During our long and devastating exile from Eretz Yisrael, and from our own proud mighty Jewish nationhood in our Land, we forgot who we are. We became bankers, and accountants, lawyers, and doctors, businessmen, and entertainers, but we forgot who we are. We became successful Americans and Frenchmen and Englishmen, but we forgot who we are. During the long and exhausting exile, a downtrodden minority in other people’s lands, we forgot our true identity as G-d’s Chosen Nation, sons of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, sons of King David and Yehudah the Maccabee, sons of a Divine and mighty Nation, and we became Diasporians instead, a fallen Gulliver in the lands of the Lilliputians. We forgot our greatness, our royalty, our once exalted monarchy in our Land. And so when the time came to return to our homeland and get on the boat, a great many of us remained on the dock in New York, Montreal, Sidney, and Marseilles, and kept on as usual, being bankers, and lawyers, and entertainers, with no more idealistic vision than to make a respectable living.
As Rabbi Kook writes:
“It is a great mistake to turn away from our specialty, to cease to recognize that G-d has chosen us. Not only are we different from all the nations, distinguished by our history, which has no parallel amongst any other people or tongue, but we are more exalted and far greater than any other people. If we know our greatness then we know ourselves, and if we forget our greatness then we are forgetting ourselves, and a nation that forgets itself is certainly small and insignificant. By forgetting ourselves, we remain small and low. Forgetting ourselves, we forget our true greatness” (Orot, Orot HaTechiya 5).
Forgetting our greatness, we make a compromise with the exile. Since the Second World War, in the aftermath of the wholesale extermination of the Jews by the Germans, as the world stood by and watched, the gentiles, abashed by their own bloodlust, have abstained from their slaughter, and a false confidence has crept over many of our People, making us think that the persecution has ended and that we can now be at peace with the wolves. Thus, the exile has become pleasant in the eyes of many.
This perhaps is the greatest curse, as the idolatrous cultures of the gentiles, in whose lands we dwell, eats away at our special choseness, as we try so hard to be like everyone else.
But make no mistake, my friends. As our Prophets forewarned us, the exile is a graveyard, a place of dry bones, the bones of the House of Israel in exile. (Ezekiel, 37:1-12).
The Gaon of Vilna, certainly one of the greatest Rabbis of previous generations, describes the galut in precisely these terms: “Since the Temple was destroyed, our spirit and our crown departed, and only we remained, the body without the soul. For exile to outside the Land of Israel is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves. They, the idol worshippers, it is they who devour our flesh. In every place there were great communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet, always, some bones existed, the Torah scholars of the Israelite Nation, the pillars of the body – until even these bones rotted, and there only remained a rancid waste which disintegrated into dust” (Likutei HaGra, at the end of Safra D’Tzniuta).
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, son of Rabbi Kook and Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, explained this as follows:
“In the galut, we are in a graveyard. Our holiness is in the impurity of gentile lands. Worms and maggots devour us. For two thousand years, we have been in a place of maggots and worms. They surround us and encompass us there. The persecutions and pogroms of the gentiles, the gentile cultures, and their polluted spiritual worlds, are the maggots and worms which feast on our flesh and gnaw away at our spirit and holiness” (See “Torat Eretz Yisrael” p363-365).
This is not Tzvi Fishman ranting and raving, as some of you like to say. These are the holy words of giant Torah Sages of Israel.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhal HaKohen Kook writes: “Were it not for the life-force it receives from the dew of life of the kedusha of the Land of Israel, Judaism in the exile would actually have no foundation at all – only a vision of the heart based on images of hope and reveries over Israel’s future and its past. However, there is a limit to the power of this imagination to support the life of the people, and it seems that this quota has already been filled. Therefore, Judaism in the exile goes down drastically, and there is no hope for it other than transplanting it in the source of its life, real life, of absolute holiness, which can be found only in the land of Israel” (Orot, Orot HaTechiya, 8).
Over the last generations, the dried bones have been returning to life with the return of our people to Israel. The dead spirit and scattered bones have arisen from the dust and re-gathered in the Land of our Forefathers, the Land of King David and Yehuda the Maccabee. The dried bones have come alive in the revitalized body of the Israeli Nation. The Alzheimers afflicting our minds in galut is slowly being healed, as little by little, we remember who we are, and long for our own Jewish Nationhood in our Land. In our time, we have witnessed the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy:
“Thus says the L-rd G-d, Behold O My People, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves (in America, Germany, England, and France), and bring you into the Land of Israel… and I shall put My spirit in you and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own Land” (Ezekiel, 37;12-14).
In the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook:
“Any intelligent person, who looks with open eyes upon what has happened to us in recent generations, will understand this as the work of Hashem. In the past generation, the impurity of the gentiles, and their greatest evil (the Holocaust) have reached a zenith, and now the time of the end of the exile has arrived.
“We must always remember that our true health is here in the Land of Israel, in this air. These hills, this sky comprise the Land of our life. Both spiritually and physically. In every mountain and valley in our Land, here in the Shomron, in the Golan, and in the Bashan, our living thrives. ‘The air of Your Land is the life of our souls.’ And we must remember that souls are joined to the body. Our Holy Land gives life to our body and to our soul, to our material life, and to our culture.
“To the extent that we prove that we deserve the blessing, ‘The L-rd grants strength to His People,’ we will return from the cemetery of galut, and from the gnawing of the maggots and worms which surround us. We reach the time of national rebirth, the revival of the Land and of our national spirit. The perfection of the Nation of Israel, in its physical body, and in its observance of Torah and mitzvoth, develops and steadily reaches completion. Not in one day, but little by little, our days are advanced and renewed like the glorious days of old.”