Barkos. Sisra. Tamach. These are not Jewish names. But they belonged to Jews. And very important Jews, at that. Not many have people heard of them. But they are privileged to be mentioned in the Bible (Ezra 2:53, Nechemia 7:55). In fact, their children built the Second Temple!
Our Sages say about them, “Some people may have nice names but do ugly deeds. And then there are people like these who have ugly names but do beautiful deeds” (Tanchuma, Shelach 6).
This midrash is quoted by Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal – whose yahrtzeit is on Shabbos – in his book Eim Habanim Smeicha (which has been translated into English). Rabbi Teichtal tells us that we should not care about the background of Jews building up the Holy Land – or even be disturbed greatly if they’re not frum – as long as they are currently doing a very big mitzvah. These Jews are leading the way towards the redemption, and we should we do everything we can to join them and fulfill this mitzvah, he said.
He reached this conclusion 76 years ago, two years before he was murdered by the Nazis. Writing in 1943, in the middle of the Holocaust – often in hiding – he argued that if everyone would have left the exile and come to Israel, there wouldn’t have been such terrible destruction. And he tried to convince his community – and every Jew he could still reach – to immediately move to Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Teichtal wasn’t a Zionist. In fact, until the Holocaust he was an anti-Zionist – as were many other Hungarian rabbis, under the influence of the Munkaczer Rebbe (known by his book, Minchat Elazar). The Munkaczer Rebbe opposed any changes in traditional Orthodox behavior, and that included embracing the Zionist project.
The Munkaczer Rebbe passed away two years before the Holocaust; we don’t know if he would have changed his mind about Zionism had he lived. But Rabbi Teichtel, who was a well-known rabbi (partially because of a previous sefer he authored, Mishne Sachir), did change his mind and regretted opposing the Zionist movement.
Three years after Rabbi Teichtal was murdered, the state of Israel was created. His sefer was published in several editions and is learned in many yeshivos. Many of the sources he cites in this sefer are arguably even more relevant today than they were in 1943. And the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel – which is equal to all the mitzvos in the Torah, says the Sifre – is of course much easier to fulfill today.
Of course, matters are not perfect. Most importantly, we have not yet built the Temple. It’s true that we don’t have the prophets or Shlomo Hamelech who oversaw the construction of the First Temple. But we are not worse than the Jews who built the Second Temple. As Rabbi Teichtal points out, they were influenced by the gentiles and bore gentile-like names. In fact, many of them had gentile wives. The entire culture of the Jews, in fact, was corrupt at the time.
But when they realized that coming to Israel and building the Temple was imperative, that is what they did. Later on, they learned to keep many more mitzvot – and we had the Temple for 420 years.
So now it’s time for us! Let’s follow Rabbi Teichtal’s last will. Let’s go to the land of Israel, settle it as much as we can, and do whatever we can to build the Third Temple as quickly as possible.