In Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s classic treatise of Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” in explaining the tenets of Judaism, the Rabbi tells the king of the Kuzars about the Land of Israel, the Beit HaMikdash, and the bringing of sacrifices, as opposed to the situation of Am Yisrael in the exile, when all of these are missing:
The Rabbi says: “It is true that the source of all wisdom was deposited in the Ark, which represents the level of the heart, via the Ten Commandments and the Torah which was placed at its side, as it says: “Place it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.” From there went forth two wisdoms: the Torah wisdom whose bearers were the Kohanim, and the prophetic wisdom which was transmitted by the Prophets. Both of these classes were the People’s watchful advisors, who compiled the Writings and Chronicles of Tanach . They were, therefore, like the head of the Nation.”
The King of Kuzar says: “Thus today, you are like a body without a head or heart.”
The Rabbi says: “You say rightly, but more than this – we are not even a body, but only scattered limbs, like the dry bones which Yehezkel saw in his vision. But even so, O king of the Kuzar, these bones which have retained a natural trace of vital power, having once been the vessels which housed the heart, brain, breath, soul, and intellect, are superior to bodies formed of marble and plaster, sculptured with heads, eyes, ears, and all the limbs, in which never dwelt the spirit of life, nor ever can dwell in them, since they are but imitations of man, and not man in reality.”
The Rabbi agrees with the king of Kuzar that Am Yisrael in exile is like a body without a heart and brain. However, the truth is even worse, since we don’t have even a body, but merely dry bones, as the Prophet Yehezkel declares. Nevertheless, buried in these dry bones is great hidden life, the “genetic” remnants of the full life we had when we were in Eretz Yisrael, and these dormant “chromosomes” are destined to return to new life at the time of the Redemption. In contrast to this, Christianity and Islam outwardly seem full of life and splendor, like a body with a heart and brain, but in truth, they are like a golem which resembles a man, and like statues that possess no life.
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi lived in Spain when he wrote “HaKuzari.” During this era, Torah learning flourished, but he described his personal situation, and the state of Am Yisrael, like death and mere dry bones. Thus we see that the description of the Prophet Yehezkel is real. The time of exile is death.
The Gaon of Vilna
In a straightforward fashion which leaves no room for doubt, the Gaon of Vilna states the following:
“Since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, our spirit and our crown departed, and only we remained, the body without the soul. And exile to outside of the Land is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves from the idol worshippers who devour our flesh. In every place, there were great Jewish communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet, always, some bones still existed, the Talmidei Chachamin of the Israelite Nation, the pillars of the body – until even these bones rotted, and there only remained a rancid waste which disintegrated into dust – our life turned into dust. And now we hope for the resurrection of the dead, the awakening and rising up from the dust with the pouring of a Divine spirit upon us” (Likutei HaGra).
These matters need extensive clarification. The difference between life and death isn’t a difference of quantity, but rather the difference between two extreme opposites, with an absolute cavern between them. The Gaon of Vilna describes in graphic detail how we are in a graveyard in Galut, how worms devour our flesh, and how we decompose and become rancid.
It sounds like we are missing the most essential thing to our lives, to the point where everything we have, whether it be thriving religious, communities, great yeshivot, or acceptance and equality amongst the goyim, is not considered as life at all – but rather, death. It must be remember that the Gaon lived in the city of Vilna, which was nicknamed “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” because of the grandeur of Torah which flourished there. The Gaon himself learned Torah with incomparable holiness and purity, teaching scores of students, while being actively involved in many fields, but, with all this, he still declares that this is a state of death. This is wondrous indeed!