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News & Call-In with Tamar Yonah
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.
In this essay from the book, "Orot," Rabbi Kook examines Jewish creativity. He begins by telling us that a Jew cannot be faithful to his thoughts, logic, ideas, and imagination outside the Land of Israel. When we understand the reasons for this, we can more readily comprehend why Eretz Yisrael is vital to the health and wholeness of every Jew.
Whoever has a greater love for the Land of Israel, and whoever exerts himself more ardently in the settlement of the Holy Land, he is blessed first, and he is closer to perfection
There is a famous story concerning the Gaon of Vilna which is related by his student, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. Magidim, or heavenly messengers, would regularly visit the Gaon, but he repeatedly refused to listen to them. He would not even glance at their heavenly form. When one of these messengers came to reveal Torah secrets to Rabbi Chaim's brother, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, the Vilna Gaon commanded the Torah scholar not to receive it, or even glance at its celestial radiance. Rabbi Zalman asked why not – after all, the Beit Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, had a Magid who informed him of secrets from heaven. The Gaon of Vilna answered that, first of all, the Beit Yosef had lived several hundred years before, and secondly, he was in Eretz Yisrael. The Gaon told him that outside of the Land of Israel, it is impossible to receive heavenly messengers without the polluted interference and Klipot of Chutz L'Aretz (the Diaspora). Heavenly information can only be properly received in its purity in Eretz Yisrael. This is why when a Magid first appeared to Rabbi Yosef Caro in Chutz L'Aretz, the Magid told him to go to Eretz Yisrael.
Similarly, when Hashem first appears to Avraham, He tells him to journey to the land that He will show him the land uniquely created to facilitate a special connection to G-d. Only in Eretz Yisrael can Avram be transformed into Avraham in order to fulfill his potential of leading mankind to a knowledge of G-d. Only in Eretz Yisrael can he produce the offspring who will become the foundation for a holy nation destined to bring the word of G-d to the world.
.Hashem created the Jewish people and the Land of Israel for each other. He created Eretz Yisrael with the spiritual and material properties uniquely suited for the life of His holy nation. Put an Eskimo in Paris, and he seems out of place. Take a Jew out of Israel, and put him in Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Spain, Germany, Russia, or Brooklyn – as much as he strives to fit in, he simply does not belong.
We mentioned in our commentary on Essay One how the Ramban describes the very real differences between the spiritual environment of Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora. Outside of the Land of Israel, lesser celestial forces rule over the nations. The idol worship and hedonistic cultures they breed contaminate the environment. This spiritual pollution pervades the very air. The world's preoccupation with sex, violence, money, adultery, robbery, homosexuality, and murder all stem from the spiritual impurity found in the gentile lands. In Chutz L'Aretz, the physical world reigns supreme, cut off from the spirit. The quest for physical pleasure, fame, honor, and wealth all come to fill up the vacuum created by the distance from G-d.
Therefore, Rabbi Kook tells us that it is impossible for a Jew to be faithful to his true creative, intellectual, imaginative life when he is outside of the Land of Israel. The spiritual and cultural pollution enters his psyche and distorts his world of perception. With this introduction, we can better understand Rabbi Kook's first sentence:
"It is impossible for a Jew to be devoted and faithful to his contemplation, logical reasonings, conceptualizations, and imagination, when he is outside the Land of Israel, compared to the quality of their faithfulness in Eretz Yisrael."
If, as Rabbi Kook asserts, a Jew cannot be true to his thoughts, intellect, ideas, and imagination outside of the land of Israel – how are we to explain the magnitude of Jewish creativity and achievement in the Diaspora? Jews have excelled in all fields: in literature, song, comedy, theater, filmmaking, journalism, philosophy, law, science, medicine, government, banking – and the list goes on and on. The answer is that this outstanding creativity does not represent our unique Israeli creativity, but rather, it is a part of the general world inspiration which we share with all of mankind.
What is this true Israeli creativity in thought and idea? Emunah, prophecy, and the ability to bring sanctity to both the spiritual and physical worlds. This is why Avraham had to journey to Eretz Yisrael to become a Jew. To become complete in his worship of G-d, he had to dwell in the land of prophecy and Emunah.
Complete Jewish health and wholeness can be attained only in Eretz Yisrael. On the verse, "And Yaacov came Shalem to the city of Shechem" (Bereshit, 33:18), the Gaon of Vilna explains the word Shalem in its meaning of wholeness, and says that Yaacov was not complete until he came to Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Avraham Azuli was the Rabbi of Hevron some 400 years ago. In his book, "Chesed L'Avraham," he writes that when a Jew comes to the Land of Israel, he receives a new soul. The soul of the exile leaves him, and he undergoes a spiritual transplant. The egocentric soul which characterized his individual life in the fractured world of Galut is exchanged for the exalted soul of Clal Yisrael. His Aliyah to Israel is an Aliyah of souls. He becomes attached to the Divine soul and life of the nation. In Rabbi Azuli's terminology, Yaacov's wholeness came only upon receiving his new soul of Clal Yisrael upon returning to the Land of Israel. Only in his attachment to the Clal could he earn his new name and calling – Yisrael.
Elsewhere in OROT, Rabbi Kook writes: "The general soul of Knesset Yisrael does not rest on the individual except in Eretz Yisrael, and the moment a person comes to Eretz Yisrael, his private soul is nullified before the great light of the general soul which enters him; and its exalted content exerts its influence whether he wants and recognizes its effect, or whether he does not want it, or is not aware of its value" (Orot Yisrael, 7:18).
Just by his living in Israel, a Jew attaches himself to the higher life of the Clal. The more he recognizes his new spiritual status, and the more he strives to unite with the Clal, the greater his elevation will be. As Rabbi Kook writes in "Hazone HaGeula:" "Whoever has a greater love for the Land of Israel, and whoever exerts himself more ardently in the settlement of the Holy Land, he is blessed first, and he is closer to perfection."
Certainly, a Jew can be intelligent and imaginative in Chutz L'Aretz. But only on a personal, individual level. His creativity, no matter how gifted he may be, is limited to his own personal talents. In Israel, by attaching himself to the nation, his intellectual and imaginative faculties are uplifted to the higher realm of the Clal, where the pure spring of Israeli inspiration flows freely. The unique Clal Yisrael talent which combines thoughts, logical reasoning, ideas, and imagination, is now open to him. This is prophecy, the special creative Segula of the Jewish people which we encountered in Essay One. It is the unique Israeli creativity which unites the spiritual and physical worlds by bringing the word of G-d down to earth. Only in Eretz Yisrael can the people of Israel be steeped in the Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration) which rests on the nation as a whole. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the "Kuzari" makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the unique land of prophecy, and Am Yisrael is the nation of prophets.
Thus, when Rabbi Kook writes about Israel's creative potential, he is not only talking about art, poetry, music, or literature. He is referring to the inner creative power of Clal Yisrael which finds its highest expression in prophecy. This is a Jew's inheritance as a member of Clal Yisrael. Along with the genetic foundations of our bodies, we have spiritual genes as well. We are the children of prophets. The Hebrew letters which abound in our souls are our double-helixes of prophecy. Through his connection with Clal Yisrael, every Jew has the capability of experiencing G-d on an enhanced spiritual level – if not as a prophet, then on whatever level of Ruach HaKodesh which he or she can attain. Unlike Western cultures which exalt the individual ego and the unfettered reign of the id, a Jew is to find his life's deepest meaning by connecting his life to the eternal life of the nation. Through his devotion to the higher life of his people, he attains his true individual calling. The Ruach HaKodesh which rests on the Clal opens his vistas toward the horizons of transcendental expression.
"Revelations of holiness, on whatever level, are clean in Eretz Yisrael according to their value; while outside the Land of Israel, they are mixed with abundant dross and Klipot."
There exists a general universal Kedusha (holiness) outside the Land of Israel which sustains all of the world. The environment there, however, is spiritually polluted, and even Halachically impure. When Kedusha descends into the world in Chutz L'Aretz, it is immediately attacked by the impure Klipot and forces of evil which reign there. The Klipot is a Kabbalistic concept, translated as shells or husks. It refers to shells of impurity and evil which surround and imprison sparks of exiled holiness. The nations of the world are the Klipot of Am Yisrael, just as Chutz L'Aretz is the Klipah of Eretz Yisrael. The lower celestial beings which Hashem has set to rule over the gentile nations create barriers to holiness. Forces of evil are given free reign, creating the impure cultures, religions, and governments which dominate world history.
For example, what is the cultural world of America? Mickey Mouse, George Washington, Billy Graham, baseball, Christmas trees, Barbie dolls, comic books, Watergate, Hollywood, Wall Street, hippies, slam dunks and marijuana. Where is there Kedusha? Where is there something Jewish?
Outside of the Land of Israel, Kedusha is mixed up with polluted forces. The result is mixed marriages, and a mixed-up orientation to Torah. The Gemara says that because a Torah scholar in Chutz L'Aretz lives in a place of darkness, he speaks dark confused words (Pesachim 34B). In the Diaspora, one cannot be sure whether inspiration is true or false. For this reason, the Gaon of Vilna refused to receive the celestial messengers who visited him. Divine emanations outside the Land of Israel are polluted, not because they descend in that manner from Heaven, but because they become contaminated upon contact with the dross and Klipot in the air. And even if they were to be pure, the thinking and imaginative faculties of a Jew in Chutz L'Aretz are not pure enough to receive them. Thus, Avraham Avinu is commanded to leave Haran and journey to Eretz Yisrael; Moshe Rabenu is commanded to bring the Jews up from Mitzrayim to the Promised Land; and the Magid tells the Beit Yosef to go to the Holy Land before their Divine conversation can continue.
"However, according to the magnitude of an individual's yearning for and connection to Eretz Yisrael, his contemplations become clear due to the foundation of `the air of Eretz Yisrael' which hovers over everyone who desires to see her."
What is "the foundation of the `air of Eretz Yisrael' which hovers over everyone who desires to see her"? The special "air of Eretz Yisrael" refers to a Gemara which states that "the air in Eretz Yisrael causes wisdom" (Bava Batra 1598B). Not only is the Land of Israel holy – the air is holy too. The atmosphere of Israel is pure, without the polluted Klipot of the Galut. In Eretz Yisrael, the connection between the individual Jew and Hashem is direct. "The eyes of the Lord are upon it from the beginning of the year till the end" (Devarim,11:12). The purity of this direct attachment brings wisdom. And the beginning of this wisdom is to understand that life outside of the Land of Israel is detrimental to the spiritual health of a Jew.
One might wonder – if the air in Israel grants wisdom, why are not all Israelis bursting with Torah? As we mentioned, the Redemption of the Jewish people from the political, cultural, mental, and spiritual bondage of the Galut is a slow, gradual process requiring patience and diligent work. We should remember that in the days of Ezra, the return of the Jews to Israel was plagued with intermarriage and spiritual decline. Only gradually did the returning exiles form into a flourishing Torah society. As the prophecy of Redemption in the book of Ezekiel implies, the spiritual cleansing from the impurities of Galut is a process of Tshuva which can take generations to complete (Ezekiel, 36:24-28). However, one should not underestimate the wisdom of Israel's population, even today. Not only is Israel the Torah center of the world, every ordinary citizen comprehends that the Jewish people need their own sovereign nation. This national awareness is a great understanding. It is a wisdom which elevates a man above his private life to the recognition that he is more than his passing, individual existence. This is what leads the people of Israel to be willing to serve in the army and endanger their lives for the nation.
The wisdom which the air of Israel affords is not limited to the Jews who live in Israel, but, as Rabbi Kook tells us, it "hovers over everyone who yearns to see her." You do not have to be in Israel to be graced by its wisdom. Every Jew who yearns to live there has a share in its secret treasures. By yearning to be united with her soil, a person attaches himself to the soul of Clal Yisrael, and is uplifted in its magnified light. In his attachment to the Land, he is freed from all Klipot and lower celestial forces. His soul ceases to be a private Diaspora soul and is transformed into the transcending, Divine soul of the nation.
The meaning of yearning to see Eretz Yisrael is when a person truly longs to be there. If a Jew prays in the morning for the ingathering of the exiles, and does not think about Israel again until the next time he opens a prayer book, chances are that he is not really yearning. If, on the other hand, his desire to live in Israel is an active, constant passion that he would act on if he could, then he merits to share in the Land's special blessings.
Rabbi Kook tells us that the ability to share in the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael "hovers" over everyone who yearns to see her. The word "hovers" denotes something of a temporary nature, something which lacks permanence, something which comes and goes. A lifeline to Eretz Yisrael exists in Galut, but it is not as permanent and lasting as being in Israel itself. Once, Rabbi Kook was asked how he enjoyed learning in the famous Volozhin Yeshiva, under the tutelage of the Netziv, author of the "HaEmek Davar." "It is like being in Eretz Yisrael," he answered. It is "like" being in Eretz Yisrael because of the Rosh Yeshiva's ardent love for the Land of Israel – but it is not the real thing.
Rabbi Kook ends his essay with a verse from the prophet Isaiah: "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her" (Isaiah, 66:10). Jerusalem is the meeting point between Heaven and earth. It is the place of the Shechinah, and the eternal capital of Clal Yisrael. Not only those who reside in Jerusalem are able to experience her joy, but also all those who love her and seek her well-being with all of their hearts. The Jew who mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the nation is the one who can participate in her great joy when her banished children return (Taanit 30B).
Thus, if a Jew longs to be closer to G-d; if he wants to be faithful to his thoughts, his talents, his creativity and full spiritual potential, the place to live is the Land of Israel, at home, ever close to Jerusalem, taking a part in the higher, Divine life of the nation.