Get ready to hear the Torah explained by the greatest Torah teacher of them all – Moshe Rabbeinu. We have just begun reading his review of the Torah in the Book of Devarim, starting it just the day before the fast mourning our Temples' destruction..
Tisha B’Av, too, the day we do not engage in regular Torah study as it brings us joy, is a fitting time to take a new/old look at the Torah and at its eternal truths, which are as true for our time as they were in the times of Moshe Rabbeinu. That’s one of the basic principles of the Torah - it doesn’t change.
Sometimes people ask me. “Why do you waste your time trying to teach Diaspora Jews, over and over again, that the Torah is meant to be kept in the Land of Israel, rather than in Brooklyn, Boca, or Beverly Hills?”
The answer is because I love them. When you love somebody, you want the best for them. Even if you saw a total stranger about to fall off a cliff, you’d scream out to warn him – all the more so regarding someone you love.
The Nation of Israel was thrown into exile because we transgressed the Torah when we lived in the Holy Land long ago. So our rectification, atonement, and tikun is to return to the Land of Israel and keep the Torah, there, in the Land of Israel, the way it was meant to be kept.
Our Sages inform us that the roots for the Destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem were planted long before the Destruction itself, on the night the Spies in the Wilderness returned from their ill-fated mission and convinced the Jewish People not to journey on to live in the Promised Land. That night was the 9th of Av. Their rejection of the Land of Israel was the rotten foundation which brought about our later National Destruction as an independent Nation in our own Land.
Afterwards, stripped of our own Jewish Land and Israeli Nationhood, we became minorities in foreign lands. Up until the Destruction, the religion of the Jewish People was the Torah, a combination of Divine laws and commandments that covered our individuals lives and the life of the JEWISH NATION, laws concerning the king, the Sanhedrin, the army of Israel, the Beit HaMikdash, national sacrifices, and the agricultural laws unique to The Holy Land.
But when we were cast out of our Land, the Torah lost its earthy component, and our physical Nationhood ceased. Instead of being the Divine Constitution of our NATION, the Torah was reduced to moral teachings and individual commandments, like the bones of a large salmon at the end of the Shabbos morning Kiddush. That’s when “Judaism” started.
Stripped of our own Land, and Israelite monarchy, our own ISRAELITE NATIONHOOD was lost. Exiled in other peoples’ countries, we were left with the few ritual precepts that we could still perform, like putting on tefillin, keeping kosher, learning Torah, and observing the Sabbath. Instead of being our NATIONAL CONSTITUTION, the Torah was truncated into being just a religion without its many fundamental naitonal, political and geographic obligations and demands.
A gentile can be a Buddhist or Christian anywhere he wants. These are religions, period, with a division between church and state. Not so with Torah. The Torah encompasses the entire life of the Jewish People, the religious and national as well, and this can only take place in Israel. This is what the Spies failed to understand. Even though they were respected Torah scholars and the heads of the tribes, they wanted to make do with exile “Judaism” alone, content with just the personal precepts, without the hassle of conquering and settling the Land.
And this same misunderstanding has continued to this day, when you can tragically still find many people, Torah communities amongst them, who just want to observe a handful of individual precepts in the wilderness of foreign Gentile lands, without having to worry about the hassle of settling the Land of Israel and fighting for it in order to keep it under Jewish sovereignty as the Torah commands.
This is why, as his life drew to an end, Moshe had to go over the teachings of the Torah as we were about to enter the Promised Land. The Spies and their rebellious generation had all died in punishment for not wanting to make aliyah, but the pernicious influence of their tragic misunderstanding still remained. So at the very beginning of the Book of Devarim, Moshe begins to explain the Torah, as it says, “Moshe began to explain the Torah….” (Devarim, 1:6).
And what is the very first thing Moshe teaches the Nation, who are all waiting to hear the explanation of the Torah from Moshe himself?
“Moshe began to explain the Torah, saying, the Lord our God spoke to us in Horev, saying, ‘You have dwelt long enough in this mountain – TURN AND TAKE UP YOUR JOURNEY – go to the Land of Israel! BEHOLD, I HAVE SET THE LAND BEFORE YOU, GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO YOUR FATHERS, AVRAHAM, YITZHAK, AND YAACOV, TO GIVE THEM, AND TO THEIR SEED AFTER THEM” (Devarim, 1:6-8).
The Torah wasn’t given to be kept in Sinai, nor in Brooklyn or Beverly Hills. The Torah isn’t a “religion” like Buddhism or Christianity, God forbid. The Torah isn’t some abstract spirituality floating like cloud in the sky. The Torah has an earthly base. Not in Berlin or Brooklyn. The Torah is the divine constitution of the NATION OF ISRAEL and the nation has its own unique HOLY LAND.
This is the first and most fundamental message that Moshe explains when he teaches the Torah to Am Yisrael. Not Shabbos. Not kashrus. Not tefillin. You want to keep the Torah? GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND! That’s the basis of Torah. We are to be our own holy nation with our own holy land, and not live as a minority in someone else’s country performing religious precepts. That may be the “Judaism” of the exile, but it isn’t real Torah.
You don’t have to listen to me. Listen to Moshe. Listen to the roaring echo of his words, resounding out this past Shabbat, just before Tisha B"Av, from every shul in the world:
You have dwelt long enough in Brooklyn and Beverly Hills - GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND!