Remember the old TV show, the “Twilight Zone?” With Rod Serling? Fantastic, wasn’t it? If Rod had done a show on the Diaspora, here’s how he might have begun:
“This is Jeremy Cohen. He’s is celebrating the Passover Seder with his family in New York just as he has every year of his life. He thinks he is a free man, because he doesn’t know that he is lost in a foreign dimension, an unwitting captive in the Diaspora, otherwise known as the Twilight Zone.”
In our last few articles, we have tried to explain, in different ways, why a Jew can only be considered free when he or she lives in the Land of Israel. As the Seder night approaches, we will present another important understanding which we learn from the Ramban on this week’s Torah portion, Achre Mot.
The Ramban is called the “Father of Israel” because of his greatness in Torah. His Commentary on the Torah is universally accepted and can be found in every yeshiva in the world.
Toward the end of the Torah portion, we learn that the Land of Israel vomits out certain types of sinners. The Ramban explains this unique holiness of the Land of Israel by revealing that when Hashem created the world, and distributed the different lands to different peoples, he placed Angels, or Celestial Ministers, over the gentile nations to rule over their affairs. The different characteristics of these angels result in the differing cultures and languages and customs of the peoples. The Ramban writes:
“Now outside the Land of Israel, though every place belongs to Hashem’s Glorious Name, its purity is not perfect because of the celestial servants that hold sway there, and the gentiles go astray after these celestial agents to worship them. This is the reason that Hashem is known as the G-d of gods.”
Our Sages teach us that that the celestial minister who ruled over the land of Egypt was Esav. Interestingly, Esav is the angel who rules over America as well.
Only one land has no celestial minister appointed over it – the Land of Israel, which G-d rules over alone. Therefore moral transgression (especially sexual transgression) is much more stringent in the Land of Israel than other lands, where the celestial ministers of the gentiles couldn’t care less. Only the Holy Land vomits out sinners who pollute the Land through their deeds (Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Achre Mot, 18:25).
It is Hashem’s intention that His Chosen People live in His Chosen Land, where He rules over Israel alone without any intermediary angel. The Ramban states:
“This is the meaning of the saying of the Rabbis of the Talmud: ‘Whoever lives outside the Land of Israel is as if he has no G-d’ (Ketubot 110B), for it is said, ‘I am the Eternal, your G-d, Who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your G-d’ (Devarim, 25:38). When you are in the land of Canaan, I am your G-d. When you are not in the land of Canaan, I am not your G-d (Ramban, loc cited.)
Now, of course, G-d is everywhere, but because he has appointed angels to rule over other lands, it is as if a Jew who lives in the Diaspora has no G-d. All of his prayers and Torah learning go up to the gentile angel who presides over that land, giving strength to that foreign nation. This is why wherever Jews lived in great numbers, the countries they lived in were superpowers. And this is why when the Jews left those countries, like Spain and Russia, their great empires collapsed.
This is what makes the Diaspora a “Twilight Zone.” The Jew thinks he is worshipping Hashem and keeping the Torah as it is meant to be kept, but this isn’t exactly the case. Thus, our Sages have taught that whoever lives in the Diaspora is like one who serves foreign gods (Ketubot 110B) because of the angels that rule there. Furthermore, the Rabbis of the Talmud said: “In all times a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are pagans, and not live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are Jews, for everyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has a G-d, and everyone who dwells outside of the Land is like someone who has no G-d” (Ibid).
The Ramban explains: “Hashem has set us apart from the nations over which He has appointed heavenly princes and other celestial powers by giving us the Land of Israel so He, blessed be He, will be our G-d.”
Rashi also makes this point clear. On the verse, “I am the L-rd, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be your G-d” (Vayikra, 25:38), Rashi explains the meaning of “to be your G-d,” stating: “For whoever resides in the Land of Israel, I am a G-d to him; and whoever leaves it is like one who serves idols.”
Thus, we can see in this deep Torah understanding of our Sages that a Jew is not free to serve Hashem while enveloped in the foreign pollution and static that exists in the Diaspora due to the foreign celestial ministers who Hashem has appointed to rule over the lands of the gentiles.
The Ramban goes on to explain why our Twilight Zone character, Jeremy Cohen, isn’t really performing the mitzvah of Seder Night as it is supposed to be performed when he eats his matzah in Palm Springs or on a cruise boat in the Caribbean. This is because the mitzvot are meant to be performed in the Land of Israel, and not in the Diaspora, where they are like a practice rehearsal until we return to Israel. The Ramban explains that a Jew is to keep the commandments even when Hashem banishes the Jewish People from the Land of Israel so that when we return the commandments will not be novelties to us” (Ramban, loc cited. Also, Sifre, Torah portion Ekev, 43. And, Sifre, Torah portion Re’eh, 80).
Whether you call the Diaspora the “Twilight Zone” or the “Matrix,” the idea is the same. You might think that it’s the real thing, but it isn’t. You might think it’s the right place to be, but it isn’t. You might think you are leading a full Jewish life, but you’re not. You may think you are free, but you are still in Egypt. As the “Twilight Zone” theme song goes, “Dee dee, dee dee, dee dee, dee dee, dee dee….”
Joseph Cohen may be content with eating his matzah in America, but he’s a prisoner of the Twilight Zone.