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September 26, 2016 / 23 Elul, 5776
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Why Help Build America When We Can Help Build the Land of the Jews?


Rebuilding Jerusalem – what more could capture their hearts?

Rebuilding Jerusalem – what more could capture their hearts?

In his current article in The Jewish Press, “A New Song,” Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt advocates finding “a new rallying call, a new idea with which to inspire the troops and turn values into action.”

“Each generation speaks its own language and needs its own message,” he writes.

So far, so good. However, I would like to offer a different rallying call than the one he ultimately chooses.

“Hewed by Hashem into the core of our soul is the need to effect change in the world we inhabit,” he continues.

This too is very true. In my opinion, however, the question is, where should we, in this generation, focus our efforts? In strengthening Jewish life among the gentiles in a foreign land – as he proposes – or in striving to build a Torah society in the Land of Israel, as advocated by the Torah and the Prophets of Israel? What is the message that we should teach our children? That their future is in America, being productive American Jews, or in Eretz Yisrael being productive Jews in the Holy Land?

Rabbi Rosenblatt wrestles with this question in the course of his thought-provoking article, writing, “I feel a primal need for perspective, to understand who I am, who we are, and where our community is headed.”

In my mind, the meaning of “our community” should not only be America’s Orthodox/Haredi community, but the community of all of American Jewry, for, as our Sages teach, every Jew is responsible for his fellow. It is no secret that American Jewry is being decimated by assimilation. The longer the Jewish community remains in America the more the assimilation will grow. So I ask – what’s the point in working to strengthen something that is destined to dwindle out and end? The exile is a curse which is not supposed to continue forever. Now that Hashem, in His great kindness, has re-opened the gates to the Land of Israel and has given us our own Jewish State, isn’t it time to come home? True, for adults who are already established in their ways, moving to a new country is a difficult challenge, but our children have the wherewithal to fulfill the great mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, a mitzvah which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah 80).

Encouraging Jewish youth to be accountants, or businessmen, or scientists in America, is well and good, but it can’t be compared with playing a part in the Redemption of Israel and becoming of a building of the Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael. In my humble opinion, this is the new call we need to rally and inspire our troops!

Yes, in recent generations, the Orthodox Jews of America have done wonders in guarding and strengthening the observance of Torah. As Rabbi Rosenblatt notes, his parents’ generation built Flatbush, and his generation built Lakewood. Certainly, these are praiseworthy achievements. But that was before the establishment of the State of Israel and shortly after its birth, when we didn’t have a choice. But in the face of the subsequent modernization and miraculous development of Medinat Yisrael, instead of adding on to Flatbush and Lakewood, or sending out battalions of Haredi “laypeople” to win a spot in the American marketplace, as the author of the article advices, why not put our efforts into re-locating these holy and talented young people to Eretz Yisrael?

This is especially true when the author writes: “As a result of our weak secular education and greater insularity, our generation is struggling to make ends meet. Parnassah options are often limited. If not employed in klei kodesh, most of us work for or start small businesses, frequently competing with each other to service the needs of our community. We are often recipients of governmental aid, a possibility our parents’ generation wouldn’t have considered.”

Rabbi Rosenblatt writes a great deal about Kiddush Hashem, but being dependent on handouts from the gentiles is the very opposite. In fact, as the Prophet Ezekiel teaches, the presence of Jews in the Diaspora is one big problematic disgrace:

“And when they came to the nations into which they came, they profaned My Holy Name, in that men said of them: These are the people of the Lord, and they are gone out of His land” (Ezekiel, 36:20).

This prophecy informs us that the unnatural situation of Jews living outside the Land of Israel is a desecration of God. Why? Because in the eyes of the gentiles, our presence in the Diaspora proclaims that God lacks the power to keep us in His Land. That was back then in Ezekiel’s days. Now, in our time, when God has returned the Land of Israel to the Jews, the situation is even worse, for it seems, in the eyes of the gentiles, that in clinging to our Diaspora communities, we prefer foreign lands to His.

How is this terrible situation rectified? The Prophet continues: “And I will sanctify My great Name which was profaned amidst the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes”(Ezekiel, 36:23-24).

How does this come about? Ezekiel answers: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and I will bring you into your own Land” (Ibid).

The Rosh Yeshiva at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, z’tzal, would emphasize that the return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel is the greatest sanctification of God there is:

“This Kiddush Hashem, which comes through the instrument of His Nation, isn’t limited to the Orthodox and Haredim,” Rabbi Kook taught. “This great sanctification of God comes through all of the House of Israel, the righteous and the non-righteous alike. Today, we see that the national body of Israel is returning to its health, and to its healthy Land, from amidst the impurity of the nations. This is the highest sanctification of God that we can find.”

While there is a lot of criticism about the level in Yiddishkeit in Israel, the fact remains that there are more yeshivot, hederim, Talmudei Torah, religious ulpanot for girls, dati colleges, and Torah Gedolim in Israel than in every other place in the world.

“Kollel,” Rabbi Rosenblatt writes, “was an idealistic endeavor for my parents’ generation. It was a rite of passage for my generation. It is a lifestyle for the current generation. It is a commendable lifestyle, without doubt. But it is hardly a choice that captures their hearts and minds.”

What could capture the hearts and minds of Jewish youths more than taking their place alongside Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, Yehoshua Ben Nun, and King David, in settling and building the Promised Land?!

Rebuilding Jerusalem – what more could capture their hearts?

Rabbi Rosenblatt correctly notes that “Each year on Passover we say, ‘A person is obligated to view himself as if he was one who left Egypt’ (Hagaddah, Pesachim 116b). But the Hagaddah also states, “This year we are slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Next year free men.” Where? In the Land of Israel. A Jew cannot be free in a foreign land, even if it’s America.

Yes, on Shavuot, as the author writes: “We remember the time we attained freedom and relive the decision to commit that freedom to a Godly discipline and an inspired life.” But at Sinai, our freedom was not yet complete. Sinai is not our final destination. The Torah is not meant to be practiced in the wilderness. “You have dwelt long enough in this mountain,” Hashem tells us. “Behold, I have set the Land before you – go in and possess the Land” (Devarim, Ch.1).

Indeed, “We need a new mission: something as great as kollel was for my parents’ generation, and the advent of “yeshivish” was for ours. We need something that will capture the imagination of our children. We need something that will capture the creativity of the best and brightest of our youth.”

This is certainly true. But the answer and real Kiddush Hashem doesn’t lie in encouraging the Haredim and Kollelniks of America to widen their fields of secular studies and take their place beside their gentile countrymen in securing a better livelihood for themselves, while spreading the values of Judaism. We don’t bring “glory to the name of Hashem throughout America,” as the article staunchly maintains. We bring glory to God’s Name by building a thriving Torah society in Israel, as the Prophet declares: “For from Zion will go forth the Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu, 2:3).

Just how long do you think that your new army of “laypeople” Haredim would stay Haredim by leaping wholeheartedly into the melting pot of American culture, working alongside Sally, Cindy, and Jill, constantly having to make compromises in the ruthless competition to succeed

“Today, a window has opened. We have the opportunity to stand up and be counted, to step forward and lead. We have the opportunity to sing a new song. We have the opportunity, indeed the blessing, to be the generation that sings to God a New Song, that sings to God throughout the Land (Psalm 96).

Throughout the Land of Israel! Not in America and other foreign places. The time has come to return to the first rallying cry of our People – “Rise up and possess the Land!”

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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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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