Last week I had the wonderful privilege of publishing an illustrated and abridged biography entitled “Above the Stream” on the life and teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook for young readers aged 12 to 120. Next week, with G-d’s help, another volume will appear, “Like Father Like Son,” which includes the full unabridged biography along with a biography of Rabbi Kook’s son, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, written by HaRav Shlomo Aviner.
To help the generation of Jews who were returning to Eretz Yisrael understand the spiritual core of Zionism, father and son revitalized the true original Torah handed down to the Israelite Nation at Sinai, “Torat Eretz Yisrael.” I use the description “true original” Torah because over the almost 2000 years of Exile in foreign lands, the Jewish People had to get by with a truncated Torah – the Torah of Galut, which focuses on the individual precepts a Jew can perform in the Exile, like Shabbat, Kashrut, Tefillin, Torah study, and the like, while ignoring the national foundations of the Torah concerned with the building of a Torah Nation in Eretz Yisrael.
In effect, these are two very different Torahs.
For instance, this approaching year is a Shmittah year. If a famer in Israel wants to fulfill the commandment as set down in the Torah, he is free to do so. In contrast a Jewish farmer in Kansas or Arkansas cannot perform the mitzvah because it does not apply outside the Land of Israel.
שמיטה יום יום
צילום: מכון התורה והארץ
The Torah portion of Ekev which we just read on Shabbat can be used as another example. Scanning the Internet, I read several Torah essays written by Rabbis in the Diaspora. They spoke about the importance of listening to Hashem, quoting the first half of the applicable verses in the Torah portion without citing the conclusion of the verses:
“If you hearken to these precepts…”
“If you completely obey these laws…”
“If you pay attention to these laws…”
“If you heed these ordinances…”
“Because ye hear these judgments…”
What is the conclusion of each of these verses in one form or another? “Then I will bring you into the Land which I promised your forefathers to give them.” (Also see Devarim verses: 4:5; 4:14; 5:26; 6:1; 12:1.) In all of these nicely written Torah essays by Rabbis in the Diaspora the all-important geographic aspect of the Torah was omitted. Boycotted, if you will.
While a straightforward reading of the Torah makes it perfectly clear that the Torah is meant to be kept in the Land of Israel, this fundamental foundation of Torah vanished from their sermons. In fact, when I was beginning to return to Judaism in America and devouring as many commentaries on Judaism as I could find, the words “the Land of Israel” did not appear in a great many of the books. A beginner could easily receive the mistaken impression that it was perfectly OK to keep the Torah in Palm Springs, New Orleans, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Perhaps we can explain this as being a natural outgrowth of the Exile. For almost 2000 years the Jewish People did not have the practical means to return to their eternal Jewish Homeland. Scattered all over the world in eras when airplanes and ocean liners didn’t exist, the Torah commandment to dwell in the Land of Israel was simply not possible.
However the establishment of the State of Israel changed all that. The dream of “Next Year in Jerusalem” could now be fulfilled! But tragically the Torah of the Galut continued. Instead of leading the way back to Israel, by and large, the Rabbis of the Diaspora continued to listen to their own Diaspora-oriented sermons rather than listening to the clear command of the Torah which echoes forth throughout all generations. Instead of leading their congregations home to the Promised Land, they allowed them to erroneously think that living in foreign Gentile lands was perfectly OK, thus perpetuating the shame and curse of Galut.
In rebuttal to this very glaring distortion to the words of the Prophets of Israel, the exponents of Jewish Life in Lakewood, Mexico City, Las Vegas, and Brooklyn will recite a tired list of Talmudic explanations.
In contrast, when Rabbi Kook was asked if it was a mitzvah to live in Israel and to take part in the up-building of the Land even before Mashiach’s arrival, he responded with great surprise. “How can you ask such a question?” he replied 15 years before the State of Israel was founded. Then he proceeded to cite several hundred verses from the Torah, Tanach, and Prophets which highlight the inseparable bond between the Nation, the Land, and the Torah. In conclusion, he asked: “After making clear this holy union, which repeatedly reappears throughout all of the three divisions of the written Torah, emphasizing the holy bond between the Nation and the Holy Land, along with the yearning for Redemption and the yearning of the Jewish soul to witness the revival of the Israelite Nation in its Land – can there be any possible justification to doubt the need to embrace the national rebuilding which is transpiring in our generation and to ask whether our active involvement in this endeavor is an obligation of the Torah?” (“Hazone HaGeula,” Ch.1, Pg. 10-34.)
Rabbi Kook continued his halakhic and aggadic exegesis with a survey of the Talmud, which also repeatedly emphasizes the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to true Torah living. The point is, as our Sages state: “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of the Land of Israel,” (Bereshit Rabbah, 16:2; Vayikra Rabbah, 13:5).
By all means, when we read the Torah we have to listen. Really listen. Listen to what it says.
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."
Tzvi Fishman books