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August 2, 2015 / 17 Av, 5775
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Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel


Rav Kook

This unique, life connection between Hashem and the Jewish People in Israel has very real quantitative and qualitative advantages. For instance, Eretz Yisrael is the Land where the Shechinah appears, and where prophecy is transmitted to the Jewish people.

Eretz Yisrael is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The commandments themselves were only given to be performed in Israel (See Ramban, loc cited). Our Sages teach that the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only reminders so we won’t forget how to do them until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). The true value of the mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside the Land, the precepts have an educational value, but the Torah repeatedly tells us that Eretz Yisrael is the place for their performance. Accordingly, our Rabbis have told us that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).

In the Land of Israel, we are a living people. The Gaon of Vilna writes that in the Diaspora, we are like bodies lacking spirit – the physical shell of a people without inner life (Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzniuta. Ezekiel, 37, 12-14).

This seems preposterous. After all, the Jewish People survived in exile for nearly 2000 years. Many of our greatest Torah scholars lived in galut. Profound Talmudic works were written there. Orthodox communities thrived all over the world. How can this vast Jewish achievement be considered a mere physical shell?

First, it must be made clear that the lack of life and spirit referred to is not on the individual level, but in reference to our national life as Clal Yisrael. A proper understanding of Clal Yisrael, of the Jewish People as a whole, is vital to an encompassing understanding of Torah, and to the writings of Rabbi Kook. To understand the life-giving connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, we first have to comprehend who we are as a Clal. The normal definition of a Clal is a collective, a gathering of individuals for the purpose of furthering a common goal. In a partnership, when the goals have been achieved, the partners can split up and go their own way. The partnership or collective never takes on a life of its own, but rather only exists to serve the needs of its members. This is not the case with the Jewish People. Clal Yisrael is not just the sum total of the Jewish People at any one time. It is the eternal soul of the Nation, past, present, and future. It is a Divine creation, above time and physical space, which was formed before the world came into existence. The soul of the Jewish People, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one. Their roots exist in transcendental unity in the most exalted realms of the Divine.

Our true life is as a Clal, and not as a collection of individual Jews. In the Diaspora, Jewish nationhood is shattered. We lack the Divine spirit which fills Clal Yisrael when the nation is living its full sovereign life in Israel. The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a picture of the Jewish People in the Diaspora. Outside the Land of Israel we are like corpses without spirit. Only with the ingathering of the exiles to Israel do our dry bones come to life:

“Thus says the Lord God; Behold O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the Land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and have brought you up out of your graves, and I shall put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land…” (Ezekiel, loc cited).

Eretz Yisrael is the Land which was Divinely created for Clal Yisrael. By Divine fiat, the Jewish people cannot be an independent Nation in Germany, Uganda, America, or in any other Land. Only in Eretz Yisrael can we be a sovereign people with our own government, language, and army. Everywhere else on the globe, we are minorities of foreign countries, alienated from our own true national framework and homeland. Thus, because Jewish Nationhood is a foundation of Torah, the most complete Judaism is the Judaism practiced by the Jewish People when they are sovereign in their own Land. As Rabbi Kook tells us at the end of this essay, true Jewish life is being Jewish in Israel.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.

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One Response to “Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel”

  1. Reading Fishman declaring that "Arabs don't read books" is very disappointing. Imagine how indignant he would be if someone wrote a negative comment about Jews. Right wing religious Jews in Israel, probably from North America, are among the most openly racist and bigoted people around. It is disgraceful.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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