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EXTRA! EXTRA! Read All About It!

By Tzvi Fishman
8/16/2010, 12:00 AM

What can you do? Some people are simply lost cases. It doesn’t matter what I write, they’ll insist the opposite. If I say the sky is blue, they’ll reply that it isn’t really blue – it’s a spectrum of colors that looks blue due to atmospheric conditions…. If I say that a person needs water to live, they’ll say that research proves that a person can survive on carrot juice and goat’s milk. If I write that Jewish babies can’t result from homosexual couples, they’ll answer that babies can be bought in Thailand and converted to Judaism. If I say that G-d wants us to live in Israel, they’ll protest that if G-d wanted us to live in Israel, He wouldn’t have sent us into galut.

"It's not really blue!"

Other people are confused about things simply because they haven’t learned. Or because the things they have learned are filled with errors and misconceptions. This is especially true when it comes to Torah. When the Jewish People were exiled from the Land of Israel, the Torah was shrunken into “four cubits of halachah” (Berachot 8A). Without a land and country of our own, the national framework of Torah was shattered, and we were only left with a handful of ritual commandments, like kashrut, tefillin, shofar, and Shabbat, sort of like the leftover bones of a smoked salmon after Sabbath morning kiddush.  

Our rabbis instructed us to continue to perform these mitzvot in the Diaspora, even though the commandments were given to be performed in Israel, as the Ramban (Vayikra, 18:25) and the Kuzari (5:23) make clear. This was enacted so the commandments wouldn’t be forgotten and seem new when we returned to the Land of Israel, as Rashi and other sources explain (Rashi, Devarim, 11:17-17; Sifre).  

Thus, in the exile, the focus of Torah studies was placed on the  limited day-to-day mitzvot that still applied in our wandering status, and on the worship of the individual Jew, rather than on the all-encompassing Torah of Eretz Yisrael which focuses on the nation, in all of its aspects of Jewish statehood, and the service of G-d by the “Clal,” by the nation as a whole, through which the name of G-d is sanctified in the world.

Giving this miniaturized focus of Torah learning, and the prolonged exile from our Land, it wasn’t long before the national essence of the Torah was forgotten.

This situation was exacerbated by the pernicious influence of the gentile cultures where we lived, most specifically by Christianity, whose doctrines slowly crept into our psyches and altered our understandings of Torah. For instance, exiled amongst nations who believed in a separation between religion and state, we too began to view Judaism as merely the performance and celebration of religious rituals and holidays. True, we had more commandments than the gentiles, but other than that, we looked upon Judaism as a religion like any other, the mere practice of religious customs and laws. Matters of government, security, agriculture, economy, and the like, were taken care of by others, as if none of these things had anything to do with Judaism at all.

In G-d We Trust

As generations passed, and we became accustomed to this sad and shrunken state of affairs, little by little, our longing for our own Jewish kingdom and nationhood in our own Jewish Land - the essence and goal of the Torah - became, at best, a dream, or a jingle about Mashiach, or, more often, a seemingly irrelevant matter that had no practical bearing on our lives (Orot, 1:1).    

Nonetheless, the Torah is not just a list of religious deeds and holidays for the individual Jew, as many people still believe, clinging out of habit, and out of a lack of learning to this myopic and mistaken view, which stems from the darkness of the exile and the influence of foreign religions and creeds.

For instance, take a look at this week’s Torah portion. It begins talking about the role of “shoftim and shotrim,” Jewish policemen and judges. Rashi explains that the role of Jewish policemen is to make sure the commandments are kept by the populace.  There may be a Jewish cop or two in New York, but he can’t give you a fine or drag you to jail for selling bread on Passover. Obviously, we need our own Jewish homeland and society to keep this aspect of Torah. And while the policeman and judges in Israel today don’t yet fulfill this function in all of its Torah aspects (and very often act in defiance of the Torah as many of you are fond of noting) this is a passing phase in the evolving process of shedding the mentality and cobwebs of galut, and gradually returning to our true Torah lifestyle, little by little, so that all segments of the nation can participate in the national enterprise of Redemption, religious and non-religious alike, as part of G-d’s great game plan in restoring the Jewish People to Zion.   

Similarly regarding the prohibition of idol worship, which follows in this week’s Torah portion, if a Jew in America wants to go to church and bow down to a wooden statue, there is no one to stop him. To enact this guideline of Torah, you need your own Jewish national Land, with your own legal enforcement system. This should be obvious to everyone.

The Torah portion continues with the injunction that legal questions must be decided by the Jewish supreme court in Jerusalem. Even the people who are obsessed with disagreeing with everything I write will have a hard time explaining that Jerusalem can just as well be in Texas or Chile, and that the Torah’s use of the expression, “the place that I have chosen” means not necessarily Jerusalem, but any place that there is a thriving Jewish community, even in Melbourne or Cape Town.

Next the Torah portion speaks about the Jewish king. Imagine a Jewish king in Paris, London, or the White House! Especially when the Jewish king is called upon to enforce Torah law over the kingdom where he rules. Obviously, this part of the Torah can only come to fruition in the Land of the Jewish People. Also, please note that the affairs of the king refer specifically to the Jewish NATION in the NATIONAL framework of the Torah. It isn’t a private mitzvah for every Jew to declare himself king. Imagine what chaos that would lead to:

“I’m the king!”

“No, I’m the king!”

“What do you mean? Both of you are imposters – Elvis is the king!”

"I'm the king!" Died August 16, 1977, age 42

Obviously the Torah is telling us that Judaism is much more than a list of ritual precepts – Judaism is the NATIONAL CONSTITUTION of the Jewish NATION. And that can only come about in the Land of Israel.

Constitution of the Nation of Israel

Then this week’s Torah portion goes on to discuss the allotments awarded to the Kohanim and Leviim. Once again, all of these matters of Torah concerning priest dues and tithes only apply in the Land of Israel.

Then comes the rules that apply to prophets. While there may be many would-be prophets wandering around the streets of Monsey, New York, and Vienna, Virginia, prophecy is one of the unique specialties of the Jewish People restricted to the Land of Israel, or concerning the Land of Israel, as in the example of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the land of Kasdim, which continued because it started in Eretz Yisrael and concerned the return of the Jews to Israel (Kuzari, 2:14).

New York prophet

Next in the Torah portion comes the designation of “cities of refuge,” where accidental murderers can flee. Once again, the Torah is not talking about Miami Beach, Las Vegas, or Chicago, even in the heydays of Meir Lansky and Bugsy Siegel.

city of refuge

And then we come to commandments about the Israeli armed forces and war. With all due credit to the JDL, how long do you think a Jewish army, or even commando unit, would last in Russia, Germany, or the good ol’ USA? Obviously, to have a Jewish army you need your own Jewish country. I think even the biggest adversaries of aliyah can understand that.

All of these things are vital parts of Judaism and the Jewish People: policemen, judges, Jerusalem, Jewish kings, priestly tithes, cities of refuge, prophecy, armies, and wars.

Finally, the Torah portion ends with the mitzvah of “eglah arufah,” should a murdered body be discovered on the outskirts of the city. Once again, if you live in Brooklyn or Monsey, this doesn’t apply to you, so you can continue to relax.

It turns out that the Torah portion is completely concerned with Jewish life in the Land of Israel. The Torah we have in the exile is an “itsy bitsy teeny weeny” Torah when compared to the all-encompassing national Torah of Eretz Yisrael.  

G-d commands all of us as Jews to establish this national Torah constitution and perform its laws in the one and only place on Earth where this is possible – in Eretz Yisrael. This is a national mitzvah, incumbent on all the nation, the establishment of the Jewish Nation, according to our Torah constitution, in Israel. Perhaps nobody ever taught you, but this is what Torah is all about. Right now it is called Medinat Yisrael.  If in the future it is called something else, like “Medinat Moshe,” or “Medinat David,” or “Medinat Yehuda,” who cares? Right now, G-d, in His infinite kindness, has given us Medinat Yisrael, and it is up to us to build it and to do our share in steering it more and more toward the path of the Torah. To do that, we have to be here.