The Torah is the Blueprint for Israel’s Mission

“If a bird’s nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree or on the ground – young birds or eggs – and the mother is roosting on the young birds or the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and you will prolong your days.” (DEVARIM 22:6-7)

It is learned from the statement “you will prolong your days” that a long life is acquired through adherence to this particular commandment. In his Guide to the Perplexed (3:48), the Rambam emphasizes the inherent cruelty of slaughtering a mother together with her young. Animals instinctively love their offspring and would obviously suffer pain if forced to witness the abduction of their children.

Our Sages make reference to the above directive, stating, “If one says, ‘Your mercy rests upon the bird’s nest’… we silence him.” The Talmud comments, “It is because he attributes G-D’s conduct to mercy when it consists only of decrees.” (Brakhot 33b)

It is peculiar that our Sages instruct us to silence a person for praising the Kadosh Barukh Hu. While the commandment to send away the mother bird obviously demonstrates HaShem’s compassion, the Talmud is teaching a valuable lesson. One who fulfills the commandments because he finds them agreeable transforms the Torah’s decrees into something dependent on man’s approval. If a Jew fulfills a decree because he intellectually agrees with it, there exists a danger he might reject a mitzvah he finds difficult to understand. If he becomes accustomed to performing mitzvot only because he views them as morally acceptable according to his limited human perspective, he could potentially reject other Divine commandments that conflict with his personal sense of morality.

While mitzvot like mercy to animals may be agreeable to most Jews living in contemporary Western societies, many such people are challenged by decrees that conflict with the values of the countries they live in. The Torah’s wisdom and moral compass soar far beyond the intellectual capacities of man and making adherence to halakha dependent on human approval undermines the entire basis for Israel’s existence.

Israel’s Torah is not a man-made “religion” but rather the Divine Ideal implanted into our world for the purpose of uplifting it beyond its current limitations. The Torah is the blueprint and instruction manual for how Israel – as a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” (SHEMOT 19:6) – must elevate mankind and bring HaShem’s blessing to flow through every sphere of existence.

Every mitzvah is like a faucet that when opened, sends Divine content into our world and raises it to levels beyond where it previously existed. These faucets, however, must be connected to the correct plumbing in order that they achieve their anticipated function.

Each mitzvah must be performed at its proper time, place and appropriate situation. A person who performs the act of waving a lulav on Ḥanukah, for example, does not bring any special blessing into the world. A lulav must be waved during the Sukkot festival and doing so on Ḥanukah is similar to turning on a faucet with no pipe behind it. Nothing comes out. The physical act was completed, but not according to the Torah’s instruction.

The same holds true for a Jew who observes mitzvot outside the Land of Israel. While he is performing actions commanded of him by HaShem, he is not enhancing Creation on any spiritual plane. There are no pipes behind his actions because the mitzvot are meant to be fulfilled in a specific geographic location. This is why some of history’s greatest Torah luminaries describe mitzvot outside the Land of Israel as mere practice (Ramban on VAYIKRA18:25 and Rashi citing Sifre on DEVARIM 11:18 – to guarantee that Israel not forget the commandments while temporarily exiled from our homeland). The full manifestation of HaShem’s Ideal as expressed through the mitzvot is only realized when performed in Eretz Yisrael, as nearly the entire Book of DEVARIM instructs.

The Torah is not subordinate to human intellect nor is its worth contingent on resemblance to foreign values. The mitzvot are the earthly vehicles through which the Divine Ideal is channeled into this world. Israel must carry out the Torah’s directives in order to fully manifest and express the Ideal that will bring all humanity to unparalleled heights. As the nation uniquely fashioned to bless mankind with the knowledge of HaShem as the infinite Whole of which we are all apart, Israel must establish a Hebrew Kingdom in our homeland that will reveal all spheres of life as being unique expressions of G-D’s all encompassing Oneness.Malkhut Yisrael is the necessary prerequisite to Israel fulfilling our historic mission of bringing all of Creation to the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

The King is the Heart of the Nation

SHOFTIM deals primarily with statutes pertaining to Israel’s leadership. Because leadership is not a position of honor for the individual but rather a burden of responsibility for the welfare of the Jewish people, the Torah sets down specific guidelines in order to steer our leaders towards attaining their full potential.

“It shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah in a book, from before the Kohanim, the Levi’im. It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear HaShem, his G-D, to observe all the words of this Torah and these decrees, to perform them, so that his heart not become haughty over his brethren and not turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong years over his kingdom, he and his sons amid Israel.” (DEVARIM 17:18-20)

A melekh (generally translated into English as “king”) is commanded to write and read his own Torah in order to prevent his position of leadership from creating within him a feeling of arrogance toward his brothers. By delving into the deeper secrets of Torah, a melekh can gain a higher awareness that although we may each play unique roles in Israel’s national life, we are all in fact parts of a greater whole and no man can truly reign supreme over others. Even learning the Torah on a surface level enables a leader to understand the past failures of his people in order that he personally strive to correct these shortcomings and lead the Jewish people in fulfilling our collective destiny.

The ideal Torah concept of melekh differs greatly from the monarchs who rule over other peoples. A melekh is the concentrated expression of the collective Israeli soul – Knesset Yisrael – that manifests itself in our world through millions of bodies revealed in space and time as individual Jews. The melekh does not actually rule over Israel but rather embodies the mission and aspirations of his nation to the extent that he becomes a microcosm of the entire Jewish people and his personal identity is absorbed into Israel’s collective national identity.

As is clearly exhibited in the behavior of David, a true melekh leads Israel not by behaving with arrogance but by displaying greater passion and fervor in serving HaShem.

“David danced with all [his] strength before HaShem; David was girded in a linen tunic. David and the entire House of Israel brought up the Ark of HaShem with loud, joyous sound, and the sound of the shofar.” (SHMUEL II 6:14-15)

David remains the paradigm of the ideal melekh, setting the ultimate standard for all future Jewish leadership.

“His [the melekh’s] heart is the heart of the entire congregation of Israel.” (Hilkhot Melakhim3:6)

Like the heart, which is one of the smallest organs of a body yet provides for that body’s entire life force, a melekh generates and directs the character and vitality of the entire Hebrew Nation. In this vein, the Midrash states that “The leader of the generation [represents] the entire generation.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:28)

To assist our leaders in properly fulfilling their roles, the Torah offers statutes to promote an attitude of responsibility, such as the commandment for a melekh to write for himself two copies of the Torah, as well as the following verses found at the end of SHOFTIM.

“If a corpse will be found on the land that HaShem, your G-D, gives you to possess it, fallen in the field, it was not known who smote him, your elders and judges shall go out and measure toward the cities that are around the corpse. It shall be that the city nearest the corpse, the elders of that city shall take a heifer, with which no work has been done, which has not pulled with a yoke. The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a harsh valley, which cannot be worked and cannot be sown, and they shall axe the back of its neck in the valley. The Kohanim, the offspring of Levi, shall approach, for them has HaShem, your G-D, chosen to minister to Him and to bless with the Name of HaShem, and according to their word shall be every grievance and every plague. All the elders of the city, who are closest to the corpse, shall wash their hands over the heifer that was axed in the valley. They shall speak up and say, ‘our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your nation Israel that You have redeemed O HaShem: Do not place innocent blood in the midst of Your nation Israel!’ Then the blood shall be atoned for them. But you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst when you do what is upright in the eyes of HaShem.” (DEVARIM 21:1-9)

While it may be difficult to imagine why anyone would suspect a pious city elder of responsibility for a mysterious local murder, Rashi explains that the elders must publicly absolve themselves from guilt in order to clarify that they were not negligent in providing the necessary security that would have prevented the spilling of blood. Sforno adds that such defensive measures include ensuring that no known murderer is permitted to roam the area. A Jewish leader must never be negligent when dealing with the welfare or security of his people.

A great lesson is taught here – a lesson in responsibility, Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel) and the duty that a leader bears for the defense of his people. It is clearly not enough for a person to refrain from murder. He must also do everything in his power to prevent blood from being shed by others. And in order to save innocent people from danger, it is often necessary to neutralize whatever security threats might exist. The Torah teaches this to be a major responsibility of both local and national leadership.

The Maharal of Prague offers a profound insight on this point. He teaches that these verses imply that the murder could have been avoided had the victim been escorted by someone from the city. While there is no legal requirement to accompany a traveler all the way to his destination, the Maharal explains that when a host takes the trouble to escort a stranger on his journey, he demonstrates solidarity with a fellow Jew and with the entire Hebrew Nation. This is achieved by the mere performance of going out of one’s way for another even if not specifically mandated. When one demonstrates such Ahavat Yisrael, HaShem provides extra protection and the possibility of a tragedy occurring is diminished.

True love breeds responsibility. A Jew cannot exist independent of his people and Hebrew leadership demands the attributes of compassion and responsibility in order to succeed in guiding and protecting the Nation of Israel. Our Sages teach that Jerusalem’s second Temple was destroyed as a result of baseless hatred between Jews. The third Temple will arise as a result of a limitless love – a love that will breed courage, humility and responsibility, ultimately shining its light to the entire world and engulfing humanity in the Divine blessing of HaShem.

Israel, Let Me In!

“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 a five hundred and sixteenth time, he would have elevated himself to a new spiritual height that would have permitted him to enter into the Land of Israel.

To fully understand this teaching, it is necessary to free our thinking from the erroneous Western concept of prayer. The English word “prayer” is actually derived from the Latin word precari, meaning “to beg” – precisely what many of us are mistakenly led to believe tefillah is. This misunderstanding, which often leads people 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 generally known as 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 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 life so we may be empowered to actualize our full potential 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 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 any tefillah 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 west of the Jordan, 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.’” (DEVARIM 3:27)

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.

REDEMPTION WATCH: Don’t Blink, You Might Miss It

“They took in their hands from the fruit of the land and brought it down to us; they brought back word to us and said, ‘Good is the land that HaShem, our G-D, gives us!’ But you did not wish to ascend, and you rebelled against the word of HaShem your G-D.” (DEVARIM 1:25-26)

Moshe rebukes the Children of Israel, not for their sin but for that of their fathers who had already perished in the desert. This seemingly unwarranted admonition serves to create within Israel a feeling of collective responsibility and to offer the people an opportunity to correct the major shortcoming of the previous generation. In order to correct past transgressions, however, it is first necessary to internalize what actually took place. And in order to clearly appreciate this teaching, we must identify who the “they” are that Moshe refers to in his rebuke.

“Yehoshua son of Nun and Kalev son of Yephuneh, of the spies of the land, tore their garments. They spoke to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying, ‘The land that we passed through, to spy it out – the land is very, very good. If HaShem desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. But do not rebel against HaShem! You should not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread. Their protection has departed from them; HaShem is with us. Do not fear them!’” (BAMIDBAR 14:6-9)

The “they” are Yehoshua and Kalev, two of the twelve tribal chiefs sent into Canaan to spy out the country and report back to Moshe. The twelve spies were the Torah giants of their generation and for reasons of pekuaḥ nefesh (preserving life), the majority argued against entering the Promised Land. It was the minority, Yehoshua and Kalev, who asserted that Israel must enter Eretz Yisrael and wage a war of liberation, not taking into consideration the superior military forces of the Canaanite giants. This being the case, the question arises how following the majority of rabbis over a seemingly irresponsible and adventurist minority opinion could be called rebelling against the word of HaShem – especially when Israel has been instructed to generally follow the legal opinions of the rabbinic majority.

To properly answer this question, it is necessary to accept that despite the great piety and scholarship of leading rabbis, legal decisions regarding national issues can often be influenced by issues of personality, transient circumstances and other external factors.

The mistaken assumption in certain circles that the rulings of great rabbis are at all times stirred by Divine inspiration, which by definition must be infallible, has unfortunately led several institutions of Torah learning to promote a herd mentality that transforms many otherwise gifted students into obedient devotees – not daring to even respectfully question the opinions of leading scholars.

“If the entire assembly of Israel shall err, and a matter became obscured from the eyes of the congregation, and they commit one from among all the commandments of HaShem that may not be done, and they become guilty; when the sin regarding which they committed becomes known, the congregation shall offer a young bull as a sin-offering, and they shall bring it before the tent of meeting.” (VAYIKRA 4:13-14)

The Talmud explains these verses to refer to a situation in which the Sanhedrin (high court of Torah authorities) commits a mistake and, due to their error in deciding the Law, a majority of Israel transgresses a commandment. The Torah is clearly recognizing the possibility of a situation in which the Sanhedrin itself can lead Israel astray. And if the Sanhedrin is capable of making such a mistake, then certainly modern rabbis can err in this regard.

The first Mishnah in Tractate Sanhedrin states that we are not meant to follow the majority if that majority is transgressing against the Torah. This is based on the verse in SHEMOT 23:2 which states, “Do not be a follower of the majority for evil.”

The Gaon of Vilna illuminates in Kol HaTor (the Gaon’s teachings on the process of Israel’s redemption) how even great scholars can miss the significance of events taking place in their generation.

“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 and Aḥronim.” (Kol HaTor chapter 5)

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook was once asked by the newspaper Maariv how Torah leaders in his day, like those in the times of Yehoshua and Kalev, could err in their opposition to the struggle for Eretz Yisrael. He answered, “When one believes that the redemption of Israel and the coming of the Messiah must appear miraculously from out of the heavens in a way which transcends the natural order of life, then one fails to see the hand of HaShem in all of the events of the world. The redemption is not obligated to appear with obvious miracles, nor does it have to be absolutely natural. Both miracles and natural world developments belong to the Almighty’s domain. The Rambam explains that the appearance of the Messiah is also a natural historical process, which is revealed by the ingathering of the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel, and even through wars. The redemption of the Jewish people, which comes to pass in a natural way, is also from the Almighty.”

While some scholars might argue that Israel’s salvation must occur through supernatural miracles and that Jews must refrain from active participation in the national struggle, others recognize the redemption as a process that develops gradually through natural historic events in which human beings are meant to play active roles. To only appreciate HaShem’s hand over the supernatural realm is to place limitations on His hegemony (from the perspective of man) and to not acknowledge His supremacy over the natural events transpiring in our day. Rather than reject the way in which the Kadosh Barukh Hu has chosen to bring history to fruition, Torah leaders must train the Jewish people to broaden our vision so that we might better understand our national mission in this world, as well as the actions we must take to facilitate the redemption process already underway in this miraculous generation.

Jewish Sovereignty Over the Land of Israel, Zionism and Our Indigeneity

This week’s Torah portion is the Parsha of Mas’ei.

“You shall possess the land and you shall dwell in it, for to you have I given the land to possess it.” (BAMIDBAR 33:53)

The Ramban offers a lengthy explanation of this verse, asserting that the mitzvah for the Jewish people to conquer and reside within the Land of Israel is a positive commandment of great consequence to the overall Hebrew mission.

“In my opinion this is a positive commandment, in which He (HaShem) is commanding them (Israel) to dwell in the land and inherit it, because He has given it to them and they should not reject the inheritance of HaShem. Thus if the thought occurs to them to go and conquer the land of Shinar or the land of Assyria or any other country to dwell therein, they would be transgressing the command of G-D. And that which our rabbis have emphasized (Ketubot 110b), the significance of the commandment of dwelling in the Land of Israel and the prohibition against leaving it, and that they even considered a woman who does not want to ascend with her husband to live in the Land of Israel [as a ‘rebellious wife’] and likewise the man – the source of all these statements here (in this verse) where we have been given this commandment, for this verse constitutes a positive commandment. And this commandment is repeated in many places, such as ‘Come and possess the land’ (DEVARIM 1:8).”

The Ramban demonstrates the above verse to be primarily teaching the eternal mitzvah for the Jewish people to assert political sovereignty over the Land of Israel and to reside within its borders.

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)

Although the Ramban (in his commentary to BAMIDBAR 33:53) acknowledges Rashi’s warning that Israel’s ability to survive and prosper in our homeland depends on the nation’s willingness to disinherit the gentiles who rule the country prior to our return, he offers a more lenient approach regarding the actions we must take against non-Jews merely inhabiting our land.

While many authorities assert that upon our return home from exile, Israel must drive out the gentiles in possession of our land, the Ramban insists that peace could be achieved between Israel and these people under certain conditions so long as the Hebrew Nation possesses undisputed sovereignty over the territory. Rashi appears to dispute this position, noting the following verse:

“But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those of them whom you leave shall be pins in your eyes and a surrounding barrier of thorns in your sides, and they will harass you upon the land in which you dwell.” (BAMIDBAR 33:55)

On this verse, Rashi explains that “pins in your eyes” means “liteidot ham’nakrot eineikhem” – that sticks will be driven into your eyes, meaning that the wisdom of Israel’s leadership will be neutralized, such that they will be unable to see or understand that which a child can clearly see and understand. There will be a situation in which Jews protect themselves behind fences and walls, which “enclose and imprison them such that none can come in or leave.”

The holy Ohr HaḤaim supports Rashi’s explanation of this verse, commenting that: “Not only will they hold onto the part of the land that you have not taken, but the part which you have taken and settled as well. They shall cause you trouble regarding the part that you live in, saying ‘Get up and leave it.’”

The Ramban’s more nuanced distinction between peoples wielding dominion over the Jewish homeland and those who merely dwell peacefully in the country under Hebrew sovereignty helps account for the presence of Israel’s Kenite allies in ancient times. It also takes into consideration the Torah’s many references to the compassion we must display towards the stranger in our land, clarifying the special obligations Israel has to a Ger Toshav. By attempting to assert political control over portions of Eretz Yisrael, however, a gentile could easily move himself from one category to the other.

While Israel was clearly obligated, upon our return home in modern times, to fight a war of liberation to drive British Empire from our soil, the more contentious question remains how we should relate to the Palestinian national movement that professes to speak on behalf of all Palestinians while seeking to appropriate the Land of Israel from the Jewish people.

The Gaon of Vilna sheds light on this question in his commentary to ḤABAKUK, where he illuminates the concept of Peleshet and the uniqueness of its historic national role. The Gaon points out that the verse in BEREISHIT 10:14, which introduces the Philistines to the stage of history, does not describe their birth as the Torah describes the birth of other peoples.

“And Mitzraim begot Ludim, Anamim, Lehavim, Naphtuḥim, Patrusim, and Casluḥim, whence the Pelishtim (Philistines) came forth, andCaphtorim.” (BEREISHIT 10:13-14)

The Gaon explains that the birth of the Philistines, which is described in different language than the birth of other nations, was an unnatural occurrence and that they are entirely absent from the stage of world history with the exception of specific generations in which they serve their unique function. When the Nation of Israel enters our homeland in order to establish the Hebrew Kingdom – the vehicle through which all of humanity will be elevated to unparalleled blessings – the Philistines appear on the scene to try and prevent this kingdom from being established. This was the case when our patriarch Avraham first entered the land (there was a “land-for-peace” deal aggressively solicited by Avimelekh of Grar), it occurred when his son Yitzḥak was faced with Philistine aggression and it was true throughout the period of the Judges up until the secure establishment of the Davidic dynasty when Israel finally implemented full dominion over the country.

Peleshet then inexplicably disappeared from history until modern times when it once again attempts to obstruct the establishment of G-D’s kingdom. The Gaon explains that without the necessary force of Peleshet, Israel would be unable to rise up to our essential mission and realize the true significance of Jewish sovereignty in our homeland. HaShem places this force into our world as a catalyst for Israel to reach our full national potential.

The truth in the Gaon’s words is evident today. As a result of our difficult struggle with Palestinian nationalism – a nationalism that materialized largely upon our return home and solidified in reaction to misguided Israeli policies – we have failed to simply exist as a normal country but have instead been confronted with grueling questions of identity. The brutal conflict has forced us to examine who and what we truly are, as well as the core reason for returning home and establishing a state. The ostensibly legitimate claims of another people to our land forces us to question not only our innate connection to our soil but also the ideal place of a non-Jew in our society and Israel’s unique national function on the world stage. The grievances and accusations of another people against our state – often equating Zionism with racism or Western colonialism – compel us to embrace our indigeneity and authentic Semitic identity. By forcing out the bigger answers to the difficult questions they create, the force of Peleshet causes Israel to understand what it is that we are actually fighting for. And by the time we come to terms with our unique historic role and discover a genuine Hebrew approach for relating to the Other in our society, we will have already grasped the true purpose of the kingdom that will lead humankind to a world of total blessing.

Israel’s Kingdom: Rectifying Evil and Lifting Holy Sparks

This week’s Torah portion is called “Matot:”

“HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people.’” (BAMIDBAR 31:1-2)

HaShem instructs Moshe to wage war against Midian in retribution for that nation’s attempts to seduce and destroy Israel. But when Moshe, in turn, relates this mitzvah to his people, his words are noticeably different.

“Moshe spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among yourselves for the army that they may be against Midian to inflict HaShem’s vengeance against Midian. A thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe, for all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the army.’” (BAMIDBAR 31:3-4)

In relating this commandment, Moshe refers to the vengeance of Israel as the vengeance of HaShem. Rashi teaches that one who raises a hand against Israel – the national human expression of the Kadosh Barukh Hu – must be regarded as if he is attacking G-D Himself.

Israel is tasked with the mission of bringing humanity to the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all. This message is manifest through the very life of the Jewish people in history, culminating with the establishment of a Hebrew Kingdom in Eretz Ysrael that reveals the Divine Ideal in every facet of human behavior.

By attempting to prevent Israel from establishing this kingdom, the Midianites were essentially working to delay man’s attainment of this higher consciousness and the blessing it would bring to all of Creation.

The battle of Midian therefore reveals the link between a nation’s animosity towards Israel and its subconscious desire to prevent history’s goal from being attained. By waging war on the Jewish people, even if not consciously aware of the inner cause, an individual person or collective group is making a declaration of war against the Source of all Creation. It then becomes Israel’s task, like a surgeon removing malignant tumors from a patient’s body, to extract this malevolent cancer from the world. While this may be difficult for a people whose national aspirations necessitate the elevation of all humankind, Jews must learn to view such “cruelty” through the lens of a greater vision that strives for humanity’s ultimate collective benefit.

Loving HaShem naturally requires one to extend that compassion to all of His children. And loving everyone and everything that the Kadosh Barukh Hu creates makes it difficult to hurt people fashioned in His Image. Every creature in existence, no matter how iniquitous, possesses a Divine spark of deep inner kedusha. But when existing within those who war against Israel, this holy spark suffers from a dark malice surrounding it and desperately yearns for rectification.

By removing such a person from the world, Israel rectifies the evil and uplifts the holy spark, liberating it from its prison of darkness and sin. It therefore becomes an act of great compassion – to HaShem, to humanity and even to the spark of good existing within Israel’s antagonist – that the Jewish people remove such a threat from the world and prevent him from further destructive behavior (while at the same time precluding his darkness from corrupting civilization). Similar to killing harmful bacteria, this kindness makes our world a healthier place as the Hebrew Nation aspires to bring Creation to an era of unparalleled blessing and harmonious unity through the higher awareness of HaShem as the infinite Whole of which we are all a part.

Balak’s Message for Israel’s Redemption Today

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 themitzvot that uplift all aspects of the material world to their highest functions in existence. According to the Ḥidushei 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 physical 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 in Eretz 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 over Eretz 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 kedushaand 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 the war effort against Israel, 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 and supernatural event in which the Nation of Israel is 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 an organization of 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 participants.

The Sin of the Spies in Every Generation

This week’s Torah portion is Shlakh Lekha.

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 translated 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 from foreign rule.

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 true Torah lives outside the Land of Israel; that the Nation of Israel need not be in its borders to be loyal to HaShem or to live by His Torah. But this claim in and of 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 many times over 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 and Aḥronim.” (KolHaTor 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 of Pikuaḥ Nefesh (preserving life) is not considered. Rather, a war of liberation requires greatMesirut 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.”

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.

Prophecy in Israel: Expression of the Collective Hebrew Soul and Unity of Creation

“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 amongst other peoples. The Hebrew word navi is 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 them 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 them 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 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 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 Holocaust in Europe 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 inReḥovot Hanahar, a 5711 (1951) volume detailing the Shoah, 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 Midrashrelates 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 throughout time.

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 humiliation 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 a primitive and imbalanced 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 Divine Spirit, 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 Israel’s collective destiny. 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 the Hebrew Nation but also for the whole of human civilization.

Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerusahalayim) – A Divine Plan Unfolding

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 porthole between our corporeal realty and the world beyond. And that porthole 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 return 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 porthole 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 mitzvahthat does not apply to cities in any other portion of our country. And according to both the Beit Yosef and the Mishnah Brurah on theShulḥan 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 28th of Iyar is the day on which the bridge linking heaven and earth was restored and the porthole 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.