Revelation at Muscle Beach – Tzvi Fishman

Rabbi Kook emphasized that dwelling in the Land of Israel is not some bonus mitzvah – it is the foundation of all of the Torah!

“Rise and take up thy journey!”

by Tzvi Fishman

At the beginning of my return to Judaism in Los Angeles when I started to attend Shabbat morning prayers, I was astounded to discover during the Torah portions in the Book of Devarim that Hashem wanted the Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael. Back in those early days of my spiritual journey, I was living in Santa Monica. The shul was located on the Venice Beach boardwalk directly across from the muscle builders in the Muscle Beach cage where Arnold Schwarzenegger used to work-out in front of the bikini-clad ladies who strutted by outside the Orthodox shul enjoying the stares they attracted and the Pacific Ocean breeze. Inside the shul, gazing around at the religious worshippers, I wondered what they were doing in Los Angeles when the simple straightforward reading of the Torah’s verses made it clear that a Jew was supposed to live in the Land of Israel. In those days I didn’t know Hebrew so I followed the Torah reading with an English translation. I thought to myself, “Maybe these congregants also don’t understand Hebrew and maybe they don’t follow the reading with an English translation like I did.” I was very perplexed. After all, verse after verse said that the Children of Israel should live in the Land of Israel. For example:

“Behold, I have set the LAND before you; go in and POSSESS THE LAND which the L-rd swore to your forefathers Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov to give to them and to their seed after them” (Devarim, 1:8).

“Behold, the L-rd thy G-d has set the LAND before thee;  go up and possess it” (Devarim 1:21).

“Yet you would not go up , but rebelled against the commandment of the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 1:26).

“Yet in this thing you did not believe the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 1:33).

“Surely not one of these men of this evil generation  shall see THE GOOD LAND which I swore to give your fathers” (Devarim 1:35).

“Now therefore hearken, O Israel, to the statutes and to the laws which I teach you to do, that you may live and go in to POSSESS THE LAND….” (Devarim, 4:1).

“I have taught you statutes and laws that you should act accordingly IN THE LAND whither you go to possess,” (Idid, 4:5).

“And the L-rd commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and laws that you may do them IN THE LAND into which you go over to possess,” (Ibid, 4:14).

“But you shall go over and possess the GOOD LAND,” (Ibid, 4:22).

“Thou shall therefore keep His statutes… that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, that you may prolong thy days ON THE LAND which the L-rd your G-d gives thee” (Ibid, 4:40).

“I will speak to thee all the commandments… which thou shall teach them that they may do them IN THE LAND which I gave them to possess” (Ibid, 5:28).

“That you may prolong your days IN THE LAND which you shall possess,” (Ibid, 5:30).

“Now this is the commandment… that you may do them IN THE LAND which you go in to possess,” (Ibid, 6:1).

“That you may increase mightily IN THE LAND that flows with milk and honey,” (Ibid, 6:3).

“And thou shall do what is good and right in the sight of the L-rd, that it may be well with thee, and you will go in and possess THE GOOD LAND,” (Ibid, 6:18).

“He brought us out of Egypt that He might bring us in, to give us THE LAND which He swore to our fathers,” (Ibid, 6:22).

Like I said, I was confused. One Shabbat after the Kiddush I summoned up enough nerve to asked the bearded Rabbi.

“That was then, this is now,” he replied.

“But I thought that the Torah was eternal,” I responded.

“Yes, the Torah is eternal, but in this matter, things are different.”

Turning away, he didn’t explain further. His answer left me confused. Only when I started learning Torah at Yeshivat Machon Meir in Jerusalem did I come to understand that Torah and Eretz Yisrael go together like a husband and wife.

This Shabbat, we begin rereading the Book of Devarim, or Deuteronomy, as it is called in the Diaspora, to give it a non-Jewish sounding name. With the newly-born Nation gathered before him, the Rabbi of all Rabbis, Moshe Rabainu, begins to explain the true meaning of the Torah, as it says:

“Moshe began to explain this Torah….” (Devarim, 1:6).

And what does he tell them? He doesn’t teach them about the mitzvah of Shabbat or Kashrut or Tefillin. The first commandment he tells the the Israelite Nation is to make Aliyah and dwell in the Land of Israel!

“You have dwelt long enough in this mountain – turn and take up your journey….” (Ibid).

The Jewish Nation is not supposed to live in the Diaspora. G-d wants the Jews to live in the Land of Israel, as Moshe proclaims:

“Behold I have set the Land before you; go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your fathers, to Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, to give to them and to their offspring after them” (Devarim, 1:8).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook could would emphasize to students that this is spoken to them in the language of a command. Living in the Land of Israel is a commandment of the Torah, in all generations, as the Ramban makes clear (Ramban on the Torah, BaMidbar, 33:53; and Ramban, Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4 ). Furthermore, the authorities of halachah, the Rishonim (early authorities) and Achronim (later authorities), agree with him (See “Pitchei Tshuva,” Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, Section 75, sub-section 6).

Thus Rabbi Kook emphasized that dwelling in the Land of Israel is not some bonus mitzvah – it is the foundation of all of the Torah!



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