? The second paragraph of the “Shema,” which promises blessing in the Land of Israel for obedience to the Torah. And what is the punishment if we stray from the Torah? The worst punishment that can be – exile from the Land of Israel, as it says, “And you will quickly perish from the good Land which the L-rd gives you” (Devarim, 11:17), to live as Obamalicking Jews amongst the goyim.
This is the message that a Jew is to absorb in his heart, and write in his tefillin, and teach to his children, as the Torah goes on to say in the very next verse, “And you shall lay up My words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they will be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children….”
“That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, IN THE LAND which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give them, AS THE DAYS OF HEAVEN UPON THE EARTH” which means forever, at all times, in every generation, even now my friends.
And I ask you once again – do you get the message?
Let’s go on to the next Torah portion. What does it say?
“For you shall pass over the Jordon to GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND which the L-rd your G-d gives you, and you shall possess it AND DWELL IN IT. And you shall observe to do all the statutes and judgments which you shall observe to do IN THE LAND which the L-rd G-d of your fathers gives you to possess it ALL THE DAYS THAT YOU LIVE UPON THE EARTH” (Devarim, 11:31-12:1).
That means forever. Not just in Biblical days. Forever.
Do you get it now, my beloved brothers and sisters? It’s time to face the truth. The Day of Judgment is before us. The shofar blasts at dawn, telling us to wake up!
Yes, I know it is difficult. I know it is scary. Thousands of years ago, when G-d gave us the Torah, He knew that making aliyah wouldn’t be easy. He knew there would be excuses, and draft dodgers, and Jews going AWOL, running away from the ranks. That’s why He had the priest in charge of aliyah give them a pep talk on the verge of entering the Land, saying, “Let not your hearts be faint, fear not, and do not tremble” (Devarim, 20:3). So as not to embarrass the frightened among them, G-d Himself gave them excuses for not joining in the commandment to conquer the Land: “Who has built a new house and not dedicated it? Who has planted a vineyard and not eaten of it? Who has betrothed a wife and not taken her? Let him go home, lest he die in battle…. What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest his brother’s heart melt like his heart” (Devarim, 20:5-8).
Rabbi Yose HaGalilee explains that these people were afraid that they would die in battle because of their sins, so the Torah gave them these excuses for going home to cover up their shame (See Rashi, Devarim, 20:8).
True, there are many people today who simply cannot come on aliyah for justified reasons. But for those who can, and don’t, they shouldn’t be writing discouraging talkbacks against aliyah and against life in Israel, lest they melt the heart of their brothers with all of their unending blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.