Just before the Sukkot holiday, I met a new oleh in a stationary store. He was having some difficulty expressing himself in Hebrew, so I helped him tell the clerk what he needed. Having recently retired, he was learning Hebrew in an ulpan with his wife. They had one child still in college in the US, and their eldest son was involved in “kiruv” in New York, bring Jews closer to Judaism. In fact, the father said, his son had originated an increasing popular website, geared for hip, Jewish young singles, which highlighted the benefits of an Orthodox lifestyle.
When I returned home, I took a look at the site. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call it “Judaism In The Wilderness.com”. It was filled with all kinds of articles on how Judaism can be fun and cool, while offering spirituality and meaning to today’s overly material lifestyle. But there was not one article about Eretz Yisrael. There wasn’t even a word. The creator of the website had taken Eretz Yisrael out of the Torah.
This isn’t something new. Lots of books on Judaism are published in America without even a mention of Eretz Yisrael. You’ll find discussions about the beauties of the Sabbath, and the perpetual honeymoon of family purity, and the joy of Jewish holidays, etc. etc, but very often, tragically, Eretz Yisrael is missing.
So I took the liberty of writing to the site creator, telling him that I had met his father in Jerusalem, and “yasher koach” on his website – but that I hadn’t found a single thing written about Eretz Yisrael, which seemed strange because the whole goal of Torah Judaism is to build a holy Jewish society in the Land of Israel.
He answered that yes, I was right, there was nothing on his site about the Land of Israel – not because he didn’t love Eretz Yisrael, he certainly did – but his goal was to bring Jews closer to Judaism and discussions about Eretz Yisrael always turned political about conquering the Palestinians and oppressing a downtrodden nation and that turned people off from Judaism, so it was better not to connect the two, at least at the beginning of a newcomer’s introduction to Torah.
Of course, that’s pretty much the answer of the Spies in the wilderness. They also “loved” Eretz Yisrael, but they didn’t want to oppress the Canaanites and dirty their hands in conquering someone else’s land. Why bother getting involved with politics when they could observe the Torah in the wilderness without all the hassle and danger of building their own land in contested territory?
I answered him politely that bringing people closer to Judaism without instilling in them a love and awareness of the importance of Eretz Yisrael could help improve their personal behavior and character traits, but it certainly wasn’t true Torah Judaism. It might have some of the outer trappings of Judaism, but it wasn’t what G-d wanted for the Jewish People, as we say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Not in New York. The goal of Judaism is to put on tefillin in Eretz Yisrael, not in Los Angeles or Boca Raton. Teaching someone about Judaism and leaving out Eretz Yisrael is like teaching someone to play baseball by hitting the ball, without teaching him that he has to run the bases as well.
He answered that while I might be right, his approach is to first get them involved with Yiddishkeit, and save Eretz Yisrael for a further stage, after they are involved.
Off course, once someone gets involved with wilderness Judaism, with all of its comforts and lack of struggles and challenges, it’s almost impossible to open his eyes to the true picture of Judaism – the building of the holy Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael.
Just to have some fun, I wrote a few comments to some of his articles, but he immediately removed them, saying they were too harsh and would turn off his readers, even though I merely pointed out the fact that we say “Next Year in Jerusalem,” and that you won’t see a sukkah in all of New York, and that my grandmother would say, “a curse on Columbus,” when Columbus Day arrived for having opened the gates of wholesale assimilation in addition to bargain priced sales.
Sensing he wasn’t open to the message, I told him that I wouldn’t send comments to his website anymore.
This year, may Hashem remove out hearts of stone and give us a new heart of flesh to serve Him in truth - in the Land which He promised to our Forefathers.