The concept of t’shuva means to return to one’s source. Suppose a man is expelled from his house by thieves. The wrongdoing will only be corrected when the owner returns to repossess his house. This is true for the Jewish People on both a national and individual level. To achieve a state of true t’shuva and reunion with G-d, we have to return to our home in the Land of Israel.
A Jew who becomes a baal t’shuva in Chicago has only returned a part of the way home.
The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is a necessary stage in the t’shuva of the nation and each and every Jew. This is the Redemption that we pray for. For instance, a Jew who becomes a baal t’shuva in Chicago has only returned a part of the way home. While his personal character and behavior have been sanctified by aligning his life on the pathway of Torah, he has traveled only half of the journey home. 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 uplift his private, egotistical life, to the higher life of Clal Yisrael, and to merge his personal goals with the goals of the rebuilding of the nation. To rectify the blemish caused by the galut, he has to abandon the exile and join the ingathered to Israel. He has to actualize the words of his prayers, “And gather us together from the four corners of the earth.” Otherwise, he is just like a parrot who mouths words without acting out their meaning (Kuzari, 2:24).
Here’s another example. Let’s say a non-religious Jew decides to return to G-d and make a commitment to Torah. He learns all about Judaism and embraces the mitzvot with the great joy and fervor characteristic of the newly religious. Except he decides that he doesn’t want to put on tefillin. For whatever reason, whether because he feels it’s a silly piece of mumbo jumbo, or because the little box looks strange on his head, or because tefillin are expensive, he decides that it isn’t for him. Obviously his return to the Torah is incomplete. One could not even call this person an Orthodox Jew.
The same thing is true with the mitzvah of living in Israel. Jewish Law states: “A Jew should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of residents are idol worshippers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city where the majority are Jews” (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 75:1:3). Our baal t’shuva from Chicago may do all of the other commandments with joy, but by not coming to live in Eretz Yisrael, he is showing that his belief in the Torah and in the G-d of Israel is incomplete.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook would stress to his students that an Orthodox Jew does not pick and choice mitzvahs, saying “This commandment is pleasing to me, I will do it, but this commandment is too difficult, I will pass.” This is the way of Conservative Jewry. If Shabbat is too much of a burden, they don’t observe it. If wearing tzitzit is too embarrassing, or uncomfortable, or old-fashion, then it isn’t for them.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook at the Kotel, (standing to the right of the Nazir, Rabbi David HaCohen,) immediately after its capture in the Six Day War
“Rejecting the commandment of living in Israel is a rejection of Hashem,” Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda emphasized. “It is a rebellion against G-d, as it is written in the Torah concerning the Jews who refused to continue on to Eretz Yisrael after the exodus from Egypt. Hashem declares to them: ‘You rebelled against the L-rd your G-d, and you did not believe in Me, and did not listen to my proclamation’” (Devarim, 9:23).
Not coming to live in Israel expresses a lack of faith of G-d. It is a denial of G-d’s will for the Jewish People that the commandments be observed in the Land of Israel. Living in Israel is not a matter of personal preference. It is one of the commandments of the Torah required of each and every Jew, a mitzvah that our Sages declare is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah,80). It is such a great mitzvah because living in Israel is the cornerstone of our nation, and the foundation of all of the Torah.
“Being a Jew today comes with the basic requirement to be in Eretz Yisrael,”
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda taught. “Every Jew who comes to Israel brings back to Zion an aspect of the Shechinah from the exile. Every additional Jew who comes to Israel, and every additional tree which is planted in the soil of Eretz Yisrael is another stage and step of the Redemption, in the same way that every additional piece of Torah which is learned, and every yeshiva which is built in Israel, is another stage in the returning of G-d’s Presence to Zion” (see the book, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Chapters 5-9, for an in-depth study of the mitzvah of living in Israel).
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda’s father, Rabbi Avraham Yitchak HaCohen Kook, also stressed 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 official matters; rescue yourselves, gather together, 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 together with G-d, let him come and receive his reward.’ 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 they 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....”
My friends, the fact of the matter is that if you want to be a real baal t’shuva, you have to return to the place you came from, to the place you belong. And if you want to serve G-d as the Torah intended, you have to perform the mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael. If you are not already here, or not on the way, chances are that you are either lacking in faith, or your understanding of Judaism is mistaken. As the Day of Judgment approaches, find a few quiet moments and ask yourselves, “Am I really doing the best that I can to serve G-d by living here in Chicago, or Monsey, or Beverly Hills? Is my living in Chicago what G-d really wants?” If you truly believe so, then when you come to the following verses in the Rosh Hashana liturgy, you should either cough loudly to drown out the words, or quietly sneak out of the shul:
“Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, sound the great shofar for our freedom, and raise up a banner to gather together our exiles, and return our scattered from amongst the nations, and assemble our outcasts from the corners of the earth, and bring us to Zion, your city, with happy singing, and to Jerusalem, the home of your Sanctuary, with everlasting joy.”