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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.
“It is impossible for a Jew to be devoted and faithful to his contemplations, logical deductions, conceptualizations, and imaginations, when he is outside the Land of Israel, compared to the quality of their faithfulness in Eretz Yisrael.”
Thus writes Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook in the fourth essay of the book, “Orot.” The essay continues:
"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 Kleipot.
“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.
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her."
Over the next two blogs, we will try to explain Rabbi’s Kook’s essay, relying on the commentary that I was privileged to write with the distinguished Torah scholar, Rabbi David Samson, in our book, “Lights on Orot,” which examines Rabbi Kook’s teachings on Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Kook 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 a vital foundation to the mental health of every Jew.
There is a famous story concerning the Gaon of Vilna which is related by his student, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (Introduction to “Safra D’Zniuta”). “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 him, or even glance at his 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 had made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. The Gaon told Rabbi Zalman that outside of the Land of Israel, it is impossible to receive heavenly messengers without the polluted interference and Kleipot of Chutz L'Aretz (the Diaspora, lit. outside the Land). 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 Turkey, he told him to go to Eretz Yisrael if he wanted to continue their conversation (“Shlah HaKadosh” on Shavuot, Pg. 30).
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 afford 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 the true 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 (Kuzari, 2:12). Put a Chinaman 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 have mentioned on several occasions how the Ramban describes the very real differences between the spiritual environment of Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora (Ramban on the Torah, Vayikra, 18:25). 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, Christianity, and murder all stem from the spiritual impurity found in the gentile lands. Outside of the Land of Israel, 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.
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, as part of the general world inspiration which we share with all of mankind.
What then is this true Israeli creativity in thought and idea? “Emunah,” the true Torah belief in G-d, and 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 faith (Kuzari, 2:14), where spirituality and physicality combine.
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 (“Kol HaTor,” 3:7).
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 private, individual life in the fractured world of galut (exile) is exchanged for the exalted soul of Clal Yisrael (the entire community of Israel). His aliyah to Israel is an aliyah of the soul. In the Land of Israel, 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,” Orot Yisrael, 7:18).
Just by his living in Israel, a Jew attaches himself to the higher life of the NATION. 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: "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" (“Hazone HaGeula,” Chapter One).
Certainly, a Jew can be intelligent and imaginative in the Diaspora. 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 reasonings, ideas, and imagination, is now open to him. This is prophecy, the special creative “segula” (treasure) of the Jewish People. 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 (Kuzari, 4:17).
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 (“Orot HaTorah,” 13:7). Through his devotion to the higher life of his people, he attains his true individual calling. The Divine Inspiration which rests on the Clal opens his vistas toward the horizons of transcendental expression.
With G-d’s help, we shall continue with the rest of Rabbi Kook’s essay tomorrow.