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Where Are You on the Jewish Scorecard?

By Tzvi Fishman
2/13/2009, 12:00 AM
Let’s say that there is a scorecard for Jewish observance. And let’s say that Shimon, who lives in Brooklyn, has a score of 80. Reuven, who lives in Eretz Yisrael, has a score of 80 too. But because Reuven lives in Eretz Yisrael, when it comes times for blessings to be handed out, he will be blessed first, before Shimon, and he is closer to Jewish perfection.

This is what Rabbi Kook teaches, based on the way we eat fruit during our festive Tu B’Shvat seders.

Tu B’Shvat, the holiday of trees, was celebrated just a few days ago. In Israel, families sat down for joyous holiday meals, highlighted with the fruits indigenous to the Land of Israel. Long ago, in the time of the Talmud, the question arose, which fruit should be eaten first? The answer is derived from a verse in the Torah that numerates the seven special fruits of the Land of Israel: “A Land of wheat, and barley, and grape vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil and date honey” (Devarim, 8:8).

The Talmud asks – if you have pomegranates and dates before you, which do you eat first? You might think that a pomegranate should be eaten first since it appears in the verse before dates. But, in fact, the date should be eaten first because it is closer to the word “Aretz” (Land) in the second half of the verse. Even though this is the second time the word “Aretz” appears in the verse, dates are only two spots away from it, while pomegranates are five places away from the first mention of “Aretz.” Thus, we learn that something that is closer to the Land of Israel has preference (Berachot 41).     

Using this lesson of Talmud as his base, Rabbi Kook writes that someone who is closer to Eretz Yisrael and exerts himself more in its development, he is first in blessing and closer to perfection (“Ayn Iyah,” Berachot 41; and “Olat Rayah,” Vol. 1, pg. 375).

Thus if you have two Jews of equal religious observance, but one lives in the Diaspora and the other in Eretz Yisrael, the Jew who lives in Israel is first in blessing and closer to Jewish perfection.

Not only this, Rabbi Kook writes, even if Shimon is religious, and Reuven is secular, when it comes to their general wellbeing and psyche (nefesh), Reuven is still first in blessing and closer to Jewish perfection.

 “The “nefesh” of the sinners of Israel at the beginning of the Redemption, those who lovingly join the causes of the Jewish Nation, Eretz Yisrael, and the national revival, is more corrected than the “nefesh” of perfectly religious Jews who lack this advantage of the essential feeling for the good of the people, and the building of the nation and the Land” (Orot, Orot HaTechiya, 43).  

This means that when it comes to a person’s mental health and general wellbeing – Reuven, a secular, leftist kibbutznik in Israel, is closer to Jewish perfection than the Orthodox Jew in Boro Park, or Vienna, Virginia, or Monsey, New York. Rabbi Kook admits that the spiritual world of the Orthodox Jew, Shimon, is healthier and more developed, but his psychic life is tragically out of whack (Ibid).

True, a leftist kibbutznik can think some pretty stupid things and make a lot of sick choices, but in being connected to the Land of Israel, his head is screwed on a lot straighter than his Orthodox Diaspora brother who believes he is an American, or a Frenchman, or a German, and acts out his life like one, identifying with the foreign country and culture where he lives.  To the extent that he estranges himself from the Land of Israel, he is more and more screwed up.

He’s like a Caucasian who claims he is a Black American, or a penguin who thinks he is a chimpanzee, or a mental asylum patient who swears that he is the President of the United States.

"I am proud to be a Black American"
"There must be bananas around here somewhere."
"Hi, I'm the President."

In the very same light, while Shimon’s religious awareness (ruach) is indeed superior to Reuven’s, his psychic world is far more bonkers than his secular Israeli counterpart, simply because Reuven identifies his life with the building of the Eretz Yisrael.