“To your Descendants have I given this Land”

“And I implored HaShem at that time, saying, ‘My L-rd, HaShem, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for what power is there in the heaven or on the earth that can perform according to Your mighty acts? Let me now cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.’ But HaShem became angry with me because of you, and he did not listen to me; HaShem said to me, ‘It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter. Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward, and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross the Jordan. But you shall command Yehoshua, and strengthen him and give him resolve, for he shall cross before this people and he shall cause them to inherit the land that you will see.’” (DEVARIM 3:25-28)

The numerical value of the word VA’ET’ḤANAN (and I implored) is five hundred and fifteen. The Midrash Rabbah teaches that Moshe implored the Kadosh Barukh Hu five hundred and fifteen times that he be permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael. HaShem commanded him to stop at this point because had Moshe implored one more time, he would have elevated himself to a new spiritual height that would have permitted him to cross the Jordan River.

To fully understand this idea, one must free his thinking from the erroneous Western concept of prayer. The English word “prayer” is actually derived from the Latin wordprecari, meaning “to beg” – precisely what many Jews are mistakenly led to believetefillah is. This misunderstanding, which often leads some to imagine the Kadosh Barukh Hu as some giant invisible king taking pleasure in the begging of his subjects, actually prevents us from not only attaining a more mature understanding of HaShem but also from advancing to higher levels of self-awareness.

HaShem is not some giant invisible tyrant but rather the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all. Everything in existence exists within Him and He transcends far beyond all that exists.

We – like everything else in Creation – are unique expressions of HaShem placed into this world in order to fully participate in history. Human beings are essentially characters in a story being played by actors (souls), which are each distinctive pieces of the infinite Whole we call HaShem. The function of tefillah is to help us each identify and perform our respective roles in the story.

Tefillah is not about begging a giant king to change his mind but rather about us connecting to our inner Divine Source. L’hitpallel – generally translated into English as “to pray” – is a reflexive verb that actually suggests transforming ourselves (otherwise we would just say l’pallel). It is an activity we engage in for the purpose of internalizing the goals of our lives so we may be empowered to actualize our full potentials as characters in history.

Commenting on Yaakov’s words to Yosef, “R’oe fanekha lo pillalti – I did not pallel that I would see your face” (BEREISHIT 48:11), Rashi explains the verse to mean that Yaakov never would have filled his heart to think that he would ever see Yosef again.

L’hitpallel means to actively fill our hearts with – and become conscious of – our deepest dreams and aspirations. This activity then transforms us into people able to actively work with the Kadosh Barukh Hu to actualize these aspirations. Tefillah is not about “changing G-D’s mind” but actually about transforming ourselves. And each time we effectively participate in this activity, we succeed in strengthening our will power, achieving greater self-awareness and consciously discovering the ideals for which our souls incessantly strive.

All of the requests in the Amidah are directed toward superior objectives that our souls already crave. They are our healthiest desires and the deepest yearnings of our true inner selves. Because we are all unique expressions of HaShem, the more we get in touch with our authentic inner selves, the more we actually connect back to our Divine Source and allow ourselves the ability to receive the Kadosh Barukh Hu’s perpetual blessing. Tefillah is the vehicle that enables us to achieve this connection. As it would be ridiculous to assume that HaShem actually needs our tefillot, the obligation to engage in the activity thrice daily is clearly for the sake of something beneficial to us – helping us to manifest and express our inner kedusha through attaining a higher awareness of our relationship to the Divine.

The Amidah experience essentially serves to educate us to that which our souls genuinely desire – the aspirations we were placed into this world to achieve. While whispering the words of the tefillah to ourselves, we are meant to internalize how much we actually yearn for the realization of these goals so that we can then dedicate our actions towards practically attaining them. As most people generally work through concrete human endeavors in order to achieve that which they truly desire, the requests of the Amidah should naturally guide our actions as the blueprint for how we direct our energies and resources. The Hebrew Nation works in partnership with HaShem and anytefillah not complemented by human effort could justifiably be viewed as lacking sincerity.

It is difficult to know how many tefillot are necessary to sufficiently elevate ourselves to merit receiving that which we desire. Had Moshe entreated five hundred and sixteen times, he would have been transformed to the point of being able to cross the Jordan. HaShem commanded His prophet to stop at five hundred and fifteen because it had been decreed and was necessary according to the Divine plan that Moshe would not bring the Hebrews into Eretz Canaan.

Tefillot are not always answered according to expectations. While at first glance G-D’s words to Moshe appear harsh, HaShem is actually consoling His prophet by hinting that although he will not be crossing the Jordan River, he is already standing well within the Land of Israel.

“‘Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward, and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross the Jordan.’” (DEVARIM3:27)

HaShem tells Moshe to look not only westward but also northward, southward and eastward at the Land of Israel, implying that Eretz Yisrael already surrounds him. The borders of the Promised Land are not merely west of the Jordan River but actually stretch from the Nile to the Euphrates.

“On that day HaShem made a covenant with Avram, saying, ‘To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River.’” (BEREISHIT 15:18)

There are levels to the Land of Israel’s kedusha. And although Moshe would not be permitted to enter the loftiest regions of Israel Proper, he was already standing on the east bank of the Jordan. Despite Moshe not being granted his wish as he consciously understood it, he received the consolation of knowing that he was already in the homeland and that his beloved student Yehoshua would lead the Hebrew tribes in liberating the territory west of the Jordan.

“‘But you shall command Yehoshua, and strengthen him and give him resolve, for he shall cross before this people and he shall cause them to inherit the land that you will see.’” (DEVARIM 3:28)

As characters participating in one of history’s most incredible chapters, we must focus our efforts and tefillot on the challenges specifically facing our unique generation. In addition to practical earthly endeavors, we must l’hitpallel for the complete salvation of humankind, beginning with the ingathering of Israel’s exiles from the Diaspora, the defeat of those scheming to uproot us from our land, the attainment of true justice in Israeli society and the building of G-D’s Temple in its proper location. The more we internalize the words we whisper three times a day, the more we will actually thirst for that which our souls yearn. And the more we begin to truly desire and struggle for these goals, the more we will recognize HaShem bringing them to fruition before our eyes.

Longing for Redemption

Throughout most of the year, we are satisfied and grateful as we appreciate the redemption process unfolding before our eyes. The return of Jewish self-determination following nearly two thousand years of exile, the Land of Israel bearing her fruits after being barren for so long and the revival of the Hebrew language as a spoken vernacular are only three of the many wondrous feats that have graced us in the modern age. And although the re-born State of Israel is still far from perfect and often requires a deeper vision to recognize the Hebrew Kingdom developing to fruition beneath the surface despite all of the challenges that exist, our general attitude must be positive as we acknowledge the historic significance of our generation and express gratitude to HaShem for the miracles performed on our behalf.

But once a year we take time to recognize how much of the redemption is still incomplete as we mourn the destruction of our Temple and the Jewish people’s lack of complete national freedom. On the one hand, we see the goal – that amazing revolution in reality that is moving the world towards what it was always meant to be. We see the Divine Ideal from before Creation sprouting forth as Israel experiences a national renaissance on our native soil.

At the same time, however, during these sorrowful days, we remember how much of that absolute goal is still absent from our reality – how the Temple has yet to be rebuilt, how much of our country has yet to be liberated from foreign rule, how submissive our leaders behave to the demands of foreign powers, how socioeconomic injustices plague our society, how unbridgeable the gaps seem between Israel and our neighbors, how rampant corruption appears to permeate our political system and how many of our people still live in exile by choice.

This recognition of what is currently lacking is itself part of the appreciation we feel throughout the entire year. The true understanding of redemption can only be perceived when we are able to see where the process is going, what great historic objective is about to be attained and how much we still have to work for its completion. This understanding of the State of Israel’s deficiencies is what gives us the ability to value our achievements – to appreciate the foundations that have already been built.

Three weeks, nine days and then finally one day a year we remember and experience anguish for what is still not complete and how much of a struggle still awaits us. Because of how much the world is suffering today and how great and amazing Israel’s complete redemption will be, we are overcome with grief for what the world is still waiting for – that perfect, ultimate rectification of existence that will bring the world to levels of blessing and perfection beyond what humankind can even currently comprehend.

In his introduction to Musar Avikha, Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook writes that “As long as a person does not learn for himself the lofty essence of the soul of man and the loftiness of the soul of Israel and the elevated value of Eretz Yisrael, as well as the longing and yearning every Jew must feel for the building of the Temple and the redemption of Israel, it is almost impossible to experience the taste of Divine worship.”

If one does not understand the true essence of Am Yisrael or experience a desire for the return of G-D’s Temple, he probably cannot help but find daily prayers somewhat monotonous. All of the requests in the Amidah are directed toward superior ideals – the full expression of the Nation of Israel in our land and the entire system of everything in this world as it was always meant to be. But if one does not appreciate the significance and true grandeur of these things and only drearily says the words because they are written in the book, he may justifiably wonder why tefillah feels so dry. If he has not learned and clarified for himself the value of these vehicles – what they do for the world and reality and all of humanity, then the words of the prayers will feel meaningless, as they do not genuinely stem from the depths of his soul.

When instructing us to serve HaShem with all of our hearts, the Torah is referring specifically to tefillah. As it would be ridiculous to assume that the Kadosh Barukh Huactually needs our prayers, the obligation to engage in the activity three times a day is clearly for the sake of something beneficial to us. Tefillah serves as a thrice-daily exercise session for our ratzon (will power) and an examination for the true quality of our lives. It is the essential instrument for measuring how much we link up to HaShem – how much our conscious will is aligned with the will of our Divine Source.

By exercising our will three times a day, tefillah helps us to properly internalize and direct our lives towards the national aspirations of the Jewish people. The true intensity and quality of our lives as Jews can be determined successful when that which we read from the siddur is actually close to our hearts. When healing for the sick, the ingathering of our exiles, the restoration of justice, the rebuilding of the Temple and universal peace are the concerns that regularly occupy our thoughts and deeds, we can be confident that we truly want that which HaShem wants and we are then able tol’hitpallel with true attachment and devotion.

Sincere tefillah logically stems from the emptiness we feel at the absence of that which we request. If one occupies himself with the study of Torah and clarifies for himself what is yet to be achieved, he will begin to feel pain for what is missing from our world. He will become thirsty with yearnings for redemption and recite the tefillot from the depths of his heart. In order to feel this emptiness, however, one must know and appreciate the true value of Israel’s redemption and what blessing and refinement it brings to Creation.

Rabbi Moshe Ḥaim Lutzatto writes in Mesillat Yesharim that a person should feel constant, almost physical pain for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. But how many of us are so consciously unified with Israel’s collective soul that in these days before the ninth of Menaḥem Av we feel the anguish of the Hebrew Nation and what is lacking from our reality? How many of us are so sensitive to the humiliation of Israel and to the accompanying concealment of HaShem’s Ideal for this world that we actually suffer this torment in the depths of our very beings? If we could understand the reality of what the world is actually missing, we would not be able to concern ourselves with what we can or cannot eat, buy or listen to during this period of national mourning.

To truly feel the deficiency in the world around us, we must learn to recognize the magnitude of the redemption unfolding in our times and be able to appreciate that which has already been accomplished. Only with this appreciation are we able to comprehend what is still missing from the process and what we must do to effectively participate in transforming the ninth of Av from a day of mourning to a festival of unparalleled joy.

Israel, a Light to All Nations

After learning of Moshe’s stunning victory against the Amorites, King Balak of Moav forged an alliance with Midian in order to wage war together against the Children of Israel. Once realizing the extent of Israel’s strength, however, Moav and Midian enlisted the infamous Bilaam to attack the Hebrew tribes through spiritual means.

Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain – the second Admor of the Sokhatshov Ḥasidic dynasty – teaches in his Shem MiShmuel that Balak did not necessarily seek Israel’s destruction but was determined “to strike it and drive it away from the land” (BAMIDBAR 22:6). Pointing out that Israel posed no direct threat to either Moav or Midian, as neither people’s territory was en route to the Promised Land, the Shem MiShmuel quotes our Sages as teaching that Balak’s primary goal was to prevent the Hebrew tribes from entering the Land of Israel (Tanḥuma Balak 4, Bamidbar Rabbah 20:7).

The Shem MiShmuel further quotes the explanation of the Ḥidushei HaRim – the first Ger Admor Rabbi Yitzḥak Meir Alter – on the verse “the heavens are HaShem’s but the earth He gave to mankind” (TEHILLIM 115:16), where he teaches that man is tasked with creating heaven from earth by giving concrete physical expressions to the Divine Ideal. This is accomplished through the performance of the mitzvot that uplift all aspects of the material world to their highest functions in existence. According to theḤidushei HaRim, this verse reveals the entire purpose of Creation.

Israel is charged with establishing a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (SHEMOT 19:6) that will elevate every sphere of national life and reveal the kedusha inherent in our material world. The Shem MiShmuel explains that Israel’s task is not to live monastic spiritual lives in the desert but to express the Divine Ideal in all areas of human endeavor. This goal necessitates the establishment of a Hebrew Kingdom inEretz Yisrael that will serve as a light unto nations and reveal HaShem’s Oneness to all humankind.

According to the Shem MiShmuel, Balak and Bilaam desperately sought to avoid such a kingdom for fear Israel’s example would force them to apply a Divine moral standard to governance, commerce and other features of the material world, ultimately stripping them of the benefits they enjoyed from the corruption permeating the political realm. Having no objection to Hebrews living lives of individual piety disconnected from national life, Moav and Midian feared the establishment of a Hebrew Kingdom because they intuitively understood that if Am Yisrael were to achieve political sovereignty overEretz Yisrael, we would eliminate the illusory separation of “religion” and “state” and influence humankind to ultimately adopt policies that reflect a higher moral standard. Through Bilaam’s ability to curse, they hoped to keep Israel forever stranded in the desert where we could live ascetic spiritual lives disconnected from national issues. But while our enemies championed a separation of kedusha and statecraft, Israel’s historic mission demands that we materialize our spiritual ideals on a national level so that the Torah’s deepest values attain full expression in this world.

Once Bilaam is recruited for Balak’s war effort, the Torah recounts a bizarre situation in which the very laws of nature were temporarily altered. Although nevua as it is generally understood is an exclusively Hebrew trait, the gentile Bilaam possessed some level of prophecy and even attempted to use this gift to assist Israel’s enemies. When HaShem obstructed Bilaam’s path and he in turn began to beat his donkey, another abnormal occurrence took place.

“HaShem opened the mouth of the she-donkey and it said to Bilaam, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me these three times?’” (BAMIDBAR 22:28)

Bilaam’s donkey actually spoke as if she were human, complaining to her master for his abusive treatment and humiliating him before the elders of Moav. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi teaches in The Kuzari that there are five levels of Creation (inanimate objects, plant life, animals, human beings, Israel). One attribute that separates between the third and fourth levels – between animals and humans – is the power of speech. And the major trait differentiating Israel from human beings is the potential to attain nevua (or at least prophecy that can transcend one’s own national experience). Bilaam’s donkey was able to speak only for the sake of clarifying the significance of Bilaam’s prophecy. Just as HaShem bent the laws of nature in order that a donkey could possess the ability to speak, so too was He bending the laws of nature in order that a gentile could possess the ability to prophesy regarding Israel. And rather than allow him to utter a curse against the Hebrews as Balak had instructed, HaShem forced Bilaam to bless His treasured nation.

The Maharal of Prague teaches in Netzaḥ Yisrael that the greatness of Bilaam’s blessing exceeded even those of Yaakov and Moshe, possessing no rebuke or distraction from pure brakha (Yalkut Shimoni Balak 25). Bilaam represented the extreme opposite of Israel’s spiritual power and the intensity of his desire to curse the Hebrew tribes made him the ideal candidate to serve as the conduit for HaShem’s abundant blessing, illustrating the Kadosh Barukh Hu’s mastery over even those forces that appear to stand in the way of Israel’s national mission. But to fully grasp why HaShem would suspend the world’s natural order by granting Bilaam such a uniquely Hebrew trait, we must examine a piece of his final message and understand what Divine benefit could be extracted from the anomaly.

“I shall see him, but not now, I shall look at him, but it is not near. A star has issued from Yaakov and a tribe has risen from Israel, and he shall pierce the nobles of Moav and undermine the children of Shet. Edom shall be a conquest and Seir shall be the conquest of his enemies – and Israel will attain success. One from Yaakov shall rule and destroy the remnant of the city.’” (BAMIDBAR 24:17-19)

The holy Ohr HaḤaim explains these verses to mean that if the redemption occurs due to Israel’s merit, it will come as a supernatural event with the messianic redeemer being revealed through great wonders. But if the redemption comes in its time – without the Hebrew Nation necessarily deserving it – there will rise up a group of Jews who come together and – through human endeavor – will assist HaShem (so to speak) in bringing the redemption through natural means.

The redemption can occur in one of two ways. The first option, known as aḥishena(hastened), is a miraculous supernatural event that would occur if the Nation of Israel shows itself righteous and deserving. The second possibility, where Israel is unworthy, is generally referred to as bi’eta (in its time). This second option exists because as the predetermined goal of all human history, the redemption of Israel must ultimately come about and therefore has a set time if we do not merit it sooner. The Ohr HaḤaim understands from Bilaam’s prophecy that the redemption will most likely unfold through activists uniting to bring the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel through practical human means.

This understanding – which sheds light on much of what has been taking place in modern times – is well worth HaShem temporarily altering the laws of nature and allowing a gentile to attain a uniquely Hebrew form of prophecy. Israel must internalize this crucial message in order to not only gain a heightened perspective of current events but also to fulfill our national objective of establishing the Hebrew Kingdom that will ultimately reveal the kedusha inherent in all of Creation and bring humanity to recognize HaShem as the Divine Author of the story in which we are all characters.

The Jewish People Must Stand Up For Their National Rights

“The Canaanite king of Arad, who dwelled in the south, heard that Israel had come by the route of the spies, and he warred against Israel and took a captive from it. Israel made a vow to HaShem and said, ‘If You will deliver this people into my hand, I will consecrate their cities.’ HaShem heard the voice of Israel, and He delivered the Canaanite, and it consecrated them and their cities. It named the place Ḥormah.” (BAMIDBAR 21:1-3)

Rashi teaches that the captive abducted from Israel was actually a female slave taken from the Canaanites during a previous battle. That the entire Hebrew Nation mobilized to rescue the captive indicates the appropriate response to even the slightest provocation. By permitting an enemy to take even a slave girl, Israel would be displaying weakness and inviting further aggression. But by responding with maximum force, the Hebrews sent a clear message strong enough to discourage future attacks.

Rashi further clarifies that the king of Arad was actually not an ethnic Canaanite. Rather, he and his soldiers were descendants of Amalek – a people committed to eternal war against Israel. The Amalekites disguised themselves by speaking in a Canaanite tongue, revealing a central feature of Amalekite propaganda.

While the Amalekite hatred of Israel is an ideological hatred that aspires to genocide and is not dependent on any external factor, the Canaanite animosity towards Israel was different. The Hebrew tribes were coming to conquer a country that had at that time been ruled by a confederation of Canaanite warlords. Therefore, the Canaanite problem with Israel was based on a dispute over territory while the Amalekite problem with Israel stems from a compulsion to remove all Hebrews from the world. By speaking in the language of Canaanites, Amalek hoped to give the impression that its war was based on a territorial dispute rather than on a desire to eradicate the Children of Israel.

In order to neutralize such effective propaganda, Israel requires strong and articulate leaders who possess an unbreakable faith in the justice of Hebrew rights, as well as an appreciation for the necessity of presenting those rights in a clear voice. While the Jewish people might have an unrivaled moral claim to self-determination between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, our official representatives have on the whole proven incapable of successfully communicating this claim. While dedicated activists who firmly believe in the justice of our rights have largely disdained advocating those rights to the outside world as a sign of inner weakness, those who understand the importance of advocacy are for the most part apprehensive about championing our people’s actual aspirations and instead opt for flimsy talking points aimed at branding Israel as a westernized American client state seeking to win gentile approval through a professed willingness to surrender the cradle of our civilization. But Israel requires leaders who both appreciate the importance of public relations and are unwilling to compromise on Jewish national rights. Leaders internally connected to our people’s deepest yearnings yet capable of communicating those aspirations in a language comprehensible to the outside world.

While situations might exist in which diplomacy is inappropriate, there is generally great value in properly communicating the justice of Jewish national rights. And far from being a symptom of weakness, giving voice to the Hebrew Nation’s deepest aspirations can often serve to strengthen Israel’s position on the battlefield. In fact, some of Jewish history’s most valiant warriors provide us with clear examples of proper Israel advocacy.

In ḤUKAT’s Haftara, Yiftaḥ defends Israel’s right to territory east of the Jordan River that the Hebrews had won from the Amorites (BAMIDBAR 21:23-26) against claims by the king of Ammon that those lands rightfully belong to Moav (who had previously lost the territory to the Amorites).

“Yiftaḥ sent emissaries to the king of the children of Ammon saying, ‘What is unto you and unto me that you have come to me to make war in my land?’

The king of the children of Ammon said to Yiftaḥ’s emissaries, ‘Because Israel took my land when it ascended from Egypt, from Arnon until the Yabbok until the Jordan, so now return them in peace.’

And Yiftaḥ once again sent emissaries to the king of the children of Ammon.

He said to him, ‘Thus said Yiftaḥ: Israel did not take the land of Moav and the land of the children of Ammon… It went through the wilderness, and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moav and came to the eastern side of the land of Moav where they encamped across the Arnon; but they did not enter the border of Moav, for Arnon is the border of Moav. Then Israel sent emissaries to Siḥon king of the Amorite, king of Ḥeshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Let us please pass through your land until my place.’ But Siḥon did not trust Israel to pass through his border, rather Siḥon assembled all his people and they encamped in Yahatz; and he made war against Israel. Then HaShem, G-D of Israel, delivered Siḥon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and He struck them; and Israel took possession of the entire land of the Amorite, the inhabitant of that land.’

‘They took of the entire border of the Amorite, from Arnon to the Yabbok, and from the wilderness to the Jordan. And now HaShem, G-d of Israel, has driven out the Amorite from before His people Israel, and you would possess it? Do you not take into your possession that which your god Kemosh bequeaths to you? – that may you possess; but all that HaShem our G-D drives out from before us, we shall take possession of it. And now, are you much better than Balak son of Tzipor, king of Moav? – did he ever strive against Israel? – Did he ever do battle with them? When Israel dwelled in Ḥeshbon and its villages and in Aroer and its villages and in all the cities that are alongside Arnon for three hundred years, why did you not recover them during that time? I have not sinned against you; but you do me wrong to make war against me; may HaShem the Judge judge today between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.’” (SHOFTIM 11:12-27)

Without betraying Israel’s national rights or values, Yiftaḥ made the effort to explain his position and offer peace to Ammon while simultaneously expressing confidence and a willingness to fight for the disputed lands. The Ammonite king refused to heed Yiftaḥ’s warning.

“Then Yiftaḥ passed through to the children of Ammon to do battle against them, and HaShem delivered them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer until you come to Minit, twenty cities, until the Plain of Kramim, a very great slaughter; and the children of Ammon were subdued before the Children of Israel.” (SHOFTIM 11:32-33)

A similar approach was taken by the Hasmonean leader Shimon HaTasi – last surviving son of the Adon Matityahu – when the Seleucid Greek King Antiokhus VIII Grypus attempted to pressure Israel into surrendering territory.

“He (Antiokhus) sent Athenobius, one of his friends, to him (Shimon) to deal with him, saying, ‘You have in your possession Jaffa and Gezer and the citadel in Jerusalem, cities of my kingdom. You have laid waste their borders, and played great havoc in the land. You have taken possession of many places in my kingdom. Now, then, hand over these cities that you have taken, and the tribute of the places outside the borders of Judea that you have appropriated. If you refuse, then give me instead five hundred talents of silver; for the damage that you have done and for the tribute of the cities, another five hundred talents. Unless you do this, we will come and make war on you.’” (MACCABEES I 15:28-31)

“Shimon replied, ‘We have neither taken foreign land, nor do we hold dominion over other people’s territory, but only over the inheritance of our fathers, from which we were unjustly banished by our enemies. And now we have seized the opportunity to return and hold the inheritance of our fathers.’” (MACCABEES I 15:33-34)

The Seleucid Greek military subsequently invaded the Land of Israel but was defeated by Judean fighters led by Shimon’s courageous sons. The Hasmonean leader’s firm response to the threats of Antiokhus not only clarified Israel’s position to the enemy but also inspired Hebrew fighters with a conscious awareness and unbreakable certainty in the justice of our cause. Proper advocacy therefore not only serves to present our case to the nations but also strengthens us internally with inner fortitude and a willingness to fight.

To refrain from educating the outside world to the justice of our cause is not only a transgression against historic Jewish aspirations but also a disservice to all of the righteous gentiles who genuinely care about indigenous rights, support authentic liberation movements and would likely champion our cause if given the chance to recognize the inherent justice of our struggle.

A central mission of the Jewish people in this world is to bring all Creation to the awareness of HaShem as the one and only absolute Reality that creates, sustains and affectionately empowers all that exists. And a primary step in achieving this lofty goal is connecting people to the story of the Hebrew Nation. As the national expression of G-D’s Ideal in this world, Israel is the leading protagonist of human history and the more we succeed in connecting people to our story the more we actually bring them closer to theKadosh Barukh Hu. By helping mankind to recognize and identify with Israel’s national aspirations and with the challenges we still face on the road to full redemption, we are actively participating in the goal of Creation by means of leading mankind to a state of higher consciousness and bringing all existence to ultimate perfection.

Understanding the Hebrew Collective

“Koraḥ son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi separated himself, with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On son of Pellet, the offspring of Reuven. They stood before Moshe, leaders of the assembly, those summoned for meeting, men of renown. They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, ‘It is too much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and HaShem is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of HaShem?’” (BAMIDBAR 16:1-3)

Koraḥ – a highly respected Levi and cousin of Moshe – brazenly accused two of history’s greatest leaders of covetously assuming chief positions and elevating themselves above the Children of Israel. In what appeared to be a gallant protest on behalf of the masses, Koraḥ portrayed the Kadosh Barukh Hu’s chosen shepherds as corrupt officials unworthy of their status.

But Koraḥ’s populist charade was impure. Equality does not necessitate uniformity and Koraḥ’s accusation that Moshe sought to create a hierarchal system to benefit his family over others ignores the distinct roles and functions within Am Yisrael. Any worthy examination of the special tasks within Israel necessitates starting not from the branches but from the actual tree and its roots. Each of us is a unique expression of the collective Israeli soul – Knesset Yisrael – that shines into our world through millions of Jews in space and time, each with a distinctive function within the greater Hebrew mission.

Rather than debate the actual roles and tasks of different tribes, it is important to first understand what Israel is, as well as our unique historic mission. Our equality does not result from being created identical but rather from the fact that we each have equally crucial functions and important roles to play as part of the greater Hebrew mission. Tribesmen of Yehuda cannot be priests and Kohanim cannot be kings. Disastrous consequences resulted from King Uzziah burning the ketoret in the Temple and the Hasmonean priests usurping the throne. Not because one role is superior to the other but because every unique part of the Israeli collective must serve the function he or she was Divinely created for.

A healthy attitude fosters the realization that we are each uniquely fashioned for a very specific purpose and one who tries to negate his or her unique function in an effort to usurp the roles of others will ultimately only miss out on the experience of fully expressing his or her true inner essence.

By posing as a champion of the people, Koraḥ endeavored to incite a mutiny meant to advance himself to power in place of Moshe. And worse – by rejecting the Divine selection of Moshe and Aharon, Koraḥ was in fact rejecting the Torah.

Koraḥ was accompanied in his attempted coup d’état by a number of esteemed national leaders, securing for his campaign a stamp of legitimacy. One of his followers, however, appears conspicuously absent from the narrative following his initial introduction.

On son of Pellet had been one of the original leaders of the attempted mutiny yet he is not mentioned in the later confrontations or in the consequences that follow. The Sages teach (Sanhedrin 109b) that On’s righteous wife successfully persuaded her husband to withdraw from Koraḥ’s group. She said, “What do you have to gain from this? Even if Koraḥ is successful, he will be the High Priest and you will serve him as you currently serve Moshe and Aharon.” She then prevented Koraḥ from coaxing her husband back into the feud by sitting with her head uncovered outside her family tent. As a Hebrew man, Koraḥ would not permit himself to see a married woman’s hair and, as a result, gave up on the idea of recruiting On back to his inner circle. Due to her wise intervention and willingness to publicly shame herself by exposing her naked hair, On’s wife saved her husband from harm and protected her family from terrible catastrophe.

That we do not even know the name of On’s wife is itself a great testament to her modesty and complete identification with the Hebrew collective. Throughout our history, women have often been the source of Israel’s true inner strength. While the spotlight in Scripture generally shines on male figures, many of these heroes are only able to achieve greatness due to the loyal support and self-sacrifice of their wives. Daughters of Israel, who modestly work behind the scenes as silent partners to their husbands, often shy away from honor while providing support and encouragement from the home. The story of On is a perfect example of a man whose righteous wife was able to think clearly and take decisive action for the sake of her family and the entire Hebrew Nation.

Unlike Koraḥ’s wife, whose endless nagging and belittling of her husband had actually provoked his seditious behavior in the first place, On’s wife heroically brought her husband back from the brink of self-destruction. With a wisdom and determination so typical of Hebrew women, she succeeded in keeping On away from meaningless conflict while building a strong Torah home on the foundations of HaShem’s Truth.

We Need Faith to Conquer the Land of Israel

As the Hebrew Nation mobilized to liberate the Land of Israel from Canaanite rule, Moshe dispatched a team of twelve tribal chiefs – each the spiritual leader of his tribe – to spy out the country in preparation for the assault. Ten of those spies returned with a misleading report meant to demoralize the nation and prevent the conquest from taking place. The other two, Yehoshua and Kalev, courageously challenged the ten in a noble attempt to save Israel from sin. The masses, however, followed the majority opinion and, in doing so, brought about a national catastrophe.

The spies who brought their people a demoralizing report were ostensibly demonstrating a rationalist approach to the situation. They saw and were concerned over the difficulties their people would be forced to confront when fighting to conquer their land.

“The people that dwells in the land are powerful, the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw the giant’s descendants there… We cannot ascend against those people for they are too strong for us (mimenu).” (BAMIDBAR 13:28, 31)

Because the word mimenu can be understood as either “for us” or “for him” Rashi comments that it was as though they were speaking about HaShem, claiming that those Canaanite nations were even stronger than the Kadosh Barukh Hu.

The ten tribal chiefs weakened Israel’s resolve, leading the people to come forth with such complaints as “Why is HaShem bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and young children will be taken captive! Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” (BAMIDBAR 14:3)

Most of Israel sided with the defeatist spies and perished in the desert over a period of forty years. The conquest of Eretz Yisrael was delayed until a new generation could arise that would be psychologically capable of fighting for their country. It was ultimately Yehoshua and Kalev – representing the minority opinion – who emerged victorious decades later, leading their people in the liberation of the homeland.

The ten spies that led the Hebrew Nation to catastrophe were essentially putting forth two basic arguments. The first was that preserving life overrides the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, claiming that if taking possession of the land appears to be dangerous, the people are not required to do so.

The second opinion expressed by these tribal chiefs was that it is possible and permissible to live full Torah lives outside the Land of Israel; that the Nation of Israel need not be within its borders to be loyal to HaShem or to live by His Torah. But this claim itself negates Torah Law. The spies – giants of Israel and leaders of the Sanhedrin– rebelled against HaShem in refusing His directive to conquer Eretz Yisrael. Their treason revealed a terrible lack of faith and was a transgression far worse than that of the golden calf. For the sin of the calf, only three thousand were punished but for the sin of the spies, all male adults aside from Yehoshua and Kalev perished in the desert before ascending to their homeland.

The Sages teach (Tanḥuma, Sanhedrin 104b, Taanit 29a) that the sin of the spies took place on the ninth day of Av and was the foundation for the destructions of both the first and second Temples (both occurring on the same date in future years).

Rabbi Moshe Ḥaim Lutzatto explains in Mesillat Yesharim (chapter 11) that the tribal chiefs “feared a lessening of their honor, lest, upon entering the land, they would no longer be princes of Israel, and others would be appointed in their place.”

It is a regrettable truth that this transgression has repeated itself throughout Israel’s history. Spiritual leaders often refrain from educating their followers that living in the Land of Israel is not merely a commendable personal choice but actually an underlying basis for the entire Torah. But if this error has infected even great scholars, we must question how so many otherwise righteous and learned giants could miss something so vital to the Torah’s full expression. The Gaon of Vilna offers an explanation in Kol HaTor (the Gaon’s teachings on the process of redemption):

“The Sin of the Spies… hovers over the Nation of Israel in every generation… How strong is the power of the Sitra Aḥra that it succeeds in hiding from the eyes of our holy fathers the dangers of the klipot; from the eyes of Avraham our father, the klipah of exile… and in the time of the Messiah, the Sitra Aḥra attacks the guardians of Torah with blinders… Many of the sinners in this great sin of, ‘They despised the cherished land,’ and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the Sin of the Spies, that they have been sucked into the Sin of the Spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the Rishonim andAḥronim.” (Kol HaTor chapter 5)

In his supplement to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, the Ramban teaches that it is a Torah commandment for every generation to take control of and inhabit the entire Land of Israel.

“This (a war to liberate Eretz Yisrael) is what our Sages call milḥemet mitzvah(obligatory war). In the Talmud (Sotah 44b) Rava said, ‘Yehoshua’s war of liberation was an obligatory duty according to all opinions.’ And do not err and say that this precept is the commandment to vanquish the seven nations… this is not so. We were commanded to destroy those nations when they fought against us and had they wished to make peace we could have done so under specific conditions. Yet we cannot leave the land in their control or in the control of any other nation in any generation… Behold, we are commanded with conquest in every generation… this is a positive commandment which applies for all time… And the proof that this is a commandment is this: ‘They were told to go up in the matter of the spies: ‘Go up and conquer as HaShem, G-D of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear and do not be discouraged.’ And it further says: ‘And when HaShem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you.’ And when they did not go up, the Torah says: ‘And you rebelled against the Word of G-D, and you did not listen to this command.’” (Positive Commandment 4 of the Ramban’s supplement to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot)

The Ramban asserts that the conquest of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for Israel in every generation and that we are forbidden from allowing any part of our country to fall into – or remain under – gentile control. It is found in the Shulḥan Arukh that all of the arbitrators of Torah Law (Rishonim and Aḥronim) agree with the Ramban concerning this issue.

“All of the Poskim, both Rishonim and Aḥronim, decide the Law in this fashion on the basis of the Ramban.” (Shulḥan Arukh, Even HaEzer section 75, Pitḥei Tshuva 6)

As for the spies’ claim that preserving life overrides the commandment to liberate the Land of Israel, it is clear that conquering territory from another people is naturally an act that involves physical danger. While the Torah commands Israel in most cases to preserve Hebrew life even at the expense of Torah Law, this cannot be applied to a Divine commandment that is, in its very essence, life threatening. Because the Torah obligates the Jewish people to fight for the liberation of Eretz Yisrael, the notion ofPikuaḥ Nefesh (preserving life) is not considered. Rather, a war of liberation requires great Mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice).

“The mitzvot of the Torah are not based on the occurrence of miracles. The mitzvah to wage war is given to us despite the fact that in the natural course of events both sides suffer casualties in the heat of battle. Evidently the mitzvah applies even though there is inherent danger…” (Minḥat Ḥinukh commentary to Sefer HaḤinukh 425)

The Gaon of Vilna writes in his introduction to Paat HaShulḥan that “all of the wisdoms of the world are for the sake of the Torah and are included within It.”

All of Creation, with all of its multiplicity and variety, is actually one organic whole that appears fragmented from the untrained human perspective. Due to our myopic perception, man tends to see everything as disconnected – and often even opposing – forces. But when we learn to view the world from the Divine perspective, we become capable of relating to everything we encounter – with all of their unique functions and distinctions – as exceptional pieces of one giant amazing puzzle.

The study of Emunah is learning to see the Divine light in its unity before its having been distilled into multiplicity from the human perspective – to see not only the seemingly fragmented branches but also the unified roots. This deeper approach to understanding Torah helps us to recognize the One that precedes and transcends the individual parts yet is at the same time revealed through them, thereby giving them their true significance and purpose in our world.

As the national expression of HaShem’s Ideal in this world, Israel must develop a holistic perspective of Torah that recognizes the deep inner unity of everything that exists within time and space. The fragmented perspective that caused the spies to see themselves as grasshoppers in comparison to the giants of Ḥevron is the same fragmented view – dimmed by nearly two thousand years of humiliating exile – that causes contemporary Jewish leaders to miss the significance of the time period we are currently living in and to relate to themselves as insignificant when compared to the leaders of foreign nations. This unhealthy perspective must be replaced by one that views HaShem as the Source of all, guiding world history towards an ultimate goal of universal perfection. Only by attaining this greater perspective can Israel begin to appreciate our true national mission and the purpose of Torah as the blueprint for all Creation.

Will Prophecy Return to Israel?

“Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp. The youth ran and told Moshe, and he said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp’. Yehoshua Bin Nun, the servant of Moshe since his youth, spoke up and said, ‘My lord Moshe, incarcerate them!’ Moshe said to him, ‘Are you being zealous for my sake? Would that the entire people of HaShem could be nevi’im, if HaShem would but place His Spirit upon them!’” (BAMIDBAR 11:26-29)

While both the youth and Yehoshua had expected their teacher to be angry with Eldad and Medad, Moshe astonished them with his wish that the entire Hebrew Nation become prophets. One navi per generation cannot be enough as no one else would be capable of grasping his Divine message. In order for the masses to understand and internalize the basic teachings being communicated by the leading prophet, all Israel must attain some minimum level of nevua.

Israel’s concept of nevua should not be confused with the notions of divination or fortunetelling found within other peoples. The Hebrew word naviis to a certain extent mistranslated by the word “prophet” which, according to Greek etymology, designates “a person who foretells.” The navi has a much more exalted role, since he is a spokesperson in this world for the Kadosh Barukh Hu, who “creates the expression (niv) of the lips” (YISHAYAHU 57:19). Thus, the navi is HaShem’s interpreter, charged with transmitting a message to the people. This message is not limited to a prediction of the future, for it possesses all the dimensions – moral, spiritual, meta-physical and meta-historical – of authentic knowledge in the broadest sense of the term.

Nevi’im are not mere forecasters. If they display the ability to foretell the future, it is only because they have achieved a sufficient level of emotional maturity and identification with the collective Hebrew soul to recognize the unity of Creation and perceive it from the back end. This perception allows a navi to attain a higher understanding of the world from a holistic perspective, as well as its most secret inner workings, at various levels of existence. This perspective in turn allows him to see the evolution of this enormous system of forces we call Creation. In this sense, a prophet is comparable to the scientist whose knowledge of the interplay of forces composing a limited system allows him to predict its evolution. The navi is no more a medium than the scholar announcing an eclipse of the moon. The scholar’s clairvoyance does not stem from some mysterious power but is actually the fruit of his learning, which permits him to grasp dimensions of reality invisible to others.

Throughout Scripture, we see prophets failing to rescue Israel from physical and spiritual threats. These failures are not due to a shortcoming on the part of the navi or his message but rather in the public’s ability to receive that message. There are recorded cases in which prophets have been dismissed by Israel’s political leadership and portrayed to the people as irrational public menaces. These prophets spoke a language of pure simplicity that brushed off the psychological barriers of the masses – especially those stuck in their egoistic illusions of separateness.

The Hebrew Nation is not the sum total of every Jew but rather one colossal spirit – Knesset Yisrael – that manifests itself in space and time through millions of bodies. While human beings each possess a personal soul, Israel shares one massive national soul – like a giant tree of which each Jew is an individual branch.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook teaches that the highest level of Ahavat Yisrael (love for Israel) a person can achieve results from obtaining the belief, knowledge and deep understanding of Israel’s true inner essence and unity. A man who loves his son does not simply love the sum total of each limb. He loves his child as a single entity and therefore loves every individual piece of that entity. He can see each finger, leg and ear as an expression of that one soul he knows to be his son.

Through a deep self-awareness and love for Knesset Yisrael, the navi understands himself to be one with every Jew and simply a piece of a much greater whole whose distinct value derives from his personal contribution to that whole. But Jews trapped in their illusions of separateness view themselves as individuals detached from the bigger collective and therefore have trouble grasping the prophet’s impassioned language. Their illusions erect psychological barriers that cause them to perceive the navi as insane.

Rashi explains regarding SHMUEL I 18:10, that: Vayitnabeh, usually translated as “and he prophesied” is used in this verse to describe King Shaul’s mental illness because both a prophet and a madman express ideas often unintelligible to those around them.

Throughout Israel’s history, nevi’im are rarely taken seriously because the masses are seldom on a level to understand them. Therefore, a “prophet” – one who through deep love and greater consciousness has already broken free of his own illusions – is most often unable to bring his message to people whose fortified egos shield their hearts from his words.

Although Moshe wishes for all Israel to become nevi’im, not every Jew need reach the same prophetic heights. In his Guide to the Perplexed, the Rambam enumerates eleven distinct levels of nevua (with Moshe surpassing them all). And while it may not be necessary for each Jew to attain the highest plane of Divine Spirit, it is still necessary for us each to develop a minimal level of prophecy – a genuine sensitivity to Israel’s national situation – in order to understand the words of the greater nevi’im who come with simple messages of warning or salvation.

As the Jewish people return home and to national independence, we have already seen sparks of the Divine Spirit return, specifically among those whose compassion for their people has empowered them to break through their own psychological barriers. Clear illustrations of what the Rambam describes as the first level of nevua can be found in the valor and heroism of the pre-state Jewish freedom fighters and subsequent Israeli soldiers, whose deeds resemble those of Shimshon, of whom it says “A spirit of HaShem came over him… and he struck down thirty men” (SHOFTIM 14:19). And a unique example of an even higher prophetic level in modern times was the revolutionary Hebrew poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

The fact that Greenberg’s poetry features the pre-state Jewish underground, the European Holocaust and Hebrew wars of liberation would not astonish anyone unless they were to read the dates at the bottom of each poem. Each historic event was recorded by the poet several years before actually occurring. Fellow poet Ḥaim Naḥman Bialik once asked Uri Zvi how he was able to write of the Holocaust and describe the slaughter of millions of Jews in 5682 (1922).  Greenberg replied “But I see it.” In fact, many of the poems in Reḥovot Hanahar, a 5711 (1951) volume detailing theShoah, were written the previous decade before reports of Nazi atrocities had begun to reach the world. Yet all of the details that later emerged corresponded to the words found in Greenberg’s poetry. Holy of Holies describes the brutal murder of the poet’s mother. He had written it before the actual event from a nightmare he once had, simply recording what he torturously saw.

From 5682, Uri Zvi wrote and spoke incessantly about the terrible catastrophe approaching Europe’s Jews. But although his poems were widely accepted as great cultural works, the masses were not able to heed their warnings or to recognize the dangers rapidly approaching.

Throughout the decade leading up to World War II, the poet pleaded with the Jews of Poland to organize an emergency evacuation home to Palestine. But the people could not grasp the truth in Greenberg’s warnings. Trapped in the day-to-day realities of their individual lives, most Jews were too shortsighted to see the events developing around them.

Following the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel were crossing through the Sea of Reeds to freedom. The Midrash relates that one Hebrew complained to another about the mud they had to walk through in order to get across (Shemot Rabbah 24:1). They were on their way from slavery to freedom and one man could not see past the mud on his feet. A navi does not allow the mud to concern him because he can envision a greater historic picture unfolding. He sees the course of events shaping and is consciously attached to the higher life of Israel’s national soul, encompassing each Jew in every generation.

Following the Holocaust, Uri Zvi wrote a poem in which he dialogues with HaShem. In it he asks: “How did I ever get here? A man of vision befouled by their mud…”

Like the Hebrew complaining about mud while crossing the sea, many Jews in Europe saw only what was immediate in front of them. And because they were blinded by their illusions of ego, they could not attain the minimum level of Divine Spirit necessary to understand a man trying so desperately to save them.

True love grants the vision to see beyond the present. And only a person possessing such love can be sensitive to the forces of hatred before they are mature enough to strike. While Adolf Hitler was still formulating his ideology, Greenberg had identified the danger to his people. He was able to feel and internalize the degradation of Israel – the desecration of HaShem’s Ideal for this world – because he so deeply lived the national aspirations of his people. The central theme found woven through most of his literary work is the redemption of Israel, often focusing on wars of liberation and the eventual rebuilding of our Temple in Jerusalem.

“Every Sage in Israel who possesses the words of Torah according to their true significance and grieves for the honor of the Kadosh Barukh Hu and for the honor of Israel all his days, and lusts and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and of the Temple and for the swift flowering of salvation and the ingathering of the exiles, attains to the infusion of the Divine Spirit in his words…” (Tanna d’bei Eliyahu chapter 4, Mesillat Yesharim chapter 19)

Uri Zvi once told a journalist how he came to write I’ll tell it to a Child. “I dreamt one night… I saw the Temple Mount, above it an eagle, and around it circles and circles of Jews. And from the Mount a slope inclined straight to the sea. On either side were lines of soldiers from all the world’s armies. In the dream I felt that the Divine Presence was leaving the Mount. I woke up weeping. My cries woke everyone in the house. They asked ‘What happened, what happened?’ That morning I went to Chief Rabbi Kook and found him wrapped in his prayer shawl. I told him the dream. He did not say a word, just took my hand in his and wept. I went home and wrote I’ll tell it to a Child.”

Uri Zvi Greenberg was able to see so clearly what so many scholars and political leaders could not. His life and efforts serve as a vindication for Moshe’s wish that all Israel be prophets and that this is not merely a luxury but a necessity for the Hebrew mission. Greenberg had to a certain extent destroyed his own psychological barriers in order to attain a clearer awareness of himself as a unique piece of Knesset Yisrael. He saw himself and every Jew as parts of the same organic whole and was therefore able to see beyond “the mud on his feet.” He foretold disaster before the Nazi party had even begun its climb to power and he envisioned Israel’s redemption when few Jews were psychologically capable of even thinking in such terms. Uri Zvi’s poetry stemmed from what our Sages call the “Wisdom of the Heart” – a wisdom that views the soul of reality from an emotionally mature perspective spanning history.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi teaches in The Kuzari (chapter 3) that as Israel returns to our ancestral homeland, nevua will begin to reappear within our people. Israel’s current education system is based on an imbalanced primitive Western model that places disproportionate focus on intellectual advancement and individual achievement at the expense of social and emotional development, reinforcing illusions of ego that erect barriers to attaining prophecy. But because all Israel must aspire to a basic level of nevua, it is crucial that our education system be altered to one that places at least the same emphasis on emotional and spiritual development as is currently placed on intellectual growth. Israel must raise and educate our children to be sensitive to the pain of others and to our collective aspirations. Our next generation must be sufficiently compassionate to clearly see reality and to understand the words of our national shepherds. Such a generation – unable to passively endure the profanation of HaShem’s Ideal or the humiliation of His people – will be the generation of nevi’im that will usher in an era of true peace and Divine blessing for not only Israel but also the whole of humanity.

In Every Generation We Must Take Control of the Land of Israel

“‘Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to their headcount. From twenty years of age and up – everyone who goes to the army in Israel – you shall count them for their armies, you and Aharon. And with you shall be one man from each tribe; a man who is leader of his father’s household.’” (BAMIDBAR 1:2-4)

BAMIDBAR begins with the decree that Israel take a national census. Many of history’s great Torah luminaries explain the entire purpose of this count to have been for the organization of a military force that would liberate the Land of Israel from foreign rule. The holy Ohr Haaim even adds that there was a hidden miracle involved in the census – that every man counted was in top physical condition and eligible for combat service.

In his supplement to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, the Ramban teaches that it is a Torah commandment in every generation that the Nation of Israel take control of and inhabit the entire Land of Israel.

“This (a war to liberate Eretz Yisrael) is what our Sages call milḥemet mitzvah(obligatory war). In the Talmud (Sotah 44b) Rava said, ‘Yehoshua’s war of liberation was an obligatory duty according to all opinions.’ And do not err and say that this precept is the commandment to vanquish the seven nations… this is not so. We were commanded to destroy those nations when they fought against us and had they wished to make peace we could have done so under specific conditions. Yet we cannot leave the land in their control or in the control of any other nation in any generation… Behold, we are commanded with conquest in every generation… this is a positive commandment which applies for all time… And the proof that this is a commandment is this: ‘They were told to go up in the matter of the Spies: ‘Go up and conquer as HaShem, G-D of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear and do not be discouraged.’ And it further says: ‘And when HaShem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you.’ And when they did not go up, the Torah says: ‘And you rebelled against the Word of G-D, and you did not listen to this command.’” (Positive Commandment 4 of the Ramban’s supplement to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot)

The Ramban asserts that the conquest of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for Israel in every generation and that we are forbidden from allowing any part of our country to fall into – or remain under – gentile control. It is found in the Shulḥan Arukh that all of the arbitrators of Torah Law (Rishonim and Aḥronim) agree with the Ramban concerning this issue.

“All of the Poskim, both Rishonim and Aḥronim, decide the Law in this fashion on the basis of the Ramban.” (Shulḥan Arukh, Even HaEzer section 75, Pitḥei Tshuva 6)

The mitzvah of implementing Hebrew sovereignty over our homeland can only be fulfilled through an Israeli army. Without such a national military force, Israel would not be capable of waging the war of liberation necessary for the fulfillment of this Divine commandment.

Israel’s military in modern times is known as the Israel Defense Forces. That the official name of our army is a conceptual error on the part of our political leadership has been sufficiently proven by history since its inception. Rather than simply warding off external threats, the primary function assumed by this “defense force” is actually that of a liberation army reconquering its land. Because Israel has not always taken the initiative, however, history has forced us to retake our country piece by piece. Through being attacked by hostile nations unlawfully reigning over parts of our homeland, the IDF has launched strikes resulting in the liberation of portions of our country. However poorly misnamed, the IDF constitutes the army of the Hebrew Nation fulfilling themitzvah of freeing the Jewish homeland from foreign rule.

The Rambam (in Hilkhot Melakhim 5:1) provides an additional definition for amilḥemet mitzvah as any war fought to assist Israel from hostile gentiles. The Shulḥan Arukh (Oraḥ Ḥaim 329:6) rules that if Jews are attacked, even on the Sabbath, it is a commandment to organize a defense force and counter-attack. The Rema adds that even if the enemy has not yet attacked but Israel suspects that a strike may be imminent, war should be waged – even on the Sabbath – as a pre-emptive measure.

In its secondary function, Israel’s army serves as the defense force it dubs itself. The great strength and dedication of the IDF spring from the noble resolution that never again shall Jews be slaughtered without a fight. While the primary function of Israel’s army often exists only in our nation’s collective subconscious, the resolution of “never again” is the conscious driving force behind the IDF – a willingness to take responsibility for the welfare of the Jewish people and a yearning to free Israel from a world of brutality.

In the Song of Dvorah, the prophetess praises and rebukes Hebrew tribes based on their behavior during Barak’s war against Canaan.

“The leaders of Yissakhar were with Dvorah, and so was Yissakhar with Barak, into the valley he was sent on his feet. But in the indecision of Reuven there was great deceit. Why did you remain sitting at the borders to hear the bleating of the flocks? The indecision of Reuven demands great investigation. Gilad dwelled across the Jordan; and Dan – why did he gather onto ships? But Asher lived by the shores of the seas and remained to protect his open borders. Zevulun is a people that risked its life to the death, and so did Naphtali, on the heights of the battlefield.” (SHOFTIM 5:15-18)

While recording the responses of various tribes and cities during the battle, Dvorah reveals the spiritual importance of participation in Israel’s wars.

“‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of HaShem, ‘Curse! Cursed are its inhabitants, for they failed to come to help HaShem to help the nation of HaShem against the mighty.’” (SHOFTIM 5:23)

The Radak explains Meroz to have been a Hebrew city near the battlefield that refrained from joining Barak’s campaign. The prophetess attacks Meroz for not assisting theKadosh Barukh Hu to assist Israel, revealing that Divine support comes to those who help themselves. If we expect miracles to be performed on our behalf, we are required to take the initiative and meet HaShem half way (so to speak).

Our Sages (Brakhot 20a) ask why miracles rarely occurred in Talmudic times as oppose to the many open miracles in Biblical times. The Sages question if it might have been because Jews in Talmudic times were learning less Torah. But the Talmud dismisses this and answers that there were generations in Biblical times that studied less Torah yet still experienced great open miracles. The Talmud continues by revealing that it is not due to a difference in learning but rather in the level of self-sacrifice within the Nation of Israel. The Hebrews of Biblical times were more prepared to risk their lives for the sake of Israel’s mission and HaShem’s Divine Ideal for this world. The Talmud therefore concludes that miracles are the result of courage and selfless devotion. WhenAm Yisrael displays great valor in battle, we are often rewarded with miraculous victories.

In his Guide to the Perplexed, the Rambam enumerates eleven distinct levels of nevua(with Moshe surpassing them all). As the Jewish people returns home to our land and to independence, we have already seen sparks of the Divine Spirit resurface, specifically among those whose compassion for their people has empowered them to break through their own psychological barriers. Clear illustrations of what the Rambam describes as the initial level can be found in the valor and heroism of Israeli soldiers whose deeds resemble those of Shimshon, of whom it says: “A spirit of HaShem came over him… and he struck down thirty men” (SHOFTIM 14:19).

The Talmud (Baba Metzia 106b) states that a shepherd’s rescue of his flock from a lion or bear may be considered a miracle. In answering the question of where the miracle lies in this seemingly natural – albeit impressive – act, the Tosafot explain that the miracle is to be found in the shepherd’s “spirit of courage and willingness to fight.” This spirit of valor is a miracle from above – an inspired inner greatness spurring one to rise to the needs of the hour.

In addition to being an army of liberation and a defense force, the IDF is also the national organization for the creation of miracles. Through the great self-sacrifice and dedication of our soldiers – men ready to give their lives for the future of the Jewish people – miracles become an almost regular occurrence. Modern history has shown that acts of great courage do not only lead to protection from danger but also to astonishing victories on the battlefield. Because miracles are often the result of self-sacrifice, the IDF – which breeds this valor – should be viewed as playing a role in the production of these miracles. While Israel is forbidden from relying on miracles, we are certainly encouraged to help the Kadosh Barukh Hu create them.

The Torah is meant to be lived in this world according to the laws of nature that HaShem set in motion. By participating in every facet of life, the Nation of Israel is able to uplift all spheres of existence to their highest and most productive functions in Creation. By implying that all twenty-year-old males should be serving in Israel’s army, the Torah is revealing that even the military requires Torah guidance in order that it fully express its inherent kedusha as part of manifesting the Divine Ideal for this world. And by sanctifying all areas of life according to His Torah, Israel will revolutionize mankind’s perception of reality, bringing humanity to recognize the Oneness of HaShem and leading the world into an era of unparalleled blessing.

Jerusalem Day: Connecting Heaven to Earth

To recognize the true significance of Yom Yerushalayim – the day on which the Jewish people liberated Jerusalem from foreign rule – one must work to develop a deep vision of Emunah. In D’at Tvunot, Rabbi Moshe Ḥaim Lutzatto teaches us to see HaShem authoring history – to appreciate a Divine plan unfolding and to understand everything we encounter in our lives through the context of a greater goal that transcends yet includes all creatures, places and events. All of Creation, with all of its multiplicity and variety, is actually one organic whole that appears fragmented from the untrained human perspective. Due to our myopic perception, man tends to see everything as disconnected – and often even opposing – forces. But when we learn to view the world from the Divine perspective we become capable of relating to everything we encounter – with all of their unique functions and distinctions – as exceptional pieces of one giant amazing puzzle.

The study of Emunah is learning to see the Divine light in its unity before its having been distilled into multiplicity from the human perspective – to see not only the seemingly fragmented branches but also the unified roots. The study of Emunah helps us to recognize the One that precedes and transcends the individual parts yet is at the same time revealed through them, thereby giving them their true significance and purpose in our world.

Because we exist within the framework of time, history seems from the human perspective to flow in a long process of events. But from the perspective of HaShem – who creates the framework of time and is clearly not bound by it – history exists as one giant light. What we might perceive to be disconnected events with hundreds of years and thousands of miles between them are actually interdependent expressions of a singular Divine theme in which HaShem’s Oneness is revealed to all of Creation.

Everything in Creation possesses a spiritual back end that manifests itself in our world through a tangible vehicle that expresses its inner content. Everything we encounter on the terrestrial plane possesses a spiritual counterpart in the celestial realm. And a central component of the Hebrew mission requires us to reveal the kedusha inherent in our world through actualizing concrete material expressions for our deepest spiritual values and ideals. Israel is not so much tasked with spiritualizing the material but rather materializing the spiritual in order that the Torah’s loftiest concepts attain full expression in our reality.

Celestial Jerusalem as a spiritual ideal represents the absolute good from beyond this world and the eternal Divine values constantly driving history forward toward its goal. Terrestrial Jerusalem here on earth is the physical expression of the celestial Jerusalem above. What may appear to the human eye as merely an ancient mountain city is actually the uniquely designed conduit that reveals HaShem’s Oneness to mankind and enables the flow of Divine energy and blessing into our world (Tanḥuma Pekudei 1).

HaShem swore that His Shkhina would not enter celestial Jerusalem above until the Jewish people enters terrestrial Jerusalem below (Zohar 3:15b).

Knesset Yisrael – the unique spiritual organism revealed in this world through millions of bodies in space and time called Jews – is the national receptacle that receives and expresses the Divine Ideal. What the Land of Israel – and specifically Jerusalem – is in geographic form, the Nation of Israel is in human form. The famed kabalist of Ḥevron, Rabbi Avraham Azulai, teaches in the Ḥesed L’Avraham that the size of the window through which Divine blessing enters our world directly depends on how much of Eretz Yisrael is under Hebrew governance. Jerusalem is the bridge connecting the physical and spiritual realms – the portal between our corporeal realty and the world beyond. And that portal connecting celestial and terrestrial Jerusalem is only open for blessing to enter our world when the human and geographic manifestations of the Divine Ideal unite – when the Nation of Israel possesses political sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Our Sages explain (Megillah 29a) that when Israel is exiled from our land, the Shkhina is also exiled and that only when the Jewish people returns to Eretz Yisrael does the Divine Presence return. When the Children of Israel were separated from Jerusalem, HaShem’s Ideal for this world could not be perceived as unified here on earth. Mankind lacked the ability to fully connect to our inner Source. In such a situation, reality appeared not as one Divine light but as fragmented individual components separate from one another and history became viewed as merely a series of disconnected events.

But when the Hebrew Nation returned to Jerusalem on the 28th of Iyar, the expression of His Ideal became unified with all Creation, establishing the conditions for the fulfillment of the verse that “HaShem will be One and His Name will be One” (ZEKHARIA 14:9).

According to the holy Zohar (3:93), this verse refers to the unification of His Ideal with the reality we experience. Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem ushered in a new historic era for mankind in which the bridge linking this world to the world beyond is back in place. The portal through which Divine blessing enters our world is once again open.

Malkhut Yisrael on earth is the material vehicle that receives and expresses the Divine Kingdom above. The core of this realm, where our ability to perceive and experience our connection to HaShem is strongest, is the Judea region – including and surrounding Jerusalem. We therefore have unique laws and customs exclusively pertaining to this region, such as the commandment for a Jew to rend his garment upon seeing the cities of Judea destroyed – a mitzvah that does not apply to cities in any other portion of our country. And according to both the Beit Yosef and the Mishnah Brurah on the Shulḥan Arukh (Oraḥ Ḥaim section 561), the term “destroyed” is legally defined as being under foreign rule. This means that a Jew who sees a physically ruined and uninhabitable city in a free Judea is not commanded to tear his garment but he would be commanded to do so upon seeing a Judean city under gentile sovereignty – even if that city is fully developed and abounding with vibrant Jewish life. And indeed, following the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ruled that although our Holy Temple is not yet rebuilt, we no longer rend our garments upon seeing the Temple Mount.

While the return of the Jewish people to the city that had been the central focus of our tears, dreams and tefillot for thousands of years would be sufficient to warrant the establishment of a new festival (complete with Hallel), Yom Yerushalayim actually commemorates so much more. The 28thof Iyar is the day on which the bridge linking heaven and earth was restored and the portal through which Divine blessing enters our world was reopened. Yom Yerushalayim inaugurates a new historic era in which the Shkhina is no longer in exile and all of mankind can recognize and experience its inner connection to the timeless and boundless ultimate Reality that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

Israel in Exile is a Distortion of Reality

“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 Divine curse that the Torah reveals the disgrace of Israel’s exile. And history can attest to the truth of these verses. Outside of our homeland, the Nation of Israel was reduced to vulnerable migrants wandering through foreign lands. Unable to resist the persecution we suffered in the Diaspora, Jews acquired a reputation for cowardice and victimization. We were treated as vermin, easily exterminated without a fight. Israel’s survival became largely dependent upon the benevolence of our neighbors and we were conditioned to accept our shameful status as an uncontested reality.

Israel’s downtrodden state in the exile distorted our concepts of kedusha and stripped us of our former valor. The Jewish people’s self-image was severely damaged by the cruelty of host nations to the extent that we began to see ourselves as naturally incapable of self-defense. Many “pious” Jews even began to view traits of courage and heroism as foreign to our culture, as if Israel were by design physically inferior to other peoples. This mentality of learned helplessness grew in Jewish hearts to the point that many were fearful at even the slightest sign of tension with neighboring 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 had characterized Israeli fighters in ancient times was forgotten as we wandered the globe as a national ghost through history – a broken people perpetually searching for safe refuge.

But just as the Jewish people were stripped of our former honor in the exile, the Land of Israel was stripped of her illustrious beauty. She became barren without her soul mate to nurture her soil. Her great splendor had departed and she was reduced to an infertile 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)

According to the Ramban, the verse “your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate” is a partial blessing within the curse that guarantees through all generations that the Land of Israel will not receive any foreign sovereign in place of her rightful 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 lifetime of the Ramban) as desolate and empty as Palestine.

A century before Hebrew sovereignty was returned to Eretz Yisrael, the renowned American author 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 most of the Jewish people wandered through a dark and bitter exile, the Land of Israel lay anguished in barren devastation. Although foreign conquerors tried to cultivate her once rich and fertile soil, the land was unwilling to provide for illegitimate rulers and remained unwaveringly faithful to her true indigenous people. Only with Israel’s miraculous return did the country once again resume productive life. In an astonishingly short time, the once harsh infertile country became a major world exporter of flowers, fruits and vegetables.

The reunification of the Nation of Israel with the Land of Israel miraculously infused new life and strength into both. Only a few short years after the decimation of six million, Jewish remnants on their native soil stunned the world with unmatched military prowess. The Hebrew Nation was reborn and the Land of Israel returned to agricultural productivity.

Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are inseparably connected in a bond so tight that we even share the same name. Our deep spiritual connection to our homeland – like the connection of the soul to the body – transcends all rational human understandings. Our country is an intrinsic part of who we are and the foundation for our national mission in this world, as neither it nor we can attain full expression without the other. Separated from the nation, 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 rather a deformed shadow of our true inner potential – a wandering people miraculously able to hold on to our individual “Judaism” without possessing any tangible concept of peoplehood. But when properly situated in our ancestral homeland, Israel becomes the healthy living nation that brings the knowledge and blessing of HaShem to mankind.

The Maharal of Prague teaches in Netzaḥ Yisrael that like the orbits of the planets in space and the importance of oxygen for human beings, Hebrew sovereignty over the Land of Israel is a natural necessity built into the system of Creation. When Israel is living as an independent nation in our homeland, the entire world becomes healthy. The heart of humanity is in place and able to channel Divine life and blessing to all existence. It has been in opposition to the laws of nature inherent in Creation for Israel to be separated from our beloved country. Like a ball thrown up in the air that must come down, Am Yisrael must return to sovereignty over our soil. Nature corrects itself as we return home and the Torah now aspires – for the first time in nearly two thousand years – to be lived on a national level that infuses kedusha into every sphere of life. And as nature corrects itself and history progresses forward, our liberation will advance toward the full redemption of humankind.