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July 2, 2015 / 15 Tammuz, 5775
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Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel


Rav Kook

We mentioned that Herzl and other secular Zionists saw Eretz Yisrael as merely a means to unite the countryless Jews and thus preserve the physical Nation. They failed to understand the vital connection between the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael because they did not realize that the Nation of Israel was essentially different from the nations of the world. They did not understand our true spiritual identity and our true national ideal which reaches culmination with the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and the export of Divine blessing from Zion to the rest of the world.

Rabbi Kook writes that this short-sightedness is not limited to secular Zionists, but can be found in religious circles as well. Sometimes it takes the form of an outright rejection of the Land of Israel. Proponents of this view claim that Jews can live a full and even better Jewish life in the galut than in Eretz Yisrael. Others, less extreme in their rejection of Israel, agree that Eretz Yisrael is the ideal Jewish homeland, but at some later date, with the advent of Mashiach.

As a general rule, Diaspora leaders focus on strengthening their Diaspora communities, and not on bringing their communities to Eretz Yisrael. This Diaspora outlook on Judaism downplays the centrality of Jewish Nationhood in order to strengthen Jewish life in galut. When Eretz Yisrael is made out to be a secondary matter, the building of Torah in exile is seen to be the highest and ultimate goal.

In this misguided philosophy, the mission of Judaism is to unfold in the Diaspora. The Torah is no longer to go forth from Zion, but rather from Berlin and New York. According to this theory, a Jew can be a more influential light to the nations when he is scattered amongst the gentiles. Eretz Yisrael is reduced to being a faraway, metaphysical, future ideal. This distortion can transform galut communities into bastions of Judaism in much the same way as some Jews in Babylon tragically believed they had discovered a new Jerusalem outside of Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim, 6:8)

Moreover, the material and physical demands of a homeland are seen as dangers interfering with Torah, mitzvot, and the service of God, as in the tragic case of the Spies who wanted to remain in the wilderness. This view ignores the Gemara in Tractate Ketubot which states:

“Always a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are idol worshippers, and not live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews” (Ketubot 110B).

This is also the Halachic decision of the Rambam (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12).

Placing the Diaspora in the center of Jewish life negates the inner Segula of Eretz Yisrael to the Nation. Eretz Yisrael is seen as something external to the spirituality of Torah, without any spiritual content of its own. Only the Torah remains.

Torah, however, is more than a spiritual ideal. Judaism is God’s plan for uplifting all of the world to the service of God, the physical side of life as well as the spiritual; the national as well as the individual. This exalted goal can only be achieved by the example of a Nation – when Israel lives its complete Torah life in Eretz Yisrael. We are to be a light to the world, not as righteous individuals scattered throughout the four corners of the globe, but as a Divine holy Nation with an army of Torah scholars, as well as a army of tanks; a justice system founded on Torah; Divinely-ordained agricultural laws; with the Jerusalem Temple at the center of national life. This is the call of Sinai which Moshe brings to the Nation, in his very first teaching in the book of Devarim: “You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn away and take up your journey… go in and possess the Land” (Devarim, 1,6-8).

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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