One of the liveliest places in Yerushalayim is the Central Bus Station. “HaTachana HaMercazit.” First of all, you really sense the Geula/Redemption when you are there, with Jews of all sizes and shapes, from all parts of the world, coming and going, jostling and hustling, dark-skinned Jews from Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, and Iraq, along with gelifta-fish-complexioned Jews from Russia and Poland, and the young, bright-eyed Americans studying in Israel, whose accents stick out like the torch of the Statue of Liberty as they call out, “Oh, Sally and Chuck, how colossal, how awesome, look, we can get hamburgers and fries over here!” The bustling scene in the Jerusalem bus station is literally the revelation of prophecy – the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the globe, taking place before your eyes.
In addition to the rush and joy of people, there are three floors of stores and booths selling everything from the latest fashions and jewelry, to cell phones, computers, chess boards, helium balloons, oriental spices, fresh roasted nuts and pastries you can smell all the way to Tel Aviv. And the food court has everything your palette might crave: mouth-watering humus, Chinese food, pizza, hamburgers, and felafel on rye.
One of the shops, “Dabree Shir,” specializes in religious books of all sorts, with baal-tshuva stories and guides high on the list. For a small country, Israel produces a tremendous amount of books, and it’s always nice to see that this bookstore is packed with all kinds of people who are seeking to come closer to God. Whenever I pass through the bus station, I try to stop by and say hello to the fellas in the bookstore.
Though you people may think I’m a hack writer, the religious-Zionist community in Israel appreciates my books, especially my novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” which almost every family seems to have read. Last week, when I passed by, I asked the manager what was his current bestseller. “Binyan HaEmunah,” he answered. That was encouraging, I thought. The book, written by Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, founder of the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva, is an in-depth study of true Jewish faith, filled with many of Rabbi Kook teachings. How wonderful, I mused, that the average, bus-station traveler, men, women, and young people alike, are purchasing a book like that – the very same book which I just happen to be translating into English for the yeshiva, to make a little parnassa/livelihood.
The basic premise of the book is that in our generation of Redemption, Emunah (Jewish faith and belief) must be learned, along with the learning of Gemara and Halacha. This is because, over the nearly 2000 years of exile, yeshiva study became the dry learning of Talmud and Jewish Law, with the main focus devoted to matters which applied to day-to-day life, while more exalted matters like the all-encompassing goal of the Torah, and the establishment of the Divine Ideal in the world, through the Kingship of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, were ignored.
Rabbi Kook writes that this dry approach to Torah study, which ignores, and even negates, the secrets of Torah, is the reason why entire communities of Jews have become alienating from our age-old yearning for Zion; have opted to remain in gentile countries rather than making aliyah; and why their exile in Brooklyn, Beverly Hill, and Boca, is seen as pleasing in their eyes.
In effect, Emunah, the very heart of the Torah, which teaches us what God and the Nation of Israel are all about, was left out of the yeshiva curriculum. This led the Torah giant, the Gaon of Vilna (who encouraged his students to make aliyah) to state that Emunah must be learned, specifically emphasizing the need to learn Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s classic study of Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” saying, “The principles of Emunat Yisrael and Torah are precisely formulated in it” (Siddur of the Gra, pg. 512).
In establishing the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook made the study of Emunah one of the foundations, alongside the intensive learning of Gemara and Halacha. His son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, would explain every year to new students the vital importance of this learning, and how it happens that Torah-observant Jews can turn their backs on the very foundation of the entire Torah, the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, due to their failure to learn Emunah.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda said that just as there are levels of Torah knowledge, there are levels of faith in God. There are people with great belief, and there are others of rickety belief, stemming from a mistaken understanding of the Torah.
“Emunah is certainty,” Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained. “Contrasting this is Emunah stemming from philosophical inquiry alone, which can bring about a situation of partial faith. This is the false Emunah, which is mentioned in the Torah in connection with the Spies.”
The Spies, of course, were the leaders of the Children of Israel who were sent ahead to spy out the Land of Israel after the Jews had departed from Egypt. They came back with a negative report, saying that while the Land itself was good, the Jews would be eaten up by the fierce inhabitants of the Land, intimating that Hashem did not have the power to protect them. Their sin caused the destruction of that generation in the wilderness and led to the future destruction of the Temples and exile amongst the nations.
“Referring to their sin, the Torah says, ‘In this matter, you did not believe in the Lord your God’ (Devarim, 1:32). In this matter, in not making aliyah to Israel, they did not have Emunah. In other matters, they did believe. They believed, and yet they didn’t believe. This is a state of half-Emunah.”
“In contrast, the foundation of faith is seen in Avraham Avinu, as it says, ‘And he had Emunah in the Lord (Bereshit, 15:6). Avraham wasn’t a half-believer. He believed with a complete faith, with ‘Emunah shlema,’ in the language of the Rambam (Thirteen Principles of Faith).
“The Spies had a deficiency in their Emunah, as it says, ‘Yet you would not go up to Israel’ (Devarim, 1:26). You have Emunah, yet in this matter of aliyah, you don’t have belief.”
“’There are types of ‘Tzaddikim who don’t believe,’ as it says in the Talmud (Sotah 48B). They select and chose words of the Torah and the commandments, saying, ‘This matter is arranged properly by the Almighty. It is very nice, it pleases me, it’s easy to do, therefore I agree to abide. However, this matter is not so pleasing in my eyes.’ This approach to Torah leads to heresy.”
“In contrast to this selective Judaism comes the true approach of, ‘Everything that the Lord said, we will do and listen’ (Shemot, 24:7) We will do it, whether it pleases us or not, whether we intellectually agree, or whether the matter is above our logic.”
“When the Torah is seen in its true light, there is no criticism of Hashem and opposition to His commandments. In place of criticism comes cleaving, harmony, and complete Emunah.”
Rav Tzvi Yehuda emphasized that this piecemeal practice of Torah, as exemplified by the tragedy of the Spies, occurs when the Torah isn’t learned in the proper fashion, ignoring the vital study of Emunah (See the book, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Ch.1, by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly).
Because this learning is so important, and because it is surely new to most of my readers in the Diaspora, our next few blogs will explore the foundations of true Emunah, and how its understanding is sure to enrich our lives, and the life of our Nation, with our complete and speedy return to Zion, and the rebuilding of Yerushalayim – without having to pass the time cheering for gentile ballplayers in Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden while waiting for Moshiach, may he come swiftly, Amen.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" will be available soon as a DVD.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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