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To the Boys in the Band

By Tzvi Fishman
4/9/2008, 12:00 AM

There is an opinion in the Talmud that our Forefathers were born in the month of Nissan, so after the morning mikvah, I drove to Hevron this morning to wish them a happy birthday, to pay my respects before the Pesach holiday, and to gain strength against the evil counsel of the Spies amongst us, as just Joshua and Caleb did in the past.

Hills Where King David Roamed

Usually, I ignore Mike, and his anti-Israel band, as Rabbi Baruch Kahane, the son of Rav Meir, advised. Over the past months, we have disproved all of their deranged rantings against the supreme mitzvah of aliyah, but since there are always new readers to this blog, we are forced to repeat certain fundamental matters, lest the newcomers be led astray by their poison.

Maharat HaMachpelah

First, let the following be clear to everyone - it is a mitzvah from the Torah to live in the Land of Israel. Our Sages considered this mitzvah equal in weight to all of the other commandments in the Torah. This mitzvah applies in every generation. All of the Torah authorities, both the Rishonim and Achronim, agree on this matter. This mitzvah is not dependant on the danger involved, nor on the level of religious observance of the government, nor on the moral purity of its political leaders, nor on whether Medinat Yisrael is pleasing in one’s eyes or not. It is  mitzvah to live in Israel, even if the Mashiach hasn’t yet come, even if  Tzvi Fishman’s blogs turn you off, even if you will have to settle for a second rate golf course.

Path of our Forefathers

Let’s take another look at the universally-recognized classic on Jewish faith, “The Kuzari.” The book was written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the form of a conversation between a Rabbi and the non-Jewish king of Kuzar, a seeker of the true path to G-d. In a long and detailed discourse, the Rabbi explains that the true service of G-d is only in the Land of Israel. Among the very long list of its praises he says:

“The Patriarchs yearned for it and endeavored to live in the country even though it was in the hands of pagans.”

This means that it is a mitzvah to make aliyah whether pagans rule over Israel or corrupt Jewish politicians. This mitzvah applies to all Jews, except for the likes of Mike and the Boys in the Band, who are apparently holier and far more intelligent than our exalted Forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov.

Tomb of Avraham
Tomb of Sarah
Like the Matriarchs of Old

The “Kuzari” continues, citing the halachic law:

“Concerning a woman who refuses to move there with her husband, our Sages decreed that she is divorced and that she forfeits her marriage settlement. On the other hand, if the husband refuses to accompany his wife to Israel, he is bound to divorce her and pay her Ketubah. They further say that it is better to dwell in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by idol worshippers than in the Diaspora, even in a town mostly inhabited by Jews; for he who dwells in the Holy Land is compared to him who has a G-d, whilst he who dwells outside the Land is compared to him who has no G-d. Thus said David, ‘For they have driven me out this day from living in the place that is the inheritance of the L-rd, saying go and serve other gods,’ which means that he who dwells in the Diaspora is as if he served strange gods.”

Renewed Jewish life in Hevron

When the Rabbi finishes praising the transcendental value of living in the Land of Israel, the king of Kuzar chastises him, saying:

“If this be so, thou fallest short of the duty laid down in thy law, by not endeavoring to reach that place, and making it thy abode in life and death. Is it not the gate of Heaven? All peoples agree on this point. Christians believe that the souls are gathered there and then lifted up to heaven. Islam teaches that it is the place of the ascent. All the Jews turn to it in prayer. Thus thy bowing down and kneeling in its direction is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship. Yet your first Forefathers chose it as their abode, and lived there as strangers, rather than as citizens in their own country. This they did even in a time when the Shechinah was not yet visible, and the country was full of unchastity, impurity, and idolatry. Your Forefathers, however, had no other desire than to remain in it. Neither did they leave it in times of dearth and famine except by G-d’s permission. Finally, they directed their bones to be buried there.”

Tzvi Junior

The Rabbi answers in shame and disgrace:

“This is a severe reproach, O king of the Kuzars. It is the sin which kept the Divine promise with regard to the Second Temple from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they all had willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy amongst them remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, unwilling to leave their mansions and their affairs. Had we been prepared to meet the G-d of our Forefathers with an honest mind, we would have found the same salvation as our fathers did in Egypt. If we say in our prayers, ‘Worship at His holy hill; worship at His footstool; He who restoreth His glory to Zion,’ and other words of this nature, this is but as the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not realize what we say by this sentence, nor others, as thou rightly observes, O king of the Kuzars” (Kuzari, 2:22-25).

The story concludes as follows, and I quote at length for readers who have not yet studied this monumental treatise of the fundamentals of Jewish faith:

“The Rabbi was then concerned to leave the land of the Kuzars and to betake himself to Jerusalem. The king was loth to let him go, and spoke to him in this sense as follows: ‘What can be sought in the Land of Israel nowadays, since the Shechinah is absent from it, whilst with a pure mind and desire, one can approach G-d in any place. Why wilt thou run into danger on land and on sea, and among the various peoples living there?’”

If this isn’t the babble of the Boys in the Band, what is? It is their exact Talkbacks, brilliantly captured in a book written one thousand years ago by one of the Jewish People’s greatest Sages.

The Rabbi answers: “The Land of Israel is especially distinguished by the L-rd of Israel, and no religious function can be perfect except there. Many of the Jewish laws do not concern those who do not live there; and heart and soul are only perfectly pure and immaculate in the place which is specially selected by G-d. The danger one runs on land and sea does not come under the category of , ‘You shall not tempt the L-rd,’ which refers to risks which one takes when traveling with merchandise in hope of gain. However, he who incurs even greater danger on account of his ardent desire to reach a state of cleanliness in his service of G-d is free from reproach. He braves danger, and if he escapes, he praises G-d gratefully. But should he perish through he sins, he obtains the Divine favor, and he may be confident that he has atoned for most of his sins by his death.”

Beit Hadassah
Noam Arnon tells the story of Hevron

The king tries to dissuade him with the following argument: “I thought thou didst love freedom, but I now see thee finding new religious duties which thou will be obliged to fulfill in the Land of Israel, even though they are in abeyance here.”

O, stick with me, dear readers, and see the Boys in the Band exposed in all of their naked shame.

The Rabbi answers: “I only seek freedom from the service of those numerous people whose favor I do not care for, and shall never obtain, though I work for it all my life. Even if I could obtain it, it would not profit me – I am speaking of the service of men and courting their favor. I would rather seek the service of the One whose favor is obtained with the smallest effort, yet it profits in this world and the next. This is the favor of G-d. His service spells freedom, and humility before Him is true honor.”

In other words, we have to stop trying to be good steppinfetchit Jews in foreign countries, and be true servants of Hashem in His eternally Chosen Land.

Visiting HaRav Moshe Levinger

The Rabbi concludes: “This means that Jerusalem can only be rebuilt when the Jewish People yearn for it to such an extent that they embrace her stones and dust.”

Embracing Her Stones and Her Dust

Finally, the king of the Kuzars concedes: “If this is the case, it would be a sin to hinder thee. It is on the contrary a merit to assist thee. May G-d grant thee His help, and be thy protector and friend. Amen.”   

And now for the blah blah blah of the Boys in the Band.