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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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Get Angry at Rashi – Not at Me!

Two Torah scholars arrived in Babylon and told the Jews there, "if you detach yourselves from the centrality of Eretz Yisrael, you have no portion in the God of Israel!”

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Once again, I ask you – isn’t it interesting that the very first words that God says to Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, is to go to the Land of Israel?

What are we suppose to learn from that? Can there be any question at all? One plus one is two. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out a simple equation like that.

We don’t just read the Torah like it’s “Harry Potter” or the “DaVinci Codes,” God forbid. We read it to learn from it. We read about our holy Forefathers to learn from them and to follow their example. In telling Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, to live in Eretz Yisrael, God is teaching us as well that He wants us to live in Israel too.

Let’s face it. If God wanted, Avraham could have been born in theLandofIsraelto begin with. That would have saved Avraham the hassle of such a long shlepp with camels and donkeys and the rest of his entourage. For Someone who created the heaven and the earth, giving birth to Avraham inIsraelis peanuts. But God chose to have Avraham start off in the Diaspora precisely to teach all of the Jewish People in the future that wherever they lived, God wants them to pack up their belongings, just like Avraham, and relocate to Eretz Yisrael. As the great Torah commentary Ramban teaches, “The deeds of the fathers are signs for their children.”

What was Avraham’s reaction to God’s command? Without even calling Nefesh B’Nefesh, he departed immediately, as God had spoken to him. (Bereshit, 12:4. See the commentaries of Lekach Tov and Ibn Caspi). Even though the Land of Israel was filled with immorality, idol worshippers, and heathens that he would have to conquer, he didn’t say, “I’m not going because I don’t want to go into the army.“ Or, “I’m not going to Israel because there are Russian prostitutes there.” Or, “I’m not going because the politicians in the Knesset are corrupt.” Or, “I’m not going because the Moshiach hasn’t come.” He set off without listing 50 excuses and did what G-d commanded.  Period.

In reward for Avraham’s obedience and faith, God gave him, and his children after him, the eternal inheritance of the Land of Israel, as it says, “And I will give you, and to your seed after you, the Land where you sojourn, all the Land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d” (Bereshit, 17:8).

The great Torah commentator, Rashi, explains this verse as follows: “There, I will be their God, but a Jew who lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no God” (Rashi, loc cited).

Don’t get angry at me. Get angry at Rashi. Do you think he should apologize for insulting Jews in the Diaspora! How could he say such a thing?! What chutzpah!

Actually, he isn’t to blame. The Talmud says the very same thing (Ketubot 111A), and this is the law brought down by the Rambam: “IN ALL GENERATIONS, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are heathens, and not live outside of the Land even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are Jews” (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12).

Hmmph! What chutzpah! The Rambam, Rashi, and Fishman! The Jewish Press should ban all of them!

But Avraham heard God’s command and immediately obeyed. That’s  what makes him the father of the Jewish People – his complete Emunah (faith), as the Torah testifies: “And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Bereshit, 15:6).

The opposite of this is where people have crises of Emunah, like in the case of the Generation of the Wilderness who refused to obey God’s command to make aliyah, as the Torah record: “And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the Land which I gave you,’ and you rebelled against the Lord your God, and you did not have Emunah in Him, and did not listen to His voice” (Devarim, 9:23).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook explained that there are two types of Emunah – the complete Emunah of Avraham Avinu, and the partial Emunah of the Spies in the wilderness, and their followers, of whom it is said, “And in this matter, you did not have Emunah in the Lord your G-d” (Devarim, 1:32).

“In this matter, in not making aliyah toIsrael, they didn’t have Emunah,” Rabbi Kook taught. “In other matters, they did believe. They believed, and yet they didn’t believe. This is a state of half-Emunah. Rashi, in the name of our Sages, cites this in regard to Noach, saying, ‘Noach was small in Emunah. Though he possessed Emunah, he did not truly believe in the flood’s coming, and did not enter the ark until the water forced him in’ (Bereshit, 7:7). Noach believed, and he didn’t believe. However, the foundation of our Emunah begins with Avraham Avinu. He wasn’t a half-believer. He believed with a complete faith.”

As I have stated and restated, I am not coming to criticize any  true awe and fear of God to be found amongst our beloved brothers in the Diaspora, but rather against the viewpoint that denies the centrality of theLandofIsraelto Judaism. There are many wonderful God fearing Jews throughout the Diaspora, who are serving Hashem and the Jewish People in many true and noble ways, in their charity, good deeds, Torah scholarship, prayer, and strict adherence to the fine details of the mitzvot. However, if they fall in love with the Diaspora and try to make a secondJerusalemout of Brooklyn orToronto,ChicagoorDallas, then something is wrong with their Judaism.

Rabbi Kook would emphasize this further by citing a Gemara (Berachot 63A and B), regarding Rabbi Haninah, a great Torah scholar who went down from Eretz Yisrael to the Diaspora. At that time, the Israelite Nation was in a sorrowful state, and many Gedolei Yisrael remained in galut. Rabbi Haninah was a leader of the generation, a giant in Torah. He began to intercalate years and determine the beginnings of the new months outside of the Land of Israel, something completely forbidden. Therefore, two Torah scholars were sent from Israel to fight against this.

Upon their arrival in Babylon, they took part in official ceremonies and didn’t reveal the purpose of their visit. They were received with great honor. Gradually, they started to vent their opposition. Finally, they entered a crowded assembly and said to the Jews of Babylon, “Behold, you are a great congregation. You can be independent. You don’t need Eretz Yisrael. You don’t need Mount Moriah.” Their sarcasm was purposely stinging in order to shock the Babylonian Jews. “And you’ve also got Rabbi Ahia here. Let Ahia build an altar, and let Haninah play on a harp. But know that if you detach yourselves from the centrality of Eretz Yisrael, you have no portion in the God of Israel!

The Gemara concludes, “Immediately, the people cried out in tears and exclaimed, ‘G-d forbid. We do have a portion in the God of Israel. For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

Get angry at the Gemara – don’t get angry at me!

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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