Rise up to the level of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael

Are there two different Torahs? The Torah of Eretz Yisrael and the Torah of Galut? Yes indeed. The Midrash infers that the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is superior to the Torah of the Galut.

Tzvi Fishman

Judaism Discovering Torah
Discovering Torah

In honor of Rabbi David Goldenberg, of blessed memory, whose funeral will begin at Yeshivat Machon Meir today at 4 o’clock, in memory of his passionate dedication to the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.


In the Torah Portion of “Bechukotai,” it states: “I am Hashem your G-d, who took you out from the land of Egypt, from being their slaves; I broke the pegs of your yoke, and I led you erect,” (Bechukotai, 26:13).


“The Hebrew word in the verse for “erect” is “komimiyut” which Rashi explains as, “with erect bearing.” In Hebrew, contained in the root of the word “komimiyut” is the act of standing erect. “Kuma” in Hebrew also means “floor” as in the first floor of a building.  Thus, Rabbi Goldenberg taught, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook,

“Komimiyut” also has the meaning of stages, one floor after another, each floor higher than the preceding one. From this we learn that there are stages of our Redemption from Egypt, a physical stage of freedom and a higher spiritual stage. These two stages, or floors, can also apply to the Torah of the Galut (meaning the Torah learned and practiced in the exile of the Diaspora) and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, the original Torah which we received at Mount Sinai, in all of its fullness.    


The Torah states: “And the gold of that land is good...” (Bereshit, 2:12).


The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 16:4) explains that the land referred to is the Land of Israel. The gold is a metaphor for the Torah. The Midrash continues:

“This teaches that there is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel.”


Are there two different Torahs? The Torah of Eretz Yisrael and the Torah of Galut? Yes indeed. Furthermore, the Midrash infers that the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is superior to the Torah of the Galut.


How can this be? Allow me to explain from my personal experience.


When I started to become a baal tshuva in Hollywood, I went to a Jewish bookstore and purchased some books. In those days, the commentaries to the teachings of Rabbi Kook which I later wrote with Rabbi David Samson were not yet available. Nor were other books featuring the foundations of Religious Zionism.

Today, with so many books coming out in English in Eretz Yisrael, perhaps things have changed, but back then, 40 years ago, if you wanted to learn something about the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, a Jewish bookstore was a desert. ArtScroll was the main publisher of Books about Judaism. So I bought books published by ArtScroll, and I learned a grat deal. I read and reread the ArtScroll commentaries on the Torah and its series on the Book of Psalms. I read ArtScroll on the Midrash, ArtScroll books about great Rabbis throughout the ages, and ArtScroll books on Jewish Philosophy and Belief.


Then, the first War in Lebanon broke out and I met a group of Israelis, students of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, who came to America to encourage Jews to fly to Israel to help out during the war. Speaking with them, listening to them, absorbing their love and dedication to Eretz Yisrael, I realized that there was a completely different understanding of Torah than the Torah I had learned about up till then.

Flipping through the pages of some of my ArtScroll books on the foundations of Jewish belief, I discovered that the Land of Israel was missing. There were chapters on the Oneness of Hashem, on the importance of Shabbat, on Torah study, kashrut, tefillin, the Jewish Holidays, and the like, but nothing on Eretz Yisrael. In the indexes at the end of the books, I looked up the entries Eretz Yisrael and the Land of Israel, but they didn’t exist. In book after book about the foundations of Judaism, there wasn’t even a mention of Eretz Yisrael. The writers of these books about Jewish Hashgacha (Torah philosophy and belief) had removed the Land of Israel from the Torah!

This is the Torah of Galut – the Torah of Chutz L’Aretz. Indeed, it is a different Torah than the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. The verses in the Torah are the same, the love of G-d's Torah is the same, but the understandings of the Torah, and the understandings of Jewish destiny, and of the mission and call of the individual Jew, and of the Jewish People as a whole, are very, very very different.


Startled by the revelation, I rushed to a Chabad shul. In the lobby were stacks of free brochures for the public on the basics of Judaism: Torah study, Tefillin, Kashrut, Shabbat, Tzedaka, Jewish Holidays, Family Purity, Chasidus, Tanya… nothing on Eretz Yisrael.  


Perhaps things have changed since then. I don’t know. Maybe the publishers of Jewish books have discovered that there is a growing audience for books which recognize the centrality of the Land of Israel to Torah and to a true, full Jewish Life, but, in general, the Jews who adhere to the Torah of Galut, the haredi Jews in New York, Lakewood, and Antwerpen, believe that nothing Jewish is intrinsically missing in their lives in foreign, Gentile lands.


Confused with the discovery, I asked Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, one of shlichim from Israel, to explain the perplexing matter to me. “Study Rabbi Kook’s book, ‘Orot,’” he told me. Back in those days, “Orot,” had not been translated in English, and I hardly knew an alef from a bet. So I asked him a lot of questions, and when I moved to Israel, I began to learn Torah in the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where Rabbi Kook’s teachings and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, are learned in all of their beauty and depth. Tragically, still today, in haredi yeshivot in America, Antwerpen, and Mea Shaarim, you won’t find a single book by Rabbi Kook. 

One of my teachers was Rabbi David Goldenberg, of blessed memory, who helped illuminate my journey from darkness to light.


What is the difference between the Torah of Galut and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael? The difference between night and day. The difference between light and darkness, as the verse in Tehillim states: "He has placed me in dark places as the dead of the world," (Tehillim, 143:3).  The Talmud explains: “Rabbi Yirmiya said that this verse refers to the Babylonian Talmud,” (Sanhedrin 29). He further stated: "The foolish Babylonians say dark (unclear) statements because they live in a dark land," (Pesachim 34).


In a nutshell, the Torah of the Galut focuses on the individual Jew and on the commandments he can still observe in his Diaspora existence, scattered amongst the Gentiles. When we were exiled from the Land of Israel, a handful of personal commandments were all we had left: Torah study, tefillin, Shabbat and kashrut.

Outside of the Land of Israel, our national life of Torah doesn’t exist. After all, for example, you can’t have a  Jewish army, and you can’t observe the many agricultural laws which apply only to the Land of Israel when you live in America or Belgium.  And why bother to study about the laws of the Beit HaMikdash and the Temple offerings when you live in Poland or New York?

Instead of being the all-encompassing constitution of the Israelite Nation, a National Torah focused on the mission of the Jewish Nation united in our own Jewish Land, the Torah of Galut became a shrunken, mini-Torah focused on the individual and the personal commandments he could still perform. But the true Torah, the Torah of the Nation, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, is a much much greater Torah. It is a totally different orientation to Jewish Life.

Yes, you can eat kosher ice cream in Brooklyn and go to Yankee Stadium to watch baseball, but you won’t have a part in the rebuilding of the Jewish Nation in the Jewish Homeland, in Zion, which is the goal of the Torah and the repeated teaching of Moshe Rabenu to journey on to the Land; the incessant call of the Prophets of Israel to rise up, to rise up from Galut, from darkness to light, to rise up to a higher Torah, to a higher Jewish life, to a true, full, national Torah life in the Land of Israel; to rise up to embrace the mission of our Nation,

“For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.”