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.
I vaguely recall a Robert Frost poem that we learned in elementary school, whose title was something like, “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” With Shabbat just two hours away, I don’t have time to look it up. The end was something like, “Two paths diverged in a snowy wood. I took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.”
That could be the motto of our forefather, Avraham. He could have stayed in his father’s lucrative idol business and lived a comfortable life in Ur Kasdim, but he chose the path less traveled by, and that made all the difference, bringing about the foundation of the Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael.
Avraham could have pretended that the idols in his father’s store were real gods, but instead he smashed them to pieces, and that made all the difference, bringing the knowledge of one G-d into the world.
Avraham could have turned his back on Lot when his life was endangered, but he risked his own life to save him, and that made all the difference, teaching the Jewish People that we are responsible to come to the aid of our brethren, even when they aren’t Tzaddikim.
Avraham could have refused to sacrifice his son, Yitzhak, but he immediately agreed to obey G-d’s command, and that made all the difference, giving strength to all of his offspring, in all of their generations, to sacrifice their lives for Hashem and the Torah.
Avraham didn’t choose the “good life” for himself, and that made all the difference.
I went to high school at Phillips Andover Academy. At the time, it was probably the finest prep school in America.
Out of its 800 students, there were about 50 Jews. One of the things I remember is the shower room after sports. Back in those days, before it became a standard maternity-ward practice, gentiles weren’t circumcised. So I was the odd man out. Often, the heathens would point and stare and laugh at the circumcised Jew.
Ever since the time of Avraham, the brit milah has been a sign on our bodies, distinguishing us from the gentiles. We are not only physically different in this aspect, the brit milah calls upon us to be different in our spiritual and moral behavior as well. Safeguarding the brit not only means performing the brit milah on our sons, just like Avraham did, it means guarding the laws of sexual holiness as well. For instance, according to halachah, a Jew is to refrain from pre-marital sex, from masturbating, from watching Internet porn, from having sexual encounters with gentiles, from homosexuality, from adultery, from cunnilingus and the like. A Jew is to keep the laws of family purity (taharat hamishpachah) and to conduct marital relations in a holy fashion, at the times and in the manner that Jewish law and our Sages prescribe.
Because G-d has chosen us to be His unique holy people on earth, the Jewish People have many other practices that are to distinguish us from the gentile peoples of the world. For instance, we are to wear a kippah or some other head covering; we put on tefillin, wear tzitzit, eat special kosher foods, observe the Shabbat and unique Jewish holidays. And, like our forefather Avraham, we are to distinguish ourselves by living in a special Holy Land, which is a commandment equal in weight to all of the rest.
So if you find yourself tucking in your tzitzit strings and taking off your kippah outside of the house because you are worried what the goyim will say; or if you go for a cheeseburger with the guys in the office because you don’t want to stick out; or if you bring home a Christmas tree so that your kids don’t feel different from everyone else; or if you live in a gentile country and try to be as patriotic an American or Australian as Cindy and Bill, or if you are married to a non-Jewish mate, than your something is the matter with your understanding of Torah, and your Jewishness clearly could use a serious rehab.
Not to mention any names, of course.
We have already answered Mike's demented mantra that "aliyah is suicide." But since there are always newcomers to the blog, we will answer it once again, lest his bitter, poisonous sputum influence some innocent soul.
Thank G-d that our forefather Avraham didn't answer "aliyah is suicide" when Hashem told him to go to the Land. After all, Israel was filled with idol worshipping savages at the time. Getting there was dangerous, there was a famine in the Land, no Nefesh B Nefesh organization to help him, and Avraham would have to start all over again in order to make a living. In those days, coming to Israel was far more dangerous and difficult than it is today. But Avraham wasn't afraid. Avraham wasn't a coward. Avraham wasn't a bitter, broken old man.
Avraham trusted in G-d, and that makes all the difference.
Give this week’s Torah portion, “Lech Lecha,” to an eight-year old to read, and ask him where G-d wants the Jewish People to live, and he will answer “the Land of Israel” right away. Give it to a gentile to read and ask him the same question. “The Land of Israel” he will answer without batting an eye. Give it to a Jew in the Diaspora and ask him the same question, and you’ll get a dozen different answers:
“Well, it depends….”
“It’s not the same for us today….”
“What was true for Avraham isn’t a general rule….”
“In Brooklyn, New York….”
“Until the Moshiach comes, he can live anywhere he wants….”
But the fact is that G-d starts off His relationship with the Jewish People by telling our first forefather, Avraham, “Get thee forth to the Land that I will show you.” G-d doesn’t tell him to keep Shabbat. He doesn’t tell Avraham to keep kosher. He tells him to live in Israel. This is where a Jew belongs. This is the only place where a Jew can truly serve G-d. The Holy People are to live in the Holy Land. This is G-d’s plan for the world and for the Jewish People. This is the very first lesson that G-d teaches us. “Get thee forth to the Land.” Ask any eight-year old. Ask any gentile. If a monkey could read, he would reach the same conclusion. Living in the Land of Israel is the foundation of the Jewish Nation. #1 on the list.
To live in the Land of Israel, we need to keep the Torah, yes. But the first, basic understanding that G-d wants us to know is that just as every nation needs a land, the special holy Nation of Israel needs a special Holy Land. The Land of Israel is a part of our national identity. It is a part of our spiritual being. It is not something extra to Judasim. Just another extra mitzvah, or a nice place to visit. It is not something external like every other place on the globe. It is a part of who we are. We cannot be the Nation of Israel without the Land of Israel. We can be scattered individuals, in scattered Jewish communities around the world. We can be advisors to gentile presidents and assimilated novelists and famous pop singers, but we can’t be a nation with our own land unless we are congregated in the Land of our forefathers, the Land of the Jews. For a Jew to be true to himself, and to G-d, he has to be in the Land of Israel.
If you don't believe me, look what Rashi says: "There, in the Land of Israel, I will be your G-d, but a Jew who lives outside the Land of Israel is like someone who has no G-d" (Bereshit, 17:8).
This is the very first lesson to Avraham: “Get thee forth to the Land.” And it’s a part of our genetic make-up as the children of Avraham. Just as Avraham left his birthplace to start a new life in Israel, we can too. It’s in our blood. It is a part of our psycho-historic heritage. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it is difficult. But as the children of Avraham Avinu, we have what it takes.
During the 2000 year exile from the Land of Israel, we didn’t have a choice. So the Torah became our principle connection to G-d. But now that G-d has re-opened the gates to our homeland, now that He has brought back millions of Jews to Israel, and given us a Jewish airline, and thriving Jewish communities, and a re-built Jerusalem, and more yeshivot than anywhere else in the world, it is time to remember the very first lesson He taught us: “Get thee forth to the Land.”
Good thing there wasn’t Internet in the days of our forefather Avraham. If there had been, he may never have come to Israel. He may have decided to stay in Ur Kasdeem, and settle with being a vicarious Israeli via the Internet. That way he could enjoy the best of both worlds, rubbing shoulders with all of the wealthy and high-ranking idol worshippers in Ur Kasdeem, while at the same time sending in Talkbacks critical of the way things were being run in the Holy Land.
After all, in Avraham’s time, there were savage Canaanites living in Eretz Yisrael. And there weren’t any kosher supermarkets back then, nor religious neighborhoods, nor Jewish Day Schools and yeshivot for the kids. In fact, there weren’t any Jews living there at all. Avraham would be the first. Who needed the hassle? It made a lot more sense to stay where he was, where everyone knew him, enjoying the good life with the goyim, and pretend, via the Internet, that he was actually involved in building the Jewish State.
Lucky for us that INN Talkbacks didn’t exist back then. It could have been a test that even Avraham might not have had the strength to overcome.