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September 26, 2016 / 23 Elul, 5776
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Don’t Confuse Torah with Buddhism, My Friends

A Torah scroll.

A Torah scroll.

For example, a gentile can be a Buddhist or Christian anywhere he wants. The Pope lives in the Vatican, but there is no obligation for any other Christian or Catholic to live there. The same holds true for Islam, Buddhism, of Hinduism. These are religions, period, with a division between church and state. Not so with Torah. The Torah encompasses the entire life of the Jewish People, the religious and National as well. But when we were severed from our earthy base, the Land of Israel, where Hashem wants us to established the Nationhood of Israel, we were left with a truncated “Judaism” – the religious rituals of the exiled tribe of Judah, which could still be practiced in galut, but without the Torah’s Divine National Format and National Laws. Instead of being a Nation, a Clal, we became scattered individuals in foreign gentile lands.

This is what the Spies failed to understand. Even though they were respected Torah scholars and the heads of the tribes, they wanted to make do with exile “Judaism” alone, content with just the personal precepts, without the hassle of conquering and settling the Land. And this same misunderstanding has continued to this day, when you can still find many people, Torah communities amongst them, who just want to observe a handful of individual precepts in the wilderness of foreign lands, without having to worry about the hassle of settling the Land of Israel and fighting for it in order to keep it under Jewish sovereignty as the Torah commands.

This is why, in this week’s parsha, Moshe had to go over the teachings of the Torah as we were about to enter the Promised Land. The Spies and their rebellious generation had all died in punishment for not wanting to make aliyah, but the pernicious influence of their tragic misunderstanding still remained. So at the very beginning of the Book of Devarim, Moshe begins to explain the Torah, as it says, “Moshe began to explain the Torah….” (Devarim, 1:6).

Rashi comments that Moshe explained the Torah in 70 languages. Apparently, he prophetically knew that the Jews would one day be scattered around the world, where they would speak French and Spanish and German and Russian and English and Yiddish, and Moshe didn’t want them to have the excuse, “We didn’t know we were supposed to live in Israel – we don’t speak Hebrew, so how can you blame us for not understanding the Torah?” So Moshe made sure to teach the Torah in 70 languages, so that every Jew would know.

And what is the very first thing Moshe teaches the Nation, who are all waiting to hear the explanation of the Torah from Moshe himself? You can read the words yourself:

“Moshe began to explain the Torah, saying, the Lord our God spoke to us in Horev, saying, ‘You have dwelt long enough in this mountain – Turn and take up your journey – go to the Land of Israel! Behold, I have set the land before you, go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, to give them, and, to their seed after them.” (Devarim, 1:6-8).

The Torah wasn’t given to be kept in Sinai, nor in Brooklyn or Beverly Hills. The Torah isn’t a “religion” like Buddhism or Christianity, God forbid. The Torah isn’t some abstract spirituality floating like cloud in the sky. The Torah has an earthly base. Not Sinai. Not Brooklyn. The Torah is the Divine constitution of the Nation of Israel, and every Nation needs its own Land. And the holy Children of Israel have their own unique Holy Land.

What is the first and fundamental message that Moshe explains when he teaches the Torah to Am Yisrael? Not Shabbos. Not kashrus. You want to know what Torah is? You want to keep it? Go in and possess the Land! That’s the basis of Torah.

This is the teaching which Moshe wanted to sink into our skulls and our hearts in order to uproot the tragic error of the Spies. We are to be our own Holy Nation with our own Holy Land, and not live as a minority in someone else’s country performing a handful of religious precepts. That may be the “Judaism” of the exile, but it isn’t real Torah.

Tzvi Fishman

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. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.

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

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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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