Over and over this week’s Torah portion emphasizes the importance of inheriting the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:1, 9:1). Why is Israel so crucial to our covenant with God?
In the end, the goal of the Jewish people is to do our share to redeem the world. This is our mission as the chosen people and this can only be accomplished through committing ourselves to the chosen land, Israel.
In fact, the first eleven chapters of the Torah are universal. God chose humankind over all species He created. But humankind did not fulfill the chosen role God had assigned to it. The world was destroyed by flood, and soon after that humanity was spread across the earth in the generation of dispersion.
God then chose Abraham and Sarah to be the father and mother of the Jewish people. Their mandate was not to be insular but to be a blessing for the entire world. It is not that the souls of Abraham and Sarah were superior; it is rather that their task had a higher purpose.
Ultimately we became a people who are charged to follow halacha, the pathway to Torah ethicism, which leads to the redemption of the Jewish people, through which the world is to be redeemed. Our task is to function as the catalyst in the generation of the redeemed world. The movement of chosenness is not from the particular to the more particular, but rather from the particular to the more universal. Chosenness is, therefore, not a statement of superiority but of responsibility.
The idea of our chosenness has always been associated with our sovereignty over the chosen land. From this perspective, Israel is important not only as the place that guarantees political refuge; not only as the place where more mitzvot can be performed than any other; and not only as the place where, given the high rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the exile, our continuation as a Jewish nation is assured.
But first and foremost, Israel is the place – the only place – where we have the potential to carry out and fulfill our mandate as the chosen people. In exile, we are not in control of our destiny; we cannot create the ideal society Torah envisions. Only in a Jewish state do we have the political sovereignty and judicial autonomy that we need to be the or lagoyim (light unto the nations) and to establish a just society from which other nations can learn the basic ethical ideals of Torah.
Of course, Jews living in the Diaspora can make significant individual contributions to the betterment of the world. And there are model Diaspora communities that impact powerfully on Am Yisrael and humankind. But I would insist that the destiny of the Jewish people – that is, the place where we as a nation can realize the divine mandate to Abraham of “in you will be blessed all the peoples of the earth” – can only be played out in the land of Israel.
From this perspective, those living in the chosen land have the greater potential to more fully participate in carrying out the chosen people idea. Only there do we, as a nation, have the possibility to help repair the world – the ultimate challenge of Am Yisrael.
About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.
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