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Home » Israel, Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo: Onward to Israel

Submitted by on August 25, 2018 – 9:53 pmNo Comment | 61 views

Israel is our homeland. It is a holy and G-dly land on which G-d keeps a very careful eye. Our sages taught that the very air one breathes in Israel makes one wise to the ways of Torah. Our sages used to bend to kiss the stones of Israel when they disembarked in the holy land. Our prayers travel from all over the world and ascend to Heaven from Israel. When a Jew performs a Mitzvah in Israel, the bond it forges with G-d is more complete than it is elsewhere. Rabbi Yehudah Halevi once explained that just as certain vines flourish in certain climates, so does the spirit of a Jew flourish in Israel

If that is the case, why don’t we all live in Israel?

The Exile

Before we rush en masse to Israel, we should reflect on why G-d exiled our people from Israel. The obvious reason is that it was our ancestors’ punishment for their sins. If that were the only reason, it would follow that when G-d saw fit to return Israel to the Jews, Jews were meant to return to Israel. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Jews did just that over the last seventy years, but not all. Why not?

Our sages taught that G-d had another reason to exile us from Israel. Although it was a punishment for our sins, had we not sinned, G-d would have found another excuse to exile us because He wanted to add proselytes to our midst.[1]

Our purpose outside of Israel is to be a light unto the nations, to bring the teachings of Torah to the world at large. Indeed, this has been a highly successful endeavor. Since our exile from Israel, we exported monotheism to a formerly pagan world. Today billions of Christians and Muslims, the world over, embrace monotheism in one way or another.

True it is not a perfectly Jewish monotheism, but it is much less pagan than it used to be. There is much work still to be done. There are many pagan religions and peoples around the world. In addition, Islam and Christianity don’t subscribe to the monotheism of Abraham, Moses, and David. But it is an ongoing process that will culminate with the redemption. Our prophets foretold that in the time of redemption, all nations will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jews to worship the one G-d.

Judaism is not a proselyting faith. We don’t believe that all people must be Jewish. But we do believe that all people must embrace monotheism and discard paganism. This is our purpose. It, therefore, behooves us to say, especially during the week that we study and chant the Torah portion that describes our entry into the holy land, that if not for our responsibility to teach Torah to the far-flung regions of the world, we the Jewish people, would rush to live in Israel.

Indeed, those who live in the diaspora because it is more comfortable here, or safer here, or more luxurious here, should pack their bags and move to the holy land.

Where We Are

Yet, there is an important question to answer. Why can’t we move to Israel and teach Torah from there? Today, with the internet and social media, one can reach the entire world from any corner of the world. Indeed, many great Torah luminaries live in Israel and teach Torah to people across the world through modern technology. Why can’t we all do the same?

I once heard a parenting seminar during which the presenter said that you can’t parent long-distance. If children act up in the den, you need to go to the den and calm them down. It doesn’t help to shout instructions from the kitchen.

Teaching Torah is the same. To teach values, you need to speak the language of the person you are teaching. You can’t sit on the top of a mountain and shout down to those in the foothills. You won’t make the human connection that is necessary for the transmission of a value. Values are not taught intellectually. Values are taught when the intellectual information percolates in the heart until it takes root.  If we want our students to adopt our values and make them their own, we need to relate to them and talk to them in their language, at their level, and in their culture.

If you want to lift someone up, you must first bend down. You need to look them in the eye and relate to them as they are. If you want them to understand you, you need to understand them. That is the only way we can teach.

The Gap

Israel is such a rarified and holy place that when a Jew lives Jewishly in Israel, the Jew ascends to spiritual heights. The mindset, culture and spiritual climate of the observant Jew in Israel, is greater than anything available in the diaspora. This creates a dissonance between a Jew in Israel and a Jew in the diaspora. We can have a conversation. We can relate to each other for a while, but then we reach a parting point where the Jew in Israel sails through a door that remains locked to the Jew in the diaspora.

There is a certain level of faith and acceptance in Israel that is not possible elsewhere. David Ben Gurion is reputed to have said that to be a realist in Israel one must believe in miracles. If this is true for those who are not yet observant, imagine how true it is for one who lives a life filled with Torah. There is a gap between The Israel Jew and the diaspora Jew. Even if the Jew in Israel reaches down, and the Jew in the diaspora reaches up, their outstretched arms will not a connection make.

They will relate, they will connect, but it will be limited. At some point, the gap will become noticeable. One will move forward, the other will fall behind. This is not conducive to teaching and connecting. This is why some Jews must stay behind in the diaspora, even as others make their move.

It is important that we have the pure voice of the Jew in Israel broadcasting to the world at large. We need exposure to the unfiltered, unadulterated, and unvarnished, truth as it is perceived in the holy land. Then we need the Jew in the diaspora to take that truth and make it relatable to the rest of the world, Jew and non-Jew alike.

So, if you don’t live in Israel, ask yourself why that is. If you don’t have a good enough answer, then make a momentous decision at the turn of the new year. Consider taking the bull by the horns and finally making Aliyah.[2]

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Ksubos, 110b.

[2] This essay is based on Likutei Shoshanah, a teaching from Rabbe Elimelech of Lizensk. This essay does not address another vital need for a vibrant diaspora Jewish community, which is that Jews in Israel require support from the international community. Such support is made possible by viable Jewish communities around the world. Thus, one who plays a role on this level also has good reason to remain in the diaspora.

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