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July 31, 2015 / 15 Av, 5775
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Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel


Rav Kook

The Torah was not given to be lived in the wilderness of Sinai, but in the hills and valleys of Eretz Yisrael. Sinai is not to be the last stop of the Exodus from slavery. In desiring to keep the spiritual side of Torah alone, and not its holy, earthly component, the Spies brought about the death of their entire generation. The lack of faith they displayed by rebellion against God’s commandment to settle in the Promised Land reverberates until today when there are still those who argue against coming to Israel.

Of course, if our Nation has been scattered in exile due to its sins, making it physically impossible to return to our Land, we are not punished for not fulfilling the mitzvah of living in Israel. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would compare this to a situation which frequently occurred in Russian communities when Jews were unable to procure an etrog during the holiday of Sukkot. In a case like this, a Jew has no recourse, and he cannot perform the mitzvah. But the mitzvah of taking an etrog on Sukkot does not disappear. So too with the mitzvah of living in Israel – the moment the mitzvah returns to our hands, it is our sacred obligation to fulfill it.

Thus, Rabbi Kook writes that if we look upon Eretz Yisrael as a sidelight to Judaism, our connection to Judaism will fail to bear fruit. As generations pass, Judaism will fail to survive in our children because Judaism’s foundations in the Diaspora are weak in comparison with the towering Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, relegating Eretz Yisrael to a secondary role in the life of the Jewish Nation is to be rejected even when it comes for the seemingly positive purpose of strengthening the Judaism in the galut. Ultimately, any Jewish outlook which undermines our connection to Eretz Yisrael is destined to fail, because the Judaism of galut is, by its very nature, temporary, a punishment and a curse.

Rabbi Kook concludes his essay by saying:

“The concept of Judaism in the Diaspora will only find true strength through the depth of its involvement in Eretz Yisrael. Only through its longing for Eretz Yisrael will Diaspora Judaism constantly receive its inherent qualities. The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself.”

Here, Rabbi Kook leaves us with a very illuminating insight. If one wants to truly strengthen Judaism in the Diaspora, the only lasting way is to strengthen its connection to Eretz Yisrael. This means that there is no essential independent essence to the Diaspora. Diaspora Jewry has meaning only in its relation to Israel. Galut is a passing phenomenon. A blemish which will heal. A punishment which is destined to come to an end. No matter how pleasant certain exiles may seem, Jewish life outside of Israel is an abnormal situation, an unhealthy Judaism, a destruction of our National format, and a curse. In galut, we are ill with a lingering sickness. Our body is shattered and spiritually diseased. Thinking that galut is our healthy ideal is to build a structure which is destined to collapse.

The strengthening of Torah learning and Torah practice in exile will not come by minimizing the need to be in Eretz Yisrael, and by making Jewish life galut a valid Jewish option in itself, but rather by linking Diaspora Judaism to the source of Divine Jewish life and holiness in Eretz Yisrael.

In reality, the Diaspora is the means, and Eretz Yisrael is the goal. The exile is merely a way station, a detention center, a transitory stop until we return to our true life in Israel. For this reason, the Halacha forbids us to build houses of stone in the Diaspora, because stone is a symbol of permanence, while we are always to long to return home to Zion (See the “Shlah HaKodesh, Amud HaShalom,” end of Sukkah; and Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 138).

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.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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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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