May 21, 2012

Who Thinks about Jerusalem During the Seventh Inning Stretch?

Many Diasporians argue: “Why should I live in Israel when I can do the mitzvot in the Diaspora just as well?”
Firstly, the mitzvah to live in Israel is a commandment of the Torah, and you can only do it if you live in Israel. An Orthodox Jew does his or her best to observe the commandments as completely as possible. It isn’t always easy to keep kosher and pray three times a day, but we do it. The same applies to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).
Secondly, the value of a mitzvah performed in Israel is greatly magnified when it is performed in the Holy Land, where the commandments are supposed to be performed, as opposed to its value when performed in an impure gentile land whose atmosphere is filled with spiritual barriers. As the classic treatise on Jewish belief, “The Kuzari,” teaches: “The Land of Israel is especially distinguished by the Lord of Israel and no performance of the commandments can be perfect except there. Many of the Torah’s laws do not concern those who do not live there, and heart and soul are only perfectly pure and clean in the place which is known to be especially selected by God” (Kuzari, 5:23).
Thirdly, many people have a distorted understanding of Judaism, believing it to be merely a list of ritual commandments like keeping kosher and putting on tefillin. They don’t realize, or haven’t learned, that the Torah is, first and foremost, the constitution of the Jewish Nation, the Nation of Israel, as we say in the blessing over the Torah, “who chose us from all of the nations.” Hashem chose us as a Nation and brought us out of Egypt to be “a Nation of Kohanim and a holy People.” We can only be a Nation in Israel. Anywhere else in the world, we are scattered individuals, or communities, but we can’t be a Jewish Nation with our own Jewish government, Jewish army, Jewish language, Jewish calendar, Jewish courts, and the like. We need our own Jewish Land for that. In addition to having to do our own private mitzvot like keeping Shabbat, our mission is to sanctify the Name of God in the world and that is done through the life of the Nation in Israel, and not as always fragile minorities in foreign lands, as the horrors of Parshat Bechukotei make clear. Thus, to sanctify the Name of God and increase His honor in the world, we have to be in Israel.
Fourthly, people shouldn’t be fooled by the temporary “haven” they have found in America. Throughout history, wherever Jews lived, sooner or later, the goyim reminded us, in a very unpleasant fashion, that we were strangers in their land. People are deluding themselves if they think it can’t happen in the United States. In a way, it already is. Intermarriage is skyrocketing, decimating America’s Jewish community with a kiss.
The Hebrew word, “aliyah,” means “an ascent.” One speaks about “going up” to Israel. Since Israel is the Holy Land, anyone who moves here from the Diaspora is considered to be on a journey of spiritual ascent. One reason is that in joining the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, he, or she, is elevating his private, individual life to the much greater life of the “Clal,” of the Jewish Nation as a whole, sharing in its most cherished aspirations and dreams.
Tragically, a misunderstanding of Judaism is taught throughout the Diaspora, which sees Diaspora Judaism as an end in itself, and not what it really is – a punishment of exile in foreign lands until we return to our own Holy Land. Instead of teaching their communities that the goal of each and every Jew should be to live a Torah life in Israel, as is explicitly expressed in our daily prayers, and repeated again and again in the Torah, Jewish leaders and educators in the Diaspora work toward strengthening Jewish life in the exile itself. Because the educational goals of the Jewish establishment in the Diaspora are misdirected, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who live there don’t know any better. In their innocence, they believe they are doing the right thing in educating their children to become successful Americans, Frenchmen, or Australians, instead of encouraging them to build their lives in the Jewish homeland as proud independent Israeli Jews. The result of this tragic policy is the growing rate of assimilation that is decimating Jewish communities around the world, except in Israel where assimilation hardly exists.
The reason for this incomplete understanding of Judaism is simple. For nearly 2000 years, Diaspora yeshiva learning concentrated on proper moral behavior, and on the private, individual commandments that we could still perform in the exile. Without a Jewish Land of our own, matters concerning the monarchy of Israel, the army of Israel, the Sanhedrin, the laws of the Beit HaMikdash, and the agricultural laws which can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael, went unlearned, subjects which comprise nearly two thirds of the Mishna. The understanding of Israel’s Redemption and how it comes about was ignored, because, in our lowly state in the exile, totally dependent upon the gentiles, Geula was beyond our ability to achieve, something reserved for the coming of Mashiach, may he come soon. “Next Year in Jerusalem” became a mantra that no one could conceivably imagine how it would come to pass – until Hashem rose Medinat Yisrael up from the ashes of the Holocaust and opened the gates of aliyah.
In his classic work, “Orot,” Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook writes that our unhealthy attachment to the Diaspora results from not learning the deeper understandings of Torah. He writes:
“We are not rejecting any form of Judaism, or contemplation, which is founded on truthfulness, on sensitivity of thought, or on the fear of Heaven, in whatever form it takes; but only rejecting the specific aspect of this perspective which seeks to negate the secrets of Torah and their great influence on the spirit of the Nation — for this is a tragedy which we are obligated to fight against with counsel and wisdom, with holiness and with valor” (Orot, 1:2).
In a similar light, this blog is not coming to reject, or condemn, any practice of Judaism which is based on a sincere fear of Heaven, nor to reject or condemn any Jew, or Jewish community, God forbid. The blogs we write come to reject only the misunderstanding of Judaism which negates the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Torah and to the vitality of Jewish life. In the words of Rabbi Kook, “…this is a tragedy which we are obligated to fight against with counsel and wisdom, with holiness and with valor.”
Because the deeper understandings of our National essence as the Nation of Israel weren’t learned in the exile, and because of the pernicious influence of the gentile cultures which surround us in the Diaspora, our true Jewish thinking and identity become polluted, making it difficult to understand these matters. Let me give a few simple examples.
On my last visit to America, 12 years ago, when I came to Florida to bring my aging parents to live in Israel, I walked into one of the shuls in Boca and noticed a flyer on the bulletin board. Over a picture of the Capitol Building in WDC, the headline read: “This Summer Visit Our Nation’s Capital with the Rabbi.” Now, of course, the eternal capital of the Jewish People is Jerusalem, not Washington. But when you grow up in a foreign place like America and don’t learn the deeper sides of the Torah, you can end up thinking that you are an American like everyone else.
Another time before that, I was in Toronto recruiting students for a yeshiva in Israel. I was cordially invited to speak in a shul, and when I arrived a little early, I noticed a copy of the local Jewish newspaper. On the cover was a photo of the Toronto skyline and the space needle, with the caption: “Looking Forward to Another Decade of Jewish Life in Toronto.” I held up the newspaper during my speech and said, “What’s going on here? Everything I learn teaches that a Jew is supposed to look forward to the next decade of Jewish life in Jerusalem. Not Toronto. I have the feeling that if the Mashiach came today he would be spoiling your plans.”
One last example of how our heads get screwed up in foreign lands. A guest from America visited us in our Sukkah this year. He said that when his El Al flight landed at Ben Gurion Airport the group of American yeshiva studnets on the flight burst into a big cheer. He thought it was over their exuberance in reaching Israel, but it turned out that they had just gotten word that their favorite baseball team had won a World Series game.
A Jew is called upon to set Jerusalem above his highest joy, but let’s face it, in the Diaspora, when Shabbos is over, it’s off to the movies, and right after Sunday bagels, it’s off to the doubleheader. Who thinks about Jerusalem in the middle of a Stallone film, or during the seventh inning stretch?
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press

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