The Jewish Agency recently announced the launching of a new worldwide “JReady” emergency network to assist Jewish communities in crisis. The well-meaning digital “toolbox” includes: courses for community emergency managers, webinars and training with professionals, volunteer organization, a chat forum featuring experts from Israel and around the world, and access to advanced research and technologies, such as an Israeli app for food distribution to those in need, and a methodology to alleviate loneliness among the elderly.
"Connecting" with all of Diaspora Jewry is the talk of the Knesset as well. MK Tehilla Freedman spoke about "the glorious Jewish center in the United States." She welcomed brotherhood with "members of the Jewish people who do not live in Israel," which, she must realize, is about 50% of those who call themselves Jewish after decades of intermarriage, patrilineal descent and symbolic conversions..
This reminds me of the old joke about two fellows who were walking along a sidewalk when they came upon a dismembered leg.
“Hey, that leg is wearing the same kind of sneaker that our friend Joe always wears.”
Walking on, they came upon a dismembered arm. “Hey,” one of the fellows remarked, “Look at the wristwatch on that arm. It’s the same kind of watch that Joe has.”
Continuing, they came upon a dismembered torso on the sidewalk, lying in a puddle of blood. “Hey, that’s Joe’s jacket,” one noticed.
Further along the road, they saw a dismembered head lying in the gutter. When they approached, they realized it was their friend Joe. “Hey, Joe,” one said in alarm. “Are you OK?”
The point is – Jewish communities in the Diaspora are beyond saving. The Jewish Agency won’t be able to heal the crisis, no matter how much manpower and money they pour into the endeavor. Nor will the Knesset. Sadly, it’s time for the Chevra Kaddisha to take over. The exile was never meant to last forever. There is no point in trying to save it. Rather, the time has come to return home.
A horrible comparion, you say? Unthinkable! Callous! A gross exaggeration? Let’s see what one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, the Gaon of Vilna, had to say about Jewish life in the Diaspora:
“Since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, our spirit and our crown departed, and only we remained, the body without the soul. And exile to outside of the Land is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves from the idol worshippers who devour our flesh. In every place, there were great Jewish communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet, always, some bones still 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 – our life turned into dust.”
It must be remember that the Gaon, also known as “the Gra,” lived in the city of Vilna, which was nicknamed “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” because of the grandeur of Torah which flourished there. The Gaon himself learned Torah with incomparable holiness and purity, teaching scores of students, but with all this, he still declared that this seemingly thriving situation is a state of death, because the Nationhood of Israel, the vessel which brings the light of G-d to mankind, is shattered and missing from the world when the Jews live outside the Land of Israel, minorities in foreign lands, scattered around the globe.
The Gaon of Vilna description of the exile as a graveyard echoes Ezekiel’s famous prophecy of the Valley of Dry Bones, which represents the House of Israel in exile. A spirit of life only returns to these dry, scattered and lifeless bones when they rise up to return to the Land of Israel: “Thus says the L-rd G-d: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O, My People; and I will bring you into the Land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the L-rd, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O, My People. And I will put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own Land; and you shall know that I the L-rd have spoken and performed it, says the L-rd” (Ezekiel, 37:12-14).
The Prophet Ezekiel describes the situation of the Jewish People in exile as being similar to the dead in a graveyard. In contrast, the Geula comes when the revitalized bones leave the cemetery of exile and come to Eretz Yisrael.
In Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s classic treatise of Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” a deep theological conversation between a gentile king and a Rabbi, the king says that the Jewish People in exile are like a body without a head or heart. The Rabbi answers: “You say rightly, but more than this – we are not even a body, but only scattered limbs, like the dry bones which Ezekiel saw in his vision. But even so, O King of the Kuzar, these bones have retained a natural trace of vital power, having once been the vessels which housed the heart, brain, breath, soul, and intellect.”
The Rabbi agrees with the King of Kuzar that the Jewish People in exile is like a body without a heart and brain. However, the truth is even worse - we don’t have even a body, but merely dry bones. Nevertheless, buried in these dry bones is great hidden life, the “genetic” remnants of the full life we had when we were in Eretz Yisrael, and these dormant, national Israelite “chromosomes” are destined to return to new life at the time of the Redemption.
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi lived in Spain when he wrote “HaKuzari.” During this era, Torah learning flourished, but he described his personal situation, and the state of the Jewish People in exile, like death and mere dry bones. Thus we see that the description of the Prophet Ezekiel is real. The time of exile is death for the Jewish People. Even though there may be times when things are going well, this is only on an individual level – the Jewish Nation itself remains like scattered bones lacking life. The soul of the Nation is lost.
The Nation of Israel was created to illuminate this Universal Truth of Divine Unity, to declare the Universal Kingship of G-d. When all of Am Yisrael gathers in its Land, with the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt on Har HaBayit, this Divine life-force appears in the life of the Israelite Nation, in all aspects of its national existence, in their most ideal and healthy format. But even before the Beit HaMikdash is built, the return to the Land and the Nation’s rebuilding, even in its early, outwardly secular stages, injects the dry bones of the Jewish People with a mighty national vitality that astonishes all other nations in the miraculous nature of its rebirth.
Similar to an individual man, whose soul gives life to all of his organs and limbs, so too, when Am Yisrael returns to Eretz Yisrael, its unique, national life-force, which only comes to life within the Nation when it dwells in its Land, radiates its powers to all of the national faculties of the Nation, and to every vista of its life. The more the Nation is true to its inner essence and draws vitality and strength from the Divine Source of its life, the healthier it will be, and it will succeed in achieving its mission in the most complete and ideal fashion.
This is a life of national Kiddush Hashem, where the Divine Presence is revealed in our midst, through the realization of the ideal, universal, Divine Goals and Aspirations in the life of the Nation, a holy Nation living its national life guided by the Torah.
However, when the Nation of Israel is exiled from its Land, and its general, national format is lost, along with the national life-force that goes with it, then its very essence undergoes a drastic descent. Exiled from its Land, and unable to exist in its national format, the individual (prati) side of life becomes dominate. The level of life changes, and the entire observance of Torah and its commandments falls into a totally different category of performance - the practice of the precepts without their inner national essence.
Scattered throughout the Diaspora, the Jewish People lack the vivifying Divine Soul of the Nation – like a body without a head or a heart. We become scattered communities, like dismembered organs, without any true, national Israeli life of our own, and we are slowly lost.
Emergency toolboxes won’t help save the endangered Jewish communities in the Diaspora. The only way to save the Jews is to bring them home.
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."