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The Greatest Mitzvah of All

By Tzvi Fishman
2/23/2009, 12:00 AM

This is for my brothers and sisters in Israel to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be living in Eretz HaKodesh. As we have written many times, the Holy Land is the Holy Land, no matter who is the Prime Minister, or how long you have to wait on line when you need something at the Ministry of the Interior. If only because Israel is G-d’s Chosen Land, it is worth living here more than any other place in the world.

This is just for Israelis because my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, whom I love very much, get angry at me when I remind them of the compromise they are living. For instance, in the Torah portion we read this past Shabbat, we learn about the Hebrew slave who doesn’t want to cease serving his master when his years of servitude have ended. Because he prefers serving a mortal, rather than be free to serve G-d, his ear, which heard the commandment “I am the L-rd your G-d,” is nailed to the doorpost of the door (Shemot, 21:5, Rashi). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, of blessed memory, would refer to this sad situation when referring to Jews who preferred to remain in the exile, subservient to the governments and cultures of their gentile countries, rather than coming to live in the Land of the Jews. “These people say, ‘I love my master, the gentile,’ he would explain, paraphrasing the Biblical verse. “I will not go out free.”

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Let me give you another example. Our Sages inform us that the Jews of Egypt merited to survive their bondage under their foreign masters because they guarded their names, their dress, their language, and the ways of Jewish modesty.  They didn’t give their children goyisha names like Mohammed, Tutenkamen, Mark, Chris, Sally, or Jane. They walked around proudly with kippot and tzitzit, not mimicking the fashions of the goyim. They continued to speak Hebrew, rather than Egyptian, English or French. And they stayed away from the orgies of their Egyptian neighbors, and refrained from watching the Academy Awards.  

"And the winner is...Barack Obama

If you think it is an inconsequential thing for a Jew to speak Hebrew, you are mistaken. The Hebrew language was given to us by G-d. He wants us to speak in the Lashon HaKodesh (Holy Tongue) because we are a Holy People. Hebrew is Divinely geared to the Jewish mind and Jewish way of thinking. A Jewish child who grows up speaking Hebrew sees the world, right to left, through Jewish glasses. A child who grows up speaking English sees the world backwards, from left to right, through gentile glasses. His orientation to the Torah is distorted. If you don’t believe a has-been Hollywood screenwriter like me, look at Rashi. On the verse in the Shema, “And you shall teach them to your children to speak of them,” (Devarim, 11:19), he writes:

“On this it has been said, when the child begins to talk, the father should speak to him in the Holy Tongue and teach him Torah, and if he doesn’t do this, it is like he buries him” (Rashi, there).

When I write these things, my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora get angry at me, even though I love them dearly and have their very best interests at heart. Because I know when they get to Heaven with their suitcases from America, Australia, and England, the Guard at the celestial gate is going to ask them why they didn’t live in Israel.

It'll never get through Customs

“What does it matter?” they’ll claim. “We kept the mitzvos.”

“You kept the mitzvos,” he’ll answer, “But you didn’t keep the greatest mitzvah of all.”