Photo Credit: Abir Sultan / Flash 90
Soldiers of the Neztah Yehuda Battalion complete the final stages of a 40-kilometer journey, Feb. 2010.

The essence of Ahavat Yisrael is the willingness to take responsibility for Israel’s future. It is being prepared to sacrifice everything for the defense of the Jewish people and liberation of the homeland.

“Then it shall be that the place where HaShem, your G-D, will choose to rest His name – there shall you bring everything that I command you: your olah offerings and your (peace offering) sacrifices, your tithes and what is raised of your hand, and the choicest of your vow offerings that you will vow to HaShem.” (D’varim 12:11)


Rashi explains this verse to mean that a person should bring korbanot to HaShem only from the best of what is in his possession.

Rabbi Moshe Ḥaim Lutzatto elaborates on this point in Mesillat Yesharim (chapter 19) by bringing the example of Kayin and Hevel. He explains that “Hevel offered of the first-born of his sheep and of their fats, and Kayin offered of the worst of the fruits of the earth, as we are told by our Sages of blessed memory (B’reishit Rabbah 22:5). What was the outcome? ‘And HaShem gave heed to Hevel and his gift, but to Kayin and his gift He gave no heed.’ (B’reishit 4:4-5) And ‘Cursed is the deceiver who has in his flock a male, but pledges and sacrifices an abomination to G-D… for I am a great King.’ (Malakhi 1:14)”

With the higher consciousness that often stems from the life of a herdsman, Hevel understood himself and everything he owned to have originated from HaShem. By offering the best of what he had to give, Hevel declared that he personally possessed nothing, as all actually belongs to the Kadosh Barukh Hu.

Kayin, by contrast, was only prepared to offer his leftovers, indicating that he had no obligations to anyone and only gave to HaShem as an act of generosity. Therefore his name Kayin – from kaniti (I have acquired) – implied that everything he owned belonged solely to him. It was in this manner that Kayin essentially related to the Creator as a beggar.

The above distinction between Kayin and Hevel also illustrates the major difference between the mentality of redemption and that of the exile.

In Israel today, Jews from diverse backgrounds are prepared to leave their families and all they possess in order to take responsibility for the future of the Jewish people. They go up for military service with the clear awareness that they might never return and are prepared to give all of themselves for their people because there is an understanding – although not always conscious – that Israel is one and that every Hebrew is responsible for the security and wellbeing of every other. This willingness to take responsibility for the nation’s future is the clearest and most sincere expression of Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel).

The exile mentality, by contrast, is not one that focuses on giving everything to HaShem but rather on only offering one’s leftovers as an expression of generosity. These crumbs could be charitable contributions to worthwhile causes, attendance at pro-Israel demonstrations, lobbying foreign governments on Israel’s behalf or even travel to Israel on solidarity missions. While all of these actions could potentially be both significant and beneficial to the Jewish people, they are too often performed out of kindness rather than from a genuine sense of national obligation. The fundamental difference between Kayin and Hevel is essentially expressed today through the distinction between those who contribute their extras to the national struggle from afar and those who offer themselves and/or their sons to that struggle.

The essence of Ahavat Yisrael is the willingness to take responsibility for Israel’s future. It is being prepared to give everything – even one’s life – without fear. Fear originates from the exilic misperception of our selves as individuals detached from the greater collective. Such an egoistic perspective breeds irresponsibility, as is characterized by Kayin’s dubious question of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – a statement that often leads a person to shirk his obligations to the collective.

The Shabbat minḥa tefillah describes Israel as “one nation in the land.”

The Jewish people must return to our collective inner self and to the land of our life’s blood. Only on our native soil can we unite in rebuilding Hebrew civilization and give everything we have to the rebirth of our people.

In order to advance the redemption process forward, each Jew must begin to assume responsibility by looking deep into his soul and questioning what he really should be giving. Only then can Israel succeed at our mission of bringing mankind to know HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end.

[Published in Vision Magazine]


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Rav Yehuda HaKohen is an organizer and educator living in northern Judea. As a leader in the Vision movement, he works to empower students and young professionals to become active participants in the current chapter of Jewish history.