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September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
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Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel


Rav Kook

Thus we learn that Eretz Yisrael is the true goal of the Torah. In reality, it is Diaspora existence which is peripheral, external, secondary to Judaism. In this light, we can understand Rashi’s commentary concerning the commandment of Tefillin which reappears in the second paragraph of the Shema. On the verse, “And you shall put these words of Mine on your heart,” Rashi explains that the commandment of Tefillin is reiterated after the warning of exile to teach that we are to perform the mitzvot even after we are exiled from Eretz Yisrael, so they will not be new to us when we return – for the true place of Judaism and the mitzvot is in the Land of Israel (Rashi, Devarim, 11:18).

A Jew’s true relation to Judaism comes not when he asks what Israel can do for him, but when he asks what he can do for Israel. The complete Judaism is the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael. This, Rabbi Kook teaches, is the Salvation itself: “The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself.”

In emphasizing the yearning for Salvation, Rabbi Kook is referring to a Gemara which relates that when a person dies and reaches the Heavenly Court, he is asked several questions: “Did you deal honestly in business? Did you set aside fixed times for the study of Torah? Did you yearn for Salvation?” (Shabbat 31A).

What does it mean to “yearn for Salvation”? The commentary of the Ran explains this as a yearning for the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets in one’s lifetime? A Jew has to have one eye on the Tanach, and one eye on the daily headlines to see how the prophecies of Redemption are being materialized in his lifetime. Many great Sages, including the Ramban, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the Gaon of Vilna, and Rav Kook himself, interpreted this yearning to mean packing up one’s books and going to live in Israel. This is the Salvation itself – the return to our national Torah life in Israel.

What affords the Jewish people stamina through our long years of exile? The yearning for Salvation. This means salvation from the Diaspora. Our daily prayers for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael grant us the fortitude to survive. The Psalm, “If I forget you O Jerusalem,” is the bond which holds us together and which gives Diaspora Jewry its meaning and form.

A Diaspora can be in Paris, in Crown Heights, or in a very lovely suburb of Johannesburg. It can be a very comfortable exile, but it represents a destruction of our National wholeness which we are commanded to mourn. The book, Mesillat Yesharim, explains that the mourning over the exile, and the yearning for Israel’s Salvation are essential foundations in the righteous Jew’s service of God:

“Every Sage in Israel who possesses the words of Torah according to their true understanding, and grieves over the honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He, and for the honor of Israel all of his days, and yearns and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and for the Temple, and for the swift flowering of Salvation, and the ingathering of the exiles, he merits Divine Inspiration in his words… A Hasid of this kind, aside from the Divine service he performs in carrying out the precepts with this motivation, must certainly feel constant and actual pain over the exile, and over the destruction of Jerusalem, because of their tendency to minimize the honor of the Blessed One. And he will long for the Redemption, so that the honor of the Blessed One may be raised” (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.19).

The Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is to be our true goal. Jerusalem is to be the center of Torah and Jewish life. This is the Salvation which every heart should long for. Our Sages teach us that the Geula (Redemption) unfolds a little at a time, like the awakening of dawn. Today, we are in the middle of the process, witnessing the gradual, inevitable cessation of galut, and the equally gradual rebuilding of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael. Slowly, increasingly, the yearning for Salvation is giving way to the Salvation itself – the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael.

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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