Latest update: May 24th, 2012
Even great Torah leaders can fall prey to this compromise with Jewish life in the exile. An example of this can be seen in Yaacov Avinu’s descent to Mitzrayim. At first, he journeyed to Egypt to merely sojourn there, and not to settle down. “And he went down to Mitzrayim and sojourned there.”16 The Sifre comments that Yaacov did not intend to settle down permanently, but rather to live there temporarily, until the years of famine in Canaan passed.17 With time, however, his family’s orientation to the land of Egypt began to change, as it says, “And Yisrael settled in the land of Mitzrayim, in the land of Goshen, and they took possession of it, and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.”18
The commentary “Kli Yakar” writes:
“This verse is a condemnation of the children of Israel, for Hashem decreed to Avraham that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, while they desired to be settlers and property holders in a land not their own. And they settled down so permanently that they did not want to leave Egypt until Hashem was compelled to take them out with a mighty hand, and those who did not want to leave died in the three days of darkness.”19
Interestingly the word ויאחזו in the verse, “And they took possession of it,” has the passive-tense meaning of, “And they were possessed by it.” The Midrash explains that the land took possession of them.20 While Yaacov merely intended to sojourn in the land, his descendants let themselves be gripped by the land. Yaacov himself foresaw this danger and made his son Yosef swear to bury him in the Land of Israel, in order to make clear that Eretz Yisrael, and not Egypt, was their one and only true homeland.21
Similarly, today, after generations of Diaspora existence, many Jews identify themselves with the place in which they live, whether it be England, France, or Brazil. Israel is often considered a faraway dream, a nice place for a visit, but not a place vital to a Jew’s day-to-day life.
Rabbi Kook tells us that when we are not immersed in the inner depths of Torah, we become vulnerable to the influences around us. After years of exile, the impure gentile cultures begin to seep into our national psyches.22 Our pure Jewish thinking becomes polluted. Influenced by Christian teachings, we erroneously think that religion is separate from statehood, when in reality the Torah is the Constitution of the Jewish State. Slowly, as years in exile turn into generations, we wander away from our own inner sources and strengths. We become alienated from our inner Segulot, from Clal Yisrael, from our own normal National drives, and from the Divine sensitivities which separate the Jew from the gentile, until finally we assimilate into the culture of yet another foreign land.
When we allow ourselves to become estranged from our deepest roots, we lose our longing for the exalted attachment to G-d which can only be achieved through our attachment to His Nation in His Chosen Holy Land. Without this deep connection, the yearning for Salvation from galut becomes a side issue, an extraneous matter, a song about Mashiach which does not enter the depths of the soul.
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 views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press
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