Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook writes that the absolute unity of the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel can only be fully understood by the deep and holy thinkers amongst the Jewish People. Obviously, Avigdor Lieberman is not among them. In his first address as Israel’s new Minister of Defense, he stated, “When there is a conflict between the values of the unity of the Nation or the wholeness of the Land, the unity of the Nation comes first.” He said this to justify his support of a two-state solution. Besides showing his disdain for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who fervently believe that all of the Land of Israel should be under Israeli sovereignty, he doesn’t understand the deep spiritual connection between the Nation and the Land.
Just as Hashem is One, the Land of Israel and the Nation of Israel are one. Just as you cannot divide the Torah, you cannot divide the Nation, nor the Land. If you do, G-d forbid, you shatter the light of Hashem in the world. The wholeness of the Torah and the wholeness of the Nation, and of the Land of Israel, go together, like the wholeness of Hashem.
Rabbi Kook chose to begin his book, “Orot,” his classic study on the Nation of Israel in our time, with a chapter on the Land of Israel. In his very first sentence, he writes:
“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the Nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of the general coalescing of the nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual.
“Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit, bound with a living attachment with the Nation, bound with inner Segulot with the Nation’s existence.
“As a result, it is impossible to comprehend the essence of the inner Segula of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and to reveal the depths of its love, through any form of human conceptualization; but only through the Spirit of Hashem which acts on the Nation as a whole… and which beats in the hearts of the holy thinkers and those who are involved in the deep contemplations of Israel.”
In this essay and our next, we will try to explain this very deep concept, which is explained in greater depth in our book, “Eretz Yisrael,” which I wrote with Rabbi David Samson. https://www.createspace.com/3604549
To comprehend the depths of Rabbi Kook’s writing, we first must recognize that the world has both a physical and spiritual dimension. A world perspective encompassing the physical and spiritual worlds does not come easily. Much work is needed to activate our inner natures, and to cultivate our spiritual powers. This is our task as Jews and as a holy Nation – to link the physical world with the Divine. As Rabbi Kook makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the G-d given place ideally suited for this task.
Upon a superficial examination, one might think that our attachment to Eretz Yisrael is based merely on a historical relationship, or on the need for a homeland to bring our oppressed and scattered people together. Rabbi Kook rejects this understanding outright. He calls upon us to probe beyond surface explanations toward a much deeper contemplation. Our connection to the Land of Israel, like the connection of the soul to the body, transcends rational explanations. The connection is a deep spiritual bond. Rabbi Kook tells us that Eretz Yisrael is an intrinsic and inseparable part of the Nation, a deep inner root of the Nation’s existence – and not merely a branch.
For instance, our connection to Eretz Yisrael is not dependent on history. Eretz Yisrael was given to Avraham Avinu without previous historical connection. The bond between Avraham and the Land was
not based on any external reason. The Brit between Avraham and the Land was Divine. Only in the Holy Land can the NATIONAL life of the Chosen People be totally uplifted to G-d. Prophecy, and the many mitzvot which are unique to the Land, and the Beit Hamikdash’s exclusive location only in Jerusalem, are all manifestations of this Divine connection. It is an attachment based on Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, beyond scientific inquiry and rational explanation. This first essay of Orot introduces us to this higher vision and to the need to perceive Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael in a deeper, more poignant light. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter.”
The Hebrew word, “Hitzoni,” in this important first sentence has the meaning of external, superficial, peripheral, secondary; a side matter lacking central importance – something which is not integrally vital to existence. Before explaining what the Land of Israel is in positive terms, Rabbi Kook tells us what the Land of Israel is not. He first rejects the mistaken understanding which views Eretz Yisrael as a means to a goal, and not as a goal in itself. He wants to negate the opinion which maintains that while the Land of Israel has historical and even strategic importance, it is not something vital to Jewish existence. People like Avigor Lieberman who don’t understand this are willing to let foreign peoples, and enemies of the Jewish People, rule over large chunks of the Land of Israel.
A simple example will help us understand the difference between an external matter and the central matter itself. When a person wakes up in the morning, he dresses and begins his daily routines. The clothes he chooses to wear are an important part of his day, but they are not the person himself. While there is a popular expression, “The clothes make the man,” one readily recognizes the superficiality of this phrase. Though a person may feel more attractive wearing a blue shirt than a
black one, his choice of attire does not represent his essential self. Joseph Cohen remains Joseph Cohen whatever suit of clothes he wears.
In the case of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, the relationship is not an external one. The connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is not a peripheral matter. On the contrary, the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel are inseparably united. As Rabbi Kook will explain, the Land of Israel is an absolute foundation of the Jewish Nation. The Jewish people without the Land of Israel are not the essential Jewish People, but rather a mere shadow of their inner potential.
The thought that Eretz Yisrael is an accessory to Judaism, and not a central pillar in itself, is a tragic distortion which was caused by the nearly 2000 year exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. After years of wandering in foreign countries, scattered among the gentiles, and separated from our Homeland, our orientation to the Land of Israel became distorted and confused. Instead of being a day-to-day reality integral to our lives, Eretz Yisrael became a faraway dream. In our Diaspora existence, the most important aspects of Judaism were the matters which affected our daily lives – Torah study, prayer, the Sabbath, Kashrut, and the mitzvot which we were still able to perform. Eretz Yisrael became something of secondary importance – a place to which we would one day return, but not an essential part of the Jewish experience.
This misconception results when we misunderstand the true culture of the Jewish People. The foundation of our culture is not just the holidays and the performance of precepts, but in our being the Nation which brings the word and blessing of G-d to the world. As we will learn, our NATIONAL attachment to G-d, and the blessing it funnels to the world, can be achieved exclusively through the Land of Israel.
Eretz Yisrael is the Land where the Shechinah appears, and where prophecy is transmitted to the Jewish People. Eretz Yisrael is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The commandments themselves were only given to be performed in Israel (See Ramban, Vayikra, 18:25). Our Sages teach that the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only reminders so we won’t forget how to do them until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). The true value of the mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside the Land, the precepts have an educational value, but the Torah repeatedly tells us that Eretz Yisrael is the place for their performance. Accordingly, our Rabbis have told us that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).
The Gaon of Vilna writes that in the Diaspora, we are like bodies lacking spirit – the physical shell of a people without inner life, scattered individuals and not our own sovereign Nation (Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzniuta. Ezekiel, 37, 12-14).
This seems preposterous. After all, the Jewish People survived in exile for nearly 2000 years. Many of our greatest Torah scholars lived in galut. Profound Talmudic works were written there. Orthodox communities thrived all over the world. How can this vast Jewish achievement be considered a mere physical shell lacking spirit?
First, it must be made clear that the lack of life and spirit referred to is not on the individual level, but in reference to our national life as Clal Yisrael. A proper understanding of Clal Yisrael, of the Jewish People as a whole, is vital to an encompassing understanding of Torah, and to the writings of Rabbi Kook. To understand the life-giving connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, we first have to comprehend who we are as a Clal. The normal definition of a Clal is a collective, a gathering of individuals for the purpose of furthering a common goal. In a partnership, when the goals have been achieved, the
partners can split up and go their own way. The partnership or collective never takes on a life of its own, but rather only exists to serve the needs of its members. This is not the case with the Jewish People. Clal Yisrael is not just the sum total of the Jewish People at any one time. It is the eternal soul of the Nation, past, present, and future. It is a Divine creation, above time and physical space, which was formed before the world came into existence. The soul of the Jewish People, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one. Their roots exist in transcendental unity in the most exalted realms of the Divine. They cannot be divided. For the Shechinah and Hashem’s blessing to appear in the world, the Torah, and the Jewish People, and the Land of Israel must be whole – all of the Jewish People, living a full life of Torah, in all of the Land of Israel.
The new Defense Minister doesn’t understand any of this, so he spouts what he spouts. Before continuing in his new job, he should sit down in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and learn a little something about the Land and the Nation he is supposed to defend – rather than being so willing to surrender our Homeland it to others. Rachmonis!
(To be continued…)