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Review Lesson

By Tzvi Fishman
7/13/2010, 12:00 AM

This week, as we once again begin the Book of Devarim, we are in store for a special treat. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, would tell his students each year that while there are many commentaries on the Torah, the Book of Devarim is the commentary of Moshe himself, as it says, “Moshe began to explain the Torah… (Devarim, 1:5).

Rashi tells us that Moshe explained the Torah in seventy languages. Knowing that Jews would one day speak English, French, Russian, Spanish, and the rest, Moshe wanted to be sure that they understood. And what is the very first thing that Moshe seeks to make clear?

“Moshe began to explain the Torah, saying, The L-rd our G-d spoke to us in Horev saying, You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn and take up your journey….”

Where does he tell them to go? To the Land of Israel. Rabbi Kook  emphasized that in this very first lesson of Moshe, we are taught that the Torah is NOT meant to be practiced outside of the Land of Israel. Rather, the Torah and its commandments were given to be performed in Eretz Yisrael, as G-d declares: “Behold I have set the Land before you, go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, to give to them and to their seed after them” (Devarim, 1:8).

The language, “go in and possess the Land,” is a commandment of the Torah – the commandment to conquer and settle the Land of Israel.

What is the first thing that Moshe stresses when he begins to explain the Torah? Not Shabbat. Not synagogue services. Not Torah study, all of which are essential to Judaism. Moshe begins by telling us that the Land of Israel is the foundation of all of the Torah and the foundation of the life of the Jewish People. G-d gave us the Torah to keep it in Israel. Why is the Land of Israel so important? Because the Torah is much much more than the observance of individual mitzvot like putting on tefillin and keeping kosher. The Torah is the constitution of the Jewish Nation, the Nation that is to bring the word of G-d to the world, not merely through righteous individuals, but through the doings of all the Nation, in its holy NATIONAL format of Jewish soldiers, Jewish farmers, and Jewish kings. Everyone knows that to have one’s own nation, one needs one’s own land. And the holy Jewish People need a special Holy Land that enables prophecy and the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Everywhere else we are a minority in someone else’s land, living in a foreign culture, at the mercy of the non-Jews.       

This understanding is especially important during the Nine Days leading to Tisha B’Av. Our Sages tell us that the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of the Nation, had its roots with the Spies in the Wilderness who didn’t want to journey on to the Land of Israel.

How are we to do tshuva over this cataclysmic sin? By loving the Land and settling its borders. That is the way to bring the cursed exile to an end and to hasten the rebuilding of the Temple and the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel – so that the Kingship of G-d will be established over all the earth, may it be soon.