Rabbi David Samson
Rabbi David SamsonCourtesy

An opinion of our Sages teaches that the evil decree in the Purim story came when the Jews of Shushan attended the feast of Achashverus which celebrated his false understanding that the Jews would not return to Eretz Yisrael to build the Beit Hamikdash. Apparently, Mordechai was the only Jew who protested. He begged the Jews not to participate, but they were happy to attend, insisting that the food and drink would be glatt kosher.

The cause for the celebration – the belief that the Jews were freed of the obligation to return to the Land of Israel and to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash did not seem to bother anyone save Mordechai. There is no record that the other great Rabbis of the time, of which there were many, supported Mordechai’s vehement protest. Perhaps they dd and perhaps they erred and attended the gala party which celebrated the disconnection from Eretz Yisrael and an open door to acceptance amongst the Gentiles and assimilation, believing it would cement good relations with the powers that be.

The modern version of that question arises – how could Gedolai Yisrael make a mistake in such a serious matter as the return of the exiled Jewish Nation to Israel? Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, of blessed memory, my Rosh Yeshiva at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, told us that great Rabbis and Tzaddikim can also make occasional mistakes as seen in their opposition to Hashem’s returning the Jewish People in modern times. He discussed this very sensitive matter with us in spite of the reverence he held and taught us to feel for our Sages and for all Torah Scholars. However, he wanted us to understand that even great Torah Scholars can err.

In this past week’s Torah portion of Vayikra several types of sin offerings are mentioned. Situated between the offerings of a High Priest who sins and a king who sins are the laws of a sin offering for the whole congregation (Vayikra 4:13). The tractate Horiot explains that this is a case where “the majority of the Great Sanhedrin makes a mistake” and because of their error in deciding the law a majority of the congregation transgresses. The Sages of the Great Sanhedrin were the leading Rabbis of the time, yet the Torah defines a situation where even they can make an error of judgment.

The Torah testifies about Korach and his followers that they were outstanding Torah Scholars, stating: “They were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown” (Bamidbar, 16:2), yet they made a terrible mistake in their opposition to Moshe and Aharon. Datan and Abiram even went so far as to call Egypt, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” the very special expression the Torah bestows upon Eretz Yisrael. For their own personal reasons, they turned the words of the Torah upside down.

R. Samson, R Avraham Shapira, R. TY Kook
R. Samson, R Avraham Shapira, R. TY KookCourtesy

More than once, Rav Tzvi Yehuda reminded us of the tragic sin of the Spies who rebelled against Hashem in the wilderness by refusing to go up to Eretz Yisrael. They were the outstanding Talmidei Chachamin of the era, the Chiefs of the Sanhedrin, the heads of the Tribes, whose sin was so severe the entire generation was punished with death in the wilderness (see “Mesillat Yesharim,” Ch.19, on Honor). Furthermore, our Sages inform us that this sin was the foundation of the destruction of the First and Second Temples (Tanhuma, BaMidbar, Shelach, 11-12). The Gaon of Vilna, certainly one of the greatest Rabbis of modern times, stated that the taint of this sin still exists in the Nation and even Talmidei Chachamin are affected by it:

“In the time of Mashiach the Sitra Achra attacks the Guardians of Torah with blinders… Many of the sinners in this great sin of ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ and also many great Torah Scholars, will not recognize or understand that they have been sucked into the Sin of the Spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproven by the Torah giants of the world, the Early and Later Torah Authorities” (Kol HaTor, Ch.5; see Shulchan Aruch, Pitchei Tshuva, Even HaEzer, Section 75, Sub-section 6).

The brilliant and renowned scholar, the holy Rabbi Eliyahu of Greidetz, wrote: "Human intellect dictates that we initiate the process of redeeming the Land of Israel and then Hashem will complete it. One must understand the great importance of this matter, for the evil forces, the kelipot, gain strength even among the most righteous individuals, in order to nullify this great good. This is so because the entire strength of the kelipot (impure opposing forces) depends on the Exile. When the Exile dissolves, so will the kelipot, as the Talmud states in tractate Sukkah" (See “Eim HaBanim Semeichah” Pg.11).

To the question how could Torah leaders err in their opposition to the settlement of Eretz Yisrael in our time and in their rejection of Medinat Yisrael, Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained:

“When one believes that the Redemption of Israel and the coming of Mashiach have to appear miraculously from out of the heavens, in a way which transcends the normal order of life, then one fails to see the Hand of Hashem in all the events in the world. The Redemption is not obligated to appear with obvious miracles, nor does it have to be absolutely natural. Both miracles and natural historical development belong to the Almighty’s domain. The Rambam explains that the appearance of Mashiach is also a natural historical process, which is revealed by the ingathering of the Jewish People to Israel and even through wars (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 12:1-4). The Redemption of the Jewish People which comes to pass gradually in a natural way, as we have experienced in our time, is also from the Almighty” (See the book “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Ch. 8).

Rav Kook continued:

“Certainly, the Redemption hasn’t yet reached completion. Many Torah leaders backed away from the Zionist cause and even fought against it because they wanted the Geula (Redemption) to be instantly complete. They attached themselves to the idea that the Geula had to be one-hundred-percent kosher from its inception, as opposed to being a gradual process, unfolding through many individuals, organizations, wars, international political agreements, the self-sacrifice of the early pioneers, the bravery of Jewish freedom fighters, and the hard manual labor of making the desert bloom, in order to bring the Redemption toward its final fulfillment. They couldn’t accept a Redemption which spread out in many directions, including secular movements replete with heretics and free thinkers who had thrown off the yoke of the Torah. Nor could they come to terms with the Geula’s unfolding in natural, down-to-earth events like the Balfour Declaration and ghastly World Wars.

“When the Rebbe of Belz came on aliyah, he said, ‘We realize now that we erred in our estrangement from Eretz Yisrael.’ Other Gedolim also repented over their shortsightedness. If this repentance had occurred 30 years before, preceding the Holocaust, prompting the mass aliyah of devout God-fearing Jews, the spiritual situation is Israel would be very different today (unless, of course, Montgomery had not defeated Rommel at El Alamein, a miracle by natural means, and Hitler would have destroyed the Jews in then Palestine as well, ed.)

“The beginning of the Zionist awakening was filled with uncertainty in the eyes of many Rabbis, but today there aren’t any doubts. We see eye-to-eye the acts of Hashem revealed in the ingathering of the exiles and the incredible rebuilding of the Nation in the Land. And it has become increasingly clear that those who supported the return to Zion were right.”