Eretz Yisrael and the Secrets of Torah
by Tzvi Fishman
If it is so obvious from a simple, straightforward reading the Torah that G-d wants the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel, why are so many Jews still living in foreign lands? Rabbi Chaim Vital, the foremost student of the Arizal, writes in his preface to “Etz HaChaim,” that the prolongation of the exile and its tribulations stem from the sorrowful fact that the secrets of Torah have been neglected from our learning. In a similar light, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook writes that due to an alienation from the secrets of Torah, the supreme importance of a Jew’s connection to Eretz Yisrael is not properly understood. In his classic treatise, “Orot,” he bases his deep insights into the renaissance of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael on the esoteric teachings of the Arizal and the holy Zohar, dressing up concepts of Kabbalah in the language of Israel’s gradually developing nationhood and rebirth. He writes:
“By alienating oneself from the secrets of G-d, the highest segulot (treasures) of the deep Divine life become extraneous, secondary matters which do not enter the depths of the soul, and as a result, the most potent force of the individual’s and of the nation’s soul will be missing; and the exile is found to be pleasant in its own accord. For to someone who only understands the superficial level, nothing basic will be lacking in the absence of the Land of Israel, the Jewish Kingdom, and all of the facets of the nation in its built form.”
What is Rabbi Kook saying in this difficult sentence?
He is saying that someone who understands only the superficial level of Judaism will feel nothing lacking if he lives far away from the Land of Israel, in a foreign country, in a Gentile land, under a non-Jewish government. A person like this lives a truncated Judaism that focuses on the individual and private mitzvot that he or she can do. Without a deeper understand of the Torah, which is the national constitution of the Nation of Israel as a whole, he will not feel the need for a Jewish Land, nor for a Jewish country with a Jewish army, nor for any of the other foundations of national Israeli life. His focus is on Shabbat, Kashrut, and Tefillin. He thinks that in order to perform them, he does not need Eretz Yisrael. He is satisfied with the individual obligations which he feels he can perform just as well in Chutz L’Aretz, and thus the exile finds favor in his eyes. Being estranged from the national component of Torah, but he does not miss having his own Jewish Homeland. The opposite is true – he enjoys the Galut. He enjoys his work, his community, the education he can give to his children, and the opportunity he has to experience the best of both worlds – his Judaism and the Gentile world around him. If there is an inner need to live in Israel, or to live there because it is the true place of the Torah’s performance, he does not feel it. Therefore, Rabbi Kook explain, something will be missing in his yearning for Salvation, for the Temple, the Sanhedrin, for prophecy, for Jewish Kingship, and for all of the aspects of the Jewish nation in its rebuilt form. To his way of thinking, the concept of nationhood has nothing to do with Judaism, or with being “Frum.” He fails to understand that the highest worship and sanctification of G-d comes through the life of the nation of Israel in Israel, and not through the deeds of the individual Jew.
One of the great contributions of the Arizal was revealing the relationship between transgression and rectification, known as tikun. For instance, the sin of the Spies in the wilderness fell on the night of Tisha B’Av. Our Sages tell us that their lack of faith in G-d, expressed in their refusing to journey on to Israel, and their rejection of the supreme importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and Torah, planted the seeds for the future national destruction and exile. Because their sin was in despising the cherished Land, the rectification is to love the Land and to make every possible effort to live there.
The Arizal taught that just by eating the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, a person’s fear and reverence for G-d is increased.
In a similar light, the great Torah master, the Chatam Sofer, taught that just saying the words “Eretz Yisrael” increases a person’s kedusha.
The Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who based much of his teachings on the secrets which the Arizal revealed, taught his students that the holiness of Eretz Yisrael is the epitome of holiness, encompassing all other levels of holiness, and that genuine enlightenment and Torah wisdom come only in the Land of Israel. Repeatedly, he stated that only through the special spiritual treasures of Eretz Yisrael can a Jew rise up to the highest levels in the service of G-d. In addition, he said, that true faith and prayer are only possible in Eretz Yisrael, for it is there that prayer ascends to the worlds above (Likutei Etzot, Eretz Yisrael).
In addition to deepening our Torah learning, how can a person increase his love and yearning for the Land of Israel? Rabbi Nachman says: “Pray to G-d to give you desire and yearning for the Land of Israel. Then you will succeed in reaching there.”
True, making Aliyah is a very difficult mitzvah. In addition to the great joy and spiritual elevation that it brings, it is filled with challenges and hardships. The Talmud teaches that it is impossible to come to the Land of Israel without difficulties and suffering. Rabbi Nachman explains that “the root of all the difficulties and suffering lies in the slanderous image of the Land which is put about by the wicked. They are the source of all of the obstacles. But the power of the inner Torah, which we draw into ourselves through study, enables us to overcome all the obstacles, difficulties, and suffering. The more profound a person’s grasp of the Torah, in all of its facets, both the revealed and the secret, the greater his victory will be over the obstacles, and he will succeed in reaching the Land of Israel.”
May we all be so worthy soon.