Latest update: May 28th, 2012
Speaking at the recent Dangers of the Internet mega-gathering of 50,000 Haredi Jews in New York, a rabbi declared that the Internet was the greatest threat to the Jewish People since Zionism. In my humble opinion, rabbis who make statements like this, alienating their followers from the Eretz Yisrael and the supreme holy mitzvah of settling the Land, are as much a danger to the Jewish People as all the very grave problems of the Internet. This same blindness led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe, when many pre-Holocaust rabbis told their communities not to escape to Zion, but rather to stay where they were, even though people like Rabbi Kook and Zeev Jabotinsky repeatedly warned of the imminent devastation to come. It is the very same blindness which caused the Spies in the wilderness, who were the spiritual leaders of the tribes, to rebel against God’s command to journey on to Israel, bringing about the death of their entire generation in the desert.
The universally respected Torah giant, the Gaon of Vilna, taught that the sin of Spies haunts the Jewish People throughout all of its wanderings, and that many are caught in its deceptive web, including Torah scholars. He states:
“Many of the transgressors in this great sin of, ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ including many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in this sin of the Spies, and they will not sense that they have been sucked into the sin of the Spies in fostering many false ideas and empty claims. And they cover their beliefs with the already proven fallacy that the commandment of settling the Land of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been proven false by the Torah giants of the world, both the early and later halachic authorities” (Kol HaTor, Ch.5).
God Himself is a Zionist. In another two days, we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot which commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But with all of the greatness of the event, Sinai was not to be the last stop on our journey. God tells the newly formed Jewish nation: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain – go up and possess the Land!” (Devarim, Ch.1) There is a special place for the observance of the Torah – not in the wilderness, not in the lands of the gentiles, but in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of the Jews.
Yes, the Ribono Shel Olam, the Master of the World is a Zionist. So was Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabeinu, Yehoshua, King David, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the Macabbees, all the Prophets of Israel, including Ezra and Nechemia who led a seemingly motley crowd of sinners back to the Land of Israel from Babylon to rebuild the Holy Temple. Why didn’t the majority of Jews join in? In the harsh words of the Torah giant, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in his classic work on Jewish Faith, The Kuzari, they preferred to stay in Babylon with their businesses and villas, thus undermining our return to the Land:
“This is the sin which kept the Divine Promise with regard to the Second Temple from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they all had willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy amongst them remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, unwilling to leave their mansions and their affairs. Had we been prepared to meet the God of our Forefathers with an honest mind, we would have found the same salvation as our fathers did in Egypt. If we say in our prayers, ‘Worship at His holy hill; worship at His footstool; He who restores His glory to Zion,’ and other words of this nature, this is but as the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not realize what we say by this sentence, nor others, as you can clearly see,” (Kuzari, 2:22-25).
The Sages of the Talmud teach that the Almighty is in charge of everything that transpires in the world – even the path of a leaf as it falls to the ground, God sends an angel to accompany its journey. How much more does this apply to the vast and miraculous ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Jewish Nation in Israel which we have witnessed in our time! Who has brought all of this world-sweeping drama to pass if not the Master of the World Himself? Who has directed all of the awesome and terrible World Wars surrounding the modern State of Israel, toppling great empires, and formulating new international agreements, if not the Holy One Blessed Be He? Who has brought about the tremendous agricultural and technological wonders that all the world has witnessed, and raised the devastated Jewish People out of the ashes of the Holocaust and put a Samson-like prowess in their hearts to become a military giant if not the Maker of Heaven and Earth? Who has orchestrated the massive building in the reborn Jewish State, including an unsurpassed proliferation of Torah institutions and Torah learning that has made Israel today the Torah center of the world – who has done all this if not God Himself? Yes, God is a Zionist. A proud and fierce Zionist. As fierce a Zionist as can be. And as all the Prophets of Israel have told us, He wants His People in the Holy Land He gave them, and not in the cursed lands of the exile, no matter how temporarily comfortable these exiles may be.
My friends, if you want proof that Eretz Yisrael is the place where the commandments are meant to be performed, just take a look at the holiday of Shavuot.
The holiday of Shavuot has only two Torah commandments, both of which can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael. One is the bringing of the first fruits, “HaBikorim,” as is written: “And you shall take from the first of every fruit of the ground, which you shall bring from your Land”(Devarim, 26:2). Only fruits from the Land Of Israel (your Land), from the seven species indigenous to the Land of Israel, may be brought to Jerusalem on the Festival.
The second mitzvah is the bringing of the two loaves of bread to the Temple, marking permission to use the new crop of grain for sacrificial purposes, as it says: “From your dwellings, you shall bring two loaves of bread for heaving” (Vayikra, 23:17), which can only come from Eretz Yisrael, and not from other lands “(Mishna, Kelim, 1:6).
You can try bringing fruit or bread from Brooklyn, but it won’t be accepted. Not even fruit from Monsey, NY.
While Shavuot in the Diaspora is characterized by the emphasis on Torah study, in Israel, in addition to the intensive all-night Torah study which takes place all over the country, and the glorious mass prayer at the Kotel, the days leading to the holiday are marked by songs of Eretz Yisrael on the radio, agricultural exhibitions in schools, and parades celebrating the new harvest and the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, in the joyous spirit of the pageant-like bringing of the first fruits to Jerusalem in days of yore.
Thus, the Festival of Shavuot is intrinsically bound with the praising Hashem for the agricultural bounty of Eretz Yisrael. This praise and sense of gratitude is highlighted in the speech that every Jew must make to the Kohen when he brings his first fruits to the Temple:
“I profess this day to the Lord thy God that I am come to the country that the L-rd swore to our fathers to give us… and He brought us to this place and gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim, 26:1-15).
Additionally, the bringing of the Omer, upon which the Counting of the Omer is based between Pesach and Shavuot, can only be brought from Eretz Yisrael, as the Torah commands: “When you come to the Land… and reap its harvest, then you shall bring an omer of your first harvest to the Kohen” (Vayikra, 23:10), meaning only “its harvest” from the Land of Israel. In fact, the Mishna teaches that: “Any mitzvah involving land applies only in Eretz Yisrael” (Kiddushin, 1:9).
The centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish life can also be seen in other aspects of the Shavuot holiday. For instance, in Megillat Ruth, when Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, and two sons, Machlon and Kilyon, abandon the Land of Israel and go to Moav, they are stricken to death in Divine punishment for leaving the Holy Land’s borders.
Also, we honor King David, who was born and died on Shavuot day, by reading from the Book of Psalms. King David was so fervently attached to Eretz Yisrael that he looked upon leaving it as if he were forced to worship idols. When he had to escape to the territory of the Philistines in order to escape Saul, who was pursuing him in murderous wrath, David moaned, “For they have driven me out his day from being joined to the inheritance of the Lord, saying ‘Go serve other gods’” (Shmuel 1:26:19). The Talmud asks, “Did someone really tell David to serve other gods?” In answer, the Talmud states: “Rather, it comes to teach you that anyone who dwells outside the Land of Israel is like someone who worships idols” (Ketubot 110B).
All of this helps us to understand the wondrous happening that occurred in Turkey, 500 years ago, on Shavuot night, in the house of the great Rabbi Yosef Caro, compiler of the Shulchan Aruch. The awe-inspiring incident is recorded in the respected Torah treatise, Shnai Luchot HaBrit, written by the holy Shlah, in Volume 1 on Shavuot. There, one of the Torah scholars who was present, the revered Kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Alkebetz, presents a stunning eye-witness account how, during the grandeur of the special night, as a reverent group of Talmidei Chochamin were learning Torah with Rabbi Yosef Caro, also known as the “Beit Yosef,” suddenly the Shechinah began to speak via a Magid through the voice of the holy Rabbi Caro. Filled with Ruach HaKodesh and holy inspiration, the words of the invisible angelic messenger resounded out of Rabbi Caro’s unmoving lips, praising them for their fervent learning, but telling them that if they wanted to continue in probing the deep wisdom of the Torah, and have Ruach HaKodesh remain in their midst, they must immediately make aliyah to the Land of Israel, without worrying about their houses or possessions, but only trusting in Hashem who would surely guard them on the journey and provide for all their needs from the bounty of the good and Holy Land, which “the Lord watches over from the beginning of the year till its end.”
After the holiday, in accord with the charge of the celestial Zionist messenger who had visited them on Shavuot night, they all made aliyah, with the Zionists, Rabbi Yosef Caro and Rabbi Shlomo Alkebetz leading the way. Shortly afterward, the Zionist, the holy Arizal, joined them in Safed. Along with the Zionist Rabbi Haim Vital, who recorded all of the Arizal’s teachings which came to him through the unique Ruach HaKodesh of Eretz Yisrael.
This, my friends, as Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would tell his students, was the real beginning of the Zionist Movement, even preceding the Gaon of Vilna who, three hundred years later, sent his students to settle the parched and desolate Land, warning them of the terrible storm that was approaching, and declaring, with a trembling voice and tears in his prophetic eyes, that there would only be a refuge in Zion (See the book Kol HaTor, Ch.5).
Yes, God is a Zionist. We all should be too.
Happy Shavuot!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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