At the beginning of my return to Judaism in Los Angeles when I started to attend Shabbat morning prayers, I was astounded to discover during the Torah portions in the Book of Devarim that Hashem wanted the Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Back in those early days of my spiritual journey, I was living in Santa Monica. The shul was located on the Venice Beach boardwalk directly across from the muscle builders in the Muscle Beach cage where Arnold Schwarzenegger used to work-out in front of the swimsuit-clad women who strutted by outside the Orthodox shul enjoying the stares they attracted and the Pacific Ocean breeze.
Inside the shul, gazing around at the religious worshippers, I wondered what they were doing in Los Angeles when the simple straightforward reading of the Torah’s verses made it clear that a Jew was supposed to live in the Land of Israel.
In those days I didn’t know Hebrew so I followed the Torah reading with an English translation. I thought to myself, “Maybe these congregants also don’t understand Hebrew and maybe they don’t follow the reading with an English translation like I did.” I was very perplexed. After all, verse after verse said that the Children of Israel should live in the Land of Israel. For example:
“Behold, I have set the LAND before you; go in and POSSESS THE LAND which the L-rd swore to your forefathers Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov to give to them and to their seed after them” (Devarim, 1:8).
“Behold, the L-rd thy G-d has set the LAND before thee; go up and possess it” (Devarim 1:21).
“Yet you would not go up , but rebelled against the commandment of the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 1:26).
“Yet in this thing you did not believe the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 1:33).
“Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see THE GOOD LAND which I swore to give your fathers” (Devarim 1:35).
“Now therefore hearken, O Israel, to the statutes and to the laws which I teach you to do, that you may live and go in to POSSESS THE LAND….” (Devarim, 4:1).
“I have taught you statutes and laws that you should act accordingly IN THE LAND whither you go to possess,” (Idid, 4:5).
“And the L-rd commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and laws that you may do them IN THE LAND into which you go over to possess,” (Ibid, 4:14).
“But you shall go over and possess the GOOD LAND,” (Ibid, 4:22).
“Thou shall therefore keep His statutes… that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, that you may prolong thy days ON THE LAND which the L-rd your G-d gives thee” (Ibid, 4:40).
“I will speak to thee all the commandments… which thou shall teach them that they may do them IN THE LAND which I gave them to possess” (Ibid, 5:28).
“That you may prolong your days IN THE LAND which you shall possess,” (Ibid, 5:30).
“Now this is the commandment… that you may do them IN THE LAND which you go in to possess,” (Ibid, 6:1).
“That you may increase mightily IN THE LAND that flows with milk and honey,” (Ibid, 6:3).
“And thou shall do what is good and right in the sight of the L-rd, that it may be well with thee, and you will go in and possess THE GOOD LAND,” (Ibid, 6:18).
“He brought us out of Egypt that He might bring us in, to give us THE LAND which He swore to our fathers,” (Ibid, 6:22).
Like I said, I was confused. One Shabbat after the Kiddush I summoned up enough nerve to asked the bearded Rabbi.
“That was then, this is now,” he replied.
“But I thought that the Torah was eternal,” I responded.
“Yes, the Torah is eternal, but in this matter, things are different.”
Turning away, he didn’t explain further. His answer left me confused. I walked outside to watch the parade of swimsuits and the musclebound weightlifters grunting in their cage.
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."