In our previous blog, where we saw how the prophets of Israel and our greatest Rabbis described the exile as a zombie-like existence for the Jewish People, because when we are scattered in foreign lands, our national format is destroyed, and we are left like dry lifeless bones. To understand this more deeply, we will continue with our translation of the book, “Binyan Emunah,” by Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, a longtime student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and Rosh Yeshiva of the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva in the city of Hevron.
Please note that these are very deep matters, and our condensed excerpts from the book don’t present the total overall picture that readers will glean from the entire book itself.
From the Chapter, “Exile and Redemption”:
In order to understand why the exile is a situation of death for the Jewish People, we have to first meditate on the meaning of life. As much as life is familiar to us, there is a secret of life which we cannot fathom, and this is the force of life itself, a Divine Creation.
An example will make this clear. A human being’s body contains many organs, some of which are extremely complicated and sophisticated. For instance, the eye is an advanced optical mechanism which functions in a wondrous manner. However, if we were to remove the eye and mount it on a wall to serve as a security camera, the eye wouldn’t work at all. Only through its connection with the body, and with the general life force that exists in it – the soul – can an eye fulfill its function.
Why is this? Isn’t the eye sophisticated enough to operate by itself? Is the fact that it can’t function apart from the body a sign that it is a more primitive mechanism than some electronic optical devise which can? No. The reason that the eye cannot function without it being attached to the body is because the eye isn’t a private organ which exists by itself. This is also true for the other organs of the body – the ear, the brain, the heart, etc. If you were to take out all of the organs of the body and connect them together, a man wouldn’t result – only a big, lifeless doll. The thing which gives man his essence as a man is the general life force inside of him. This is what enlivens and operates all the organs of the body, determines their function, and also gives man his consciousness as a man. Isn’t the eye which sees, and the ear which hears, but rather, the general force of life in a man, his soul, which hears via the ear, and sees via the eye.
Just as a life force animates an individual, the same is true for the Clal, for Am Yisrael, as a Nation. Hashem created us as a Nation at Sinai, to sanctify His Name in the world – precisely in our National format in Israel, and not in the wilderness of Sinai, or in other foreign places in the world. Am Yisrael is capable of illuminating existence by revealing the Divine Ideal in life, and through this, to raise existence out of its darkness, and to attach it to its Divine Source. The nations of the world also call upon the Name of God and praise His greatness, but in the very same breath, they are capable of murdering millions and carrying out the most savage and bestial acts. In contrast, when Am Yisrael calls upon the Name of G-d, it is to reveal and establish the Divine Ideal and Morality in the world, with the altruistic aspiration of bettering the life of all mankind.
This lofty moral recognition is the innovation which Am Yisrael brings to the world. “This Nation have I created for myself, they will declare My praise.” The ability of Am Yisrael to declare the praises of Hashem, to illuminate the world and liberate it from its truncated framework of private interests and egotistical concerns, from its bondage to individual lusts, by attaching all of the forces of life to their ideal Divine Source, this stems from the unique vision of Am Yisrael that recognizes the existence of a single unifying Divine Goal which stands at the foundation of the world – the recognition that there is a single unifying force of life that lends ideal meaning to all of the details of life. This is a great Kiddush Hashem, the ability to reveal in life the Universal Unity which gives life to everything.
The Soul of Existence, the Ideal Goal which stands at the foundation of life, is not a mere spiritual thing, but rather a powerful and dynamic life force which activates all of the wheels and gears of existence, pushes them toward greater and greater perfection and expression in life. For example, with an apple tree, the “goal of the tree” isn’t an abstract matter, but a concrete life force which dictates the stages of the tree’s development up till the appearance of its fruit. Similarly, the soul of a person isn’t a spiritual entity disconnected from the body and its powers, but is the very life force which activates and gives meaning to every organ and faculty of life. This same understanding holds true for the Soul of Existence as well.
Applying this metaphor to the world, Am Yisrael is the “body” which is able to absorb this Inner Truth that there is a Divine Soul to existence, and which is able to attach all branches of life to their inner, general, all-encompassing, Clalli, Source. This Clalli Soul appears in Am Yisrael as a dynamic and empowering life force. This is what gives the Nation its life, and from its driving force, the Israelite Nation has the motivation and willpower to establish and build a State in its Land, an army, and a thriving economy. All of its National life surges forth from this inner, exalted Truth, to the point where the Nation of Israel has no private, egocentric interest in attaining glory and accolades on the stage of history, but only to sanctify the Name of God in the world, and to reveal how all of the systems and frameworks of life, with all of their details, stem from the ideal, universal, Divine Life-Force which activates all of existence.
As we mentioned, the principle Kiddush Hashemoccurs when we reveal how the Source of Divine Unity stands behind all of life, uniting everything. Am Yisrael was created to illuminate this Truth, to declare the praises of God. When Am Yisrael gathers in its Land, every Tribe in its inheritance, and with the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt on the Temple Mount, this Clallilife-force appears in the life of the Israelite Nation, in all aspects of its National existence, in their most ideal and healthy format.
Like with an individual man, whose soul gives life to all of his organs and limbs, so too, when Am Yisrael returns to Eretz Yisrael, its unique, Clalli life-force,which only comes to life within the Nation when it dwells in its Land, radiates its powers to all of the national faculties of the Nation, and to every vista of its life. The more the Nation is true to its inner essence, and knows how to direct its varied endeavors to draw vitality and strength from the Source of its life, the healthier it will be, and it will succeed in achieving its mission in the most complete and ideal fashion.
This is a life of national Kiddush Hashem, where the Divine Presence is revealed in our midst, through the realization of the ideal, universal, Divine Goals and Aspirations in the life of the Nation as we live our National Torah life in our unique Holy Land.
However, when the Nation of Israel is exiled from its Land, and its general, Clalli, life force is lost, all of its life undergoes a drastic descent. Its general, Clalli soul ascends to the celestial heights, and no longer functions as the battery source of the now scattered and splintered Jewish People. Now, exiled from its Land, and unable to exist in its National format, the individual, private side of life becomes dominate, and the forces of life appear separately, seemingly independent, one from the other, without stemming from a unifying, general life-force. In this way, the level of life changes, and the entire observance of Torah and its commandments falls into the category of“Set way-marks up for yourselves,” (Yirmeyahu, 32:20), as described in the vivid words of our Sages, concerning a verse found in the second paragraph of the Shema, “And you will quickly perish from the Land….” (Devarim, 11:17).
Our Sages teach: “Even though I am exiling you from the Land to outside of the Land, be distinguished by the mitzvot, so that when you return they won’t seem new in your eyes. This can be compared to a king who became angry with his queen, and sent her back to her father house, telling her to continue to wear her royal jewels so that they would not seem new to her when she returned to the palace. Thus said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Israel: My son, keep adorned with the mitzvot so that when you return they will not seem new. This is what Yirmeyahu told them, ‘Set up way-marks for yourselves’ – these are the commandments by which Israel is distinguished”
These words of our Sages are eye-opening and even staggering. Concerning the performance of the commandments in the Diaspora, the inner truth of the matter is that outside of the Land of Israel, where theClalli, life force of the Nation doesn’t appear, there is no essential meaning in observing the commandments. The only reason for our still keeping the precepts inChutz L’Aretz is because of our past connection to theClalli soul of the Nation which vitalized us when we lived in our Land, and because of our connection to the future when the Clalli soul will return and reveal itself in our resurrected national life with the ingathering of our exiles to Zion.
A living holiness, filled with vitality, is the “electricity” which activates the soul of the Nation and the general,Clalli, life force within it. This force is what gives life to the details of the Torah and to its commandments. Thus, when the Nation isn’t living, when it is exiled from the Land and its organs are scattered throughout a netherworld of impure and unholy places, there is no essential value in keeping the mitzvot, and we are commanded to continue to perform them only so we don’t forget how to do them, so they won’t seem new to us when we return to our own Holy Land, where theClalli soul comes to life with the union of the Nation and the Land.
It is important to understand that the startling new insight revealed by our Sages is not that the precepts practiced in the exile are merely road signs to help us remember the way home, as indicated by the Prophet’s command, “Set up way-marks for yourselves,” but that it is possible at all to learn Torah and perform commandments in our altered and “decomposed” situation in exile, where we merely exist, without life, like in the prophesy of the valley of lifeless bones. The ability to do so only stems from our deep inner, historic, and genetic connection, even in our disintegrated situation in exile, to our complete, former, national, Clalli life as a Nation in its Land.
All of our life changes when we are in Galut. Not only does our Clalli soul disappear, but every detail of our life is affected. Regarding the teaching of the Gemara, “Everyone who dwells outside of the Land of Israel is like someone who has no God” (Ketubot 110B), Rabbi Pincus HaLevi Horewitz, author of the commentary,“HaHafla’a,” writes that this is speaking about a person who observes the Torah and mitzvot in Chutz L’Aretz – but because he doesn’t live in Eretz Yisrael, he is like someone who doesn’t have a G-d. The reason behind this is that outside the Land of Israel something profoundly essential is missing – our general, Clalli soul.
Therefore, in the exile, Jewish Belief (Emunah) and the worship of God appears in an incomplete form. If Emunah was merely a philosophical and intellectual discipline, there wouldn’t be any meaningful difference between its revelation during the Galut or at the time of Redemption (Geula). However, as we shall continue to explore, Emunah is the encounter with Divine Existence as it is revealed in our midst when we are a sovereign Nation in our Land. Thus, during the time of exile, when the general, Clalli life-force is withheld from us, and where God only appears in “the four cubits of Halacha,” in the life of individuals, the entire encounter with the lofty goals of the Torah, which appear in a dynamic living fashion in the national life of the Nation in our Land, is lost. It follows that the deeper levels of Emunah also are missing, and the individual Jew encounters his Maker on a shattered level, which is only a shadow of true and complete Emunah.
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.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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