(by Yehuda HaKohen)
"The survivors among you – I will bring weakness into their hearts in the land of their foes; the sound of a rustling leaf will pursue them, they will flee as one flees the sword, and they will fall, but without a pursuer. They will stumble over one another in flight from the sword, but there is no pursuer; you will not have the power to withstand your foes." (VAYIKRA 26:36-37)
It is in this curse that HaShem reveals the disgrace of Israel's exile. And indeed, history can attest to the truth of these statements. Outside of our homeland, the Nation of Israel was reduced to vulnerable migrants wandering through history. Unable to defend ourselves in the exile, the Jewish people gained a reputation for cowardice and victimization. We were treated as vermin, easily exterminated without even a fight. Israel's survival became largely dependent upon the approval of our neighbors and the Jews became conditioned to accept our lowliness as an uncontested reality.
Israel's downtrodden state in the exile distorted our concepts of holiness and stripped us of our former valor and strength. The Jewish Nation's self-image was severely damaged by the cruelty of host nations to the extent that we began to view ourselves as naturally incapable of defense. Many Jews even began to see courage and heroism as concepts foreign to Torah, as if Israel were designed to be physically inferior to other peoples. This mentality of learned helplessness grew in Jewish hearts to the point where many were fearful at even the slightest tension with gentiles. Due to the tremendous suffering Israel experienced at foreign hands, the once proud Hebrew Nation developed a low soul – a slave mentality that made us fearful of even the sound of a rustling leaf. The great valor that characterized Israeli fighters in ancient times was forgotten as we wandered the Earth as a ghost through history – a broken people perpetually searching for safe refuge.
But just as the Jewish people were devoid of our former honor in the exile, the Land of Israel was also stripped of her illustrious beauty. She became barren without her soul-mate to rule over and nurture her soil. Her great splendor had departed and she was reduced to a wasteland.
"I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate. And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you; your land will remain desolate and your cities will be in ruin." (VAYIKRA 26:32-33)
The Ramban explains that the verse "your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate" is a partial blessing which guarantees through all generations that the Land of Israel will not receive any foreign nation in place of her rightful indigenous people. He points out that in the entire world, there are no other lands which were once good and bountiful but are now (in the time of the Ramban) as desolate as Eretz Yisrael.
A century before Hebrew sovereignty was returned to Eretz Yisrael, American author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) visited the country and described it in The Innocents Abroad Or The New Pilgrim's Progress as a "desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse...A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action...We never saw a human being on the whole route...There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."
While the Hebrew Nation wandered through a dark and bitter exile, the Land of Israel lay in barren devastation. Many foreigners tried desperately to cultivate her once rich soil. But the land was unwilling to provide for illegitimate rulers, steadfastly remaining faithful to the Jewish people. Only with Israel's return did the country once again resume productive life. In an astonishingly short time, the once desert country became a major world exporter of flowers and fruits (even the Sinai Peninsula, when under Hebrew control, became a tropical paradise that regrettably withered once abandoned to Egypt).
The reunification of the Nation of Israel with the Land of Israel miraculously infused new life and strength into both. Only three years after the decimation of six million, Jewish remnants on our native soil stunned the world with unmatched courage and military prowess. The valiant Hebrew Nation was reborn and the Land of Israel once again bore fruits. Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are inseparably connected in a bond so tight that they even share the same name. Our deep spiritual connection to our country – like the connection of the soul to the body – transcends all rational human understandings. Our soil is an intrinsic part of us and a deep inner basis for our function in the world as neither we nor it can attain full expression devoid of the other. Without the Jewish Nation in it, the land is doomed to desolation (as was the case for nearly two thousand years). Similarly, the Jews outside our borders are not the essential Hebrew Nation but a deformed shadow of our true inner potential. In our proper location, Israel is a healthy national entity that brings the blessing of G-D to
all of mankind. In the exile, the Jewish people are likened to bodies lacking spirit – a wandering people miraculously able to hold on to
our individual "Judaism" without any tangible concept of nationhood. The Maharal of Prague teaches in Netzach Yisrael that like the orbits of the planets in space and the importance of air on Earth, Hebrew sovereignty over the Land of Israel is a Divine necessity of Creation. When Israel is living in and sovereign over our borders, the entire world becomes healthy. The heart of humanity is in place and able to channel Divine life and blessing to all existence. In truth, it is in opposition to the laws of nature inherent in Creation for Israel to be separated from our ancestral homeland. Like a ball thrown up in the air that must come down, Am Yisrael must return to our borders. Nature corrects itself as we return home. The Hebrew Nation stands proud as the soil flourishes to welcome her true love. The Torah now aspires, for the first time in nearly two thousand years, to be lived on a national level that infuses holiness into every sphere of life. As nature corrects itself and history moves forward, our national rebirth continues toward the complete Redemption of all humankind.