Indeed, the Jewish People do not wish to see the truth, as our Sages said regarding the spies. How can they explain to themselves the words of the Men of the Great Assembly, who ordained in the festival Musaf prayer, “Because of our sins we were banished from our Land,” while they expect to serve out their punishment in wealth and ease? Foolishness!
Woe to us from those who distort the Torah! Such persons quote Pesachim 87b, “God performed a charitable act for Israel, for He dispersed them among the nations,” and they derive from it that God’s casting us into the exile was a kind, charitable gift! Could there be a more terrible perversion than that? Every child knows that the Torah constantly presents the exile to us as a frightful punishment for our sins. In the second paragraph of the Shema, which we morning and night, it says, “You will rapidly be lost from the good land that the Lord is giving you” (Deut. 11:17). We likewise find in the terrible Tochachah (chastisement) of Leviticus (26:33,36), “I will scatter you among the nations and keep the sword drawn against you…. I will bring insecurity upon those of you who survive in the lands of your enemies.”
Also, in Deuteronomy (28:64-65): “The Lord will scatter you among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other…. Among those nations you will feel insecure, and there will be no place for your foot to rest. There the Lord will make you cowardly, destroying your outlook and making life hopeless.”
Truthfully, the Talmud’s statement above regarding charity is making a simple point: It is not that the exile is something positive — surely it is the worst punishment there can be — but, rather, that it contains “charity.” If God has already condemned us to exile, He at least dispersed us. As Rashi explains, “So that the nations could not destroy them all at once.”
This is only partial consolation, for even in this there is a drawback. As our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 6): “I will scatter you among the nations” (Lev. 26:33): This is a hard blow for Israel, for whenever all of a country’s citizens are exiled to one place, they see one another and find comfort. With you it is not so, however, for in the future I shall scatter you among all the nations.”
Thus, exile is an intrinsically calamitous and shocking punishment, yet there is partial consolation in our not having been exiled to one place, where it would be easy for the nations to annihilate almost all of Israel. Clearly, however, those who quote the above exposition to prove the positive side of exile are either ignoramuses or the exile has warped them. Following is Torat Kohanim, Behar, Parsheta 5:
“To give you the Land of Canaan, to be for you a God” (Lev. 25:38): Based on this our Sages said, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.” Likewise, regarding King David it says, “Cursed be they before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should not cling to the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19). Might we suppose King David would worship idols? Rather, he would expound, saying, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Our Sages also said (Sifri, Ha’azinu, 333), “R. Meir would say, ‘Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael, and recites the Shema morning and evening [which constitutes accepting G-d as King] and speaks the Holy Tongue [Hebrew] is assured a place in the World-to-Come.’”
The rejecters of Eretz Yisrael bring destruction. Israel’s refusal to cling, with faith and trust, to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, a mitzvah of equal weight to all others combined, is what has brought about, and, God forbid, will bring about, national calamities. Our Sages said (Yoma 9b):
“Resh Lakish was bathing in the Jordan, and Rabbah bar Channah [who had come up from Babylonia to study Torah] came and extended him his hand. Resh Lakish said to him, “I swear that I hate you! [i.e., the Jews of Babylonia.] Rashi comments, “By their not going up to Eretz Yisrael in Ezra’s day, they prevented the Divine Presence from returning and resting on the Second Temple”. It says, ‘If she be a wall, we will build upon her a silver turret, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with cedar boards’ (Song of Songs 8:9). Had you come up to Eretz Yisrael like a wall [en masse] in Ezra’s day, you would have been compared to silver, which cannot rot. Now that you have come up to Eretz Yisrael like doors, you are like cedar, which can rot.”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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