Since there were some talkbacks yesterday about the Chabad organization, I would like you make a few observations myself. First, as I have written in the past, though I do not agree with Chabad’s approach in all matters, I feel that they do a great deal of wonderful work around the world. In my own life, after I had a life-changing dream about tefillin, it was in a Chabad Half-Way House in Santa Monica that I put on my first pair. Certainly, thousands of Jews have found their way back to yiddishkeit via Chabad Half-Way Houses located in the remotest places around the globe. Their dedicated work in promoting Jewish identity and mitzvah observance is worthy of the highest praise.
I use the term Half-Way House because a Jew who finds his way back to Torah in Calcutta, Melbourne, Paris, or New York, has only come half the way home. The Hebrew term for repentance, “t’shuva”, is based on the Hebrew root “shuv” which means “to return,” as we are always asking G-d in our prayers to return us and His Divine Presence to Zion. This is something everyone can understand. If a man is kicked out of his house and forced to leave his land, the injustice can only be rectified by his returning to his original home. That is what our Redemption is all about. The history of the Jewish People is that we were expelled from our Land and our Redemption comes when we return. Everyone can certainly understand this.
Therefore, for a religious Jew in New York, or an assimilated Jew who rediscovers his Jewish identity in Bombay, his soul’s rectification can only be complete by his returning to the place he originally came from – the Land of Israel.
To what is this like? Let’s say that an astronaut on the moon is cut off from his spaceship, with no way of returning. Obviously, no one would declare that he’s at home. The opposite – he’s in mortal danger. Sooner or later, his supply of oxygen is going to run out. Now, let’s say that the astronaut is a Jew. Terrified by the horror of his situation, he begins to cry out to G-d. He promises to repent and to start keeping the Torah. In reply to his frantic requests, his astronaut buddies, orbiting the moon in their spaceship, manage to parachute down a siddur to him, and a pair of tefillin. Having discovered the light of yiddishkeit, he opens up a Chabad Half-Way House, in case some other Jew should wander by. Yes, he has come back to mitzva observance, but he is still a long long ways from home. The Torah wasn’t meant to be kept on the moon – the Torah was given to be kept in the Land of Israel.
Please don’t think that this example of the moon is an exaggeration. For a Jew who has been cast out of the Holy Land, every other place he may wander, whether Miami Beach, Hollywood, or Brooklyn, is as far away as the moon. For a Jew, the Diaspora is a totally foreign environment. It is just like being in outer space. Rabbi Kook writes that our ability to survive outside of the Land of Israel is a miracle against the laws of nature. Like the astronaut with a limited supply of oxygen, there is no intrinsic holiness there to sustain our holy souls and the life of the nation. Any sparks of holiness there is the holiness piped out from the Land of Israel.
For instance, now that I have returned to Israel, whenever I have to go to America, and thank G-d, ever since my parents came on aliyah, I haven’t been back for over 12 years, but when I’m there, I have the feeling that I can’t breathe – that there isn’t any air, whether I happen to be in Harlem or Crown Heights, the air of chutz l’aretz is not the same holy air as the air of Eretz Yisrael, as our Sages have told us - the transcendental kedusha of the air of the Land of Israel simply can’t be found anywhere else.
Tzvi Fishman visiting America
So why be a Jew stranded on the moon – even if there is a Chabad Half-Way House in the neighborhood? Return all the way! The air of the Holy Land is waiting!