Rabbi Moshe Kaplan

Our time is one of great upheaval. Dramatic historic events are occurring at a frantic pace. A new world order is emerging out of the collapsing Russian Empire. The severed limb of Russian Jewry is being reconnected to the Jewish Nation as the Land of Israel welcomes its people home to Zion. The exile is literally drawing to a close with every passing hour as tens of thousands of Jews arrive at Ben Gurion airport to take up new residence in the land of their fathers. The process of transforming the Jewish people from a group of individuals scattered among the nations to a nation reborn on its own soil advances dramatically with each successive wave of aliyah. This transformation demands that we broaden our Torah concepts to encompass the reality of our restored existence as a sovereign nation.

Since our generation is experiencing a resurgence of Teshuva in this era of national revival it is essential to elaborate on the concept of Teshuva and its relationship to the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael. A Teshuva that relates only to T’fillin, Kashrut and Shabbat is incomplete because the Teshuva of each individual Jew is actually only a part of a much greater historical process of Teshuva.

Judaism was meant to be not only a religion for individuals, but as the great Rabbi, the ‘Ohr Samayach,’ reminds us in his commentary to the Torah, “G-d does not rest His Name on the individual.” He states that “the Torah was given to the nation as a whole” and “can only be kept in its entirety by the whole nation.”

By his connection to the klal (the national entity), the individual takes on an infinitely greater importance and significance. He is then linked to the blessing and Divine connection of the klal, and even his individual life and actions are imbued with the infinite significance of the klal of which he is part. The converse is also true, that when a person separates himself from the nation he severs his link to eternity—“He who separates himself from the ‘Tzibur’ (the community), even though he has no sins... has no part in the world to come” (Rambam).

The Divine Ideal of the nation transcends the individual and is expressed through him. Therefore, keeping the Torah is not a private affair between the individual and G-d, but rather stems from his being a part of the national whole. This is why before the performance of Mitzvot we say that we do so “in the name of all of Israel.” Our prayers are in the plural form, praying for the good of the nation, as the Vilna Gaon clearly writes that “it is forbidden to pray for one’s private needs, rather for the perfection of Am Yisrael.” At the beginning of many Siddurim the words of the Ari HaKadosh are cited, that before every prayer one should accept upon himself the Commandment of “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” to love all of Israel, and thus connect oneself to the klal.

The oneness of Israel is the foundation upon which all Torah, Mitzvot, and ‘yirat shamayim’ (fear of heaven) are built. Only when this unity was attained were we able to receive the Torah. This is so because the Torah is the Divine content and ideal of an entire nation that ultimately revitalizes all human culture, restores harmony to the world, and brings to fulfillment all of creation.

G A L U T   N E G A T E S   T H E   J E W I S H   I D E A L

For 2000 years in Galut, the Jewish people had been unable to fulfill its national mission, since Galut by its very nature is the destruction of our national framework—void of Jewish government and army, prophecy, Temple and Sanhedrin. These tools of national expression are unattainable outside the Land of Israel and as a result, the Name of G-d expressed through them is lacking. This provides a deeper explanation for why the Galut is called a “Chillul Hashem,” a desecration of G-d’s Name (Yehezkel chap. 36), for the Divine ideals cannot be fully expressed outside our land.

An independent Jewish government in Israel, Malchut Yisrael, therefore, is not simply a system to facilitate the improvement of the private lives of its citizens, but the vehicle that receives and expresses the Divine ideal in this world. In Parshat Yitro, G-d revealed to the Jewish people their national role, to be a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation,” even before He revealed to them the Ten Commandments. Our national mission, when fulfilled, demonstrates to mankind that the expression of spiritual ideals in our lives is not limited to the individual but also encompasses the most complex aspects of human existence, that of national life and international relations. This is diametrically opposed to the Christian belief in the inability to sanctify this world, thereby resulting in a separation of Church and State, and in which holiness is limited to the purely spiritual realm. The Christian ideal is realized therefore by living in a monastery far removed from life. In contrast, the Torah ideal of living as a holy nation necessitates the sanctification of every element of individual and national life including that of a government, an army, industry, agriculture, etc. This ideal manifests the oneness of G-d that encompasses both heaven ֹand earth, the spiritual and the physical realms. This ideal is not mere philosophical speculation, but rather constitutes the very essence of our national reality. In fact, our ability to realize this goal is rooted in the Divinely created structure of the Jewish nation. “This nation have I created for Me, they shall say My praise” (Yishayahu 43:21). “In Am Yisrael, the Divine quality rests in the inner nature of the soul of the nation” (Rav Kook). Like the nature of all things in reality, this innate holiness is not a product of our free will, nor is it affected by our awareness or belief in it. The role of our free will, indeed our obligation, is to recognize and reveal the inner holiness by setting up our lives, both personal and national, in accordance with this inner essence—the Torah.

The Galut denies us the possibility of ascending to our true grandeur and glory, preventing us from serving as a source of blessing and influence to the world—from being “the Heart of the Nations” (Kuzari). For the G-d fearing, the fact that Jews are in Galut is of central concern, ‘for the honor of G-d in the world depends on the redemption of Israel and the enhancement of their honor’ (Path of the Just chap. 19). Galut is not just a situation in which Torah remains intact, lacking “only” a government and a Temple, rather as the Torah itself tells us, “From the time Israel was exiled from their land there is no greater negation of Torah than this” (Chagiga 5b). For if Torah is the expression of Divine ideals in all areas of life, Galut limits the scope of the Torah’s influence to the private domain of the individual, the national life no longer existing. As our Rabbis tell us, “Since the Temple was destroyed G-d has only the four cubits of Halacha [the Halachic individual domain]” (Brachot 8a). The task of the Torah Jew becomes first and foremost to sanctify his own personal life and to fortify himself from the influences of the outside world which threaten him.

However, even this personal obligatory observance of Mitzvot in Galut is a mere reminder of the full significance of their performance in Eretz Yisrael. “Even though I am exiling you from the Land [of Israel], distinguish yourself by [performing] Mitzvot so they will not be new to you when you return” (Sifrei Dvarim 11). Maintaining our existence even in Galut against all odds, a drama unparalleled in history, is no mean feat, but is truly the great miracle of the eternity of Am Yisrael and Torah. However, this pale image of Galut Judaism is likened to a graveyard by our Prophets and Rabbis (Yehezkel 37:12, Vilna Gaon on Safra DeTzniuta).

But after living so long without our national institutions we began to believe that there is nothing more to the Torah than guidance for the individual. This abnormal existence became second nature. So much have we forgotten the full and healthy image of Am Yisrael that when statehood finally returns a religious Member of Knesset could actually say in the Knesset that we have no need for it. “Am Yisrael was born without land,” he stated, “...[For almost two thousand years] before 1947 there was no State; when Torah was given at Sinai there was no State.” Maybe for him land and state are superfluous, however the Torah and our Sages seem to adamantly disagree.

The inner desire to return to Zion always existed, but after two millennia without Eretz Yisrael as a part of our daily lives, this most basic ideal became a dream-like hope for the future. As the contrast between the ghetto reality and the hope of restoring the Davidic Dynasty grew, so did the expectations of a miraculous Redemption, for it seemed that it could come in no other way. In the last centuries of Galut we were so detached from the period of Jewish sovereignty, that the concepts of Redemption became transformed into surreal, almost mystical concepts. The thought of our active participation in bringing it about was replaced by the simple faith that G-d would bring the Redemption when He so desires, without our political involvement, physical labor and self-sacrifice in the effort to regain sovereignty over our land.

R E D E M P T I O N   U N F O L D S   I N   S T A G E S

When the time came to return our people to full national life in our land, G-d fortified us with an added energy, much like the “extra soul” of Shabbat. The Vilna Gaon repeatedly emphasized that the Redemption process begins with this Divinely inspired awakening of our national spirit (Kol Hator). This awakening expresses itself historically as both a renaissance of the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel. Individual Jews regain the desire to live again as a nation in their land as the desolate land offers its fruit to welcome the returning nation. For those who had opted to carry the banner of Emancipation and Assimilation, this desire to return to Am Yisrael was truly a momentous step of Teshuva-returning to the fold. And as the ‘Ohr Samayach’ writes, “After he returns to his nation certainly he shall return to his G-d.”

Those filled with that simple faith maintained their belief that action on our part was unnecessary or prohibited. However, when the Redemption comes “in its time,” “Not for your sake... but for My Holy Name’s sake” (Yehezkel 36), even when we are unworthy, it unfolds “little by little” (Yerushalmi, Brachot 1:1), that is, in stages, in a natural developmental process that requires our efforts to bring it about.

The first stage is National Teshuva. How indeed does a nation do Teshuva? Since Teshuva is the return to the ideal state, what was originally meant to be, the very restoration of our national existence is Teshuva. As Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai clearly states in many of his works, “...our returning to Eretz Yisrael is in itself Teshuva.” The return to G-d and His Torah not only follows this return to Eretz Yisrael chronologically, but it is also caused directly by it. The return to the Land also constitutes a sanctification of G-d's Name as we read in Yehezkel (chap. 36) “...and I will sanctify My Great Name... I shall be sanctified through you before their [the nations'] eyes, for I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the lands and will bring you into your land.”

Z I O N I S M   A N D   T H E   S T A T E   O F   I S R A E L

Zionism, the movement to restore the Jewish people to their land and to re-establish their national life, is not a threat to traditional Judaism, as some fear, but is the fulfillment of the very goals of traditional Judaism and a stage in the process of Teshuva. This return is to our natural state on the national level. Indeed, this Teshuva is not complete, and there are stages yet to be attained of return to the natural individual holiness expressed through keeping Torah and Mitzvot. But since the Rabbis taught us that the Redemption comes in stages, even if not all is holy at once, one cannot conclude that it has not begun.

The Redemption is Teshuva—the return to our inner nature, and the stages of it are the process of that nature coming more and more to expression—like a magnet pulling us ever closer to the full ideal.

The secular reborn state is like a child that will ultimately grow up to be a great scholar, but presently cannot even read or write. Unaware of his future role he sometimes uses his developing energies in undesirable directions or even destructively. However, instead of wishing to return to the period before our “troublemaker” was born, we thank G-d for giving us this long awaited baby. Despite its wrongdoings, we make every effort to educate and redirect all of its G-d given powers toward the proper goals.

J U D A I S M   A N D   Z I O N I S M   —   D I A M E T R I C A L L Y   O P P O S E D ?

Zionism, the modern dress of our ancient yearnings to return to Eretz Yisrael and national vitality, takes the form of natural political efforts, based on human initiative. Unlike the politically inactive “believers,” those who had thrown off the “Yoke of Heaven” felt that they must build the nation themselves, for they did not believe in a G-d that would do it for them. The “secular” Zionists, therefore, came to dominate the national rebirth, the ingathering of the exiles, and the building of the land. The Torah world, feeling threatened, shied away from such involvement and redoubled its opposition. This attitude contributed to the secular view that saw the Torah as an obstacle to be overcome in the process of building the land. Holiness, as they saw it, represented weakness and fear in contrast to the strength and courage they sought, unaware that it is the source of all strength.

The two elements of full Jewish life, “Nationalism” and “Religion,” were perceived as separate and irreconcilable. The secular Zionists attempted to sever nationalism from any religious content, believing that the doctrine of “separation of Church and State” applies to the Jewish people as well. The religious community, on the other hand, chose religion without national aspirations, thereby acquiescing to the secular misconception that a separation of the national ideal from the religious ideal was possible. Unfortunately, when each camp sees itself as possessing the whole truth, the two become mutually exclusive, even contradictory.

In reality, however, “The national, practical inclination is the external dress [manifestation] of the spiritual, and the latter is the light and soul of the former.” Therefore the two are not contradictory but complementary elements that together build the whole living organism of the Jewish people in its idyllic form. This is not an attempt to accommodate two different concepts. Rather, what has been misconceived as two opposing concepts is really one Divine ideal that transcends the individual components of nationalism and religion, and infuses new life and meaning into each.

However distant the stated goals of the secular Zionists may be from holiness, it is not in their hands to remove G-d from Am Yisrael’s national aspirations. “This national reawakening is far greater and purer than all the explanations and reasons we try to give for it... Neither feats of human logic nor the spirit of transient flesh have produced this great vision of our rebirth. It is the word of G-d and the flow of His Divine radiance which is being revealed in our destiny, in matters both great and small” (Rav Kook, Chazon HaGeula). Any lack of recognition (by the secular or the religious!) that this Divine inner source is behind all the amazing events of our era does not change this fact. The spirit of G-d is there—whether or not one believes it or wants it. When one builds Eretz Yisrael, one is building the ֹHֹoֹlֹy Land despite all cries to the contrary.

O U R   C H A L L E N G E

Therefore, the goal of Torah leadership is not to destroy or to wage “a fight to the end” against the national framework built by the secular, but to work to expose the holiness that is inherently there and to reveal to the builders the true, Divine significance of their actions.

Since national Teshuva forms the basis for individual Teshuva and is completed and complemented by it, it is absurd to think that individual Teshuva could negate or at best ignore national Teshuva. The redemption process calls upon both elements, the national and the religious, to return to their full glory.

In conclusion, we must not judge the religious significance of the State of Israel only by what is presently revealed, for the Rabbis have taught us that the generation of the Mashiach is “bad on the outside and good on the inside.” We must develop the eyes of Emunah to see that inner good and to guide it to its full expression. We must learn to see the whole goal that is unfolding before our eyes and thus view the present as a stage in an ongoing process towards complete Teshuva-Redemption.

“Now is undoubtedly the ‘advent of the Mashiach’” said the Chafetz Chaim, and “the advent of the Mashiach,. which is the revelation of the Divine Presence in the world, the time when ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,’ will require a measure of understanding on the part of the individual before he will be capable of appreciating it. One who does not analyze the matter of the Redemption will obviously not feel anything [when it arrives].” Only by fulfilling our “obligation of studying the Redemption process in great depth” (Vilna Gaon) and of enhancing our Emunah by the learning of Torah in its fullness will we be able to comprehend fully the Teshuva of our generation and lead it to completion.

May we indeed see the completion of the Redemption, speedily in our days, Amen.

<<< Back To Index