The IDF and Israel’s Commandment to Liberate the Land

“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 HaḤaim 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 peoples unlawfully reigning over parts of our homeland, the IDF has launched strikes resulting in portions of our country becoming free. However poorly misnamed, the IDF constitutes the army of the Hebrew Nation fulfilling the mitzvah of liberating the Jewish homeland from foreign rule.

The Rambam (in Hilkhot Melakhim 5:1) provides an additional definition for a milḥemet 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 Rama 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 the Kadosh 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).

The 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. 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. When Am Yisrael displays great valor in battle, we are often rewarded with miraculous victories.

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 their 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 G-D 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.

The Tragic Legacy of David Raziel

The twenty-third of Iyar marks the day David Raziel fell in battle during World War Two. Raziel is best known for being the commander of the Etzel (Irgun Zvai Leumi) during the late 1930s and as a model for what the modern Hebrew soldier was meant to be.

Less commonly known about Raziel was his connection to Palestine’s Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook and the yeshiva where national-religious ideology developed. He studied at Mercaz HaRav for years and was even a regular study partner of Rav Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, son and ideological successor to the chief rabbi. Together the two learned the elder Rav Kook’s writings, specifically as those writings apply to Israel’s national rebirth as a means to usher in a better world for humankind.

The young men growing up in these communities are more often than not filled with a selfless dedication to this vision that generally finds expression through exceptional military service.

More than being the model for the modern Hebrew warrior, Raziel can more specifically be viewed as the prototype for Israel’s national-religious community, especially those inhabiting the mountainous Samaria and Judea regions. Many of the more ideological Jewish towns and villages throughout the West Bank have bred a culture of dedication to Rav Kook’s vision for Israel and the world and – like Raziel – the young men growing up in these communities are more often than not filled with a selfless dedication to this vision that generally finds expression through exceptional military service.

It was at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University that Raziel befriended Avraham Stern and introduced him to the Torah and traditions of Israel. Stern had come from a revolutionary socialist background, growing up in the All Union Leninist Pioneer Organization (youth faction of the Russian Communist Party) at the time of the Russian Revolution and first entering the Jewish community through the socialist Hashomer Hatzair. Stern had been unimpressed with both the Zionist right and left but was immediately inspired by Rav Kook’s messianic philosophy and – in addition to gradually taking on Jewish ritual practices – accepted upon himself the task of reviving the Israelite Kingdom.

Stern understood the Jews to constitute a people and not a mere culture or religion as most Marxists at the time claimed. He recognized Israel’s indigeneity to Palestine and identified British colonialism as the greatest obstacle to Jewish liberation. He joined Raziel in the Etzel command and the two worked together in building the nucleus of a Jewish fighting force that initially focused on defending Palestine’s Jewish community from the country’s increasingly hostile Arab population. At a time when the Haganah – the semi-legal Jewish militia under the command of Labor Zionists – practiced a policy of restraint in the face of attacks, Raziel led the Etzel in reprisals that demonstrated terror to be a sword capable of cutting both ways.

Although committed to the same ultimate vision, Raziel and Stern began to part ways in 1939. Raziel the soldier sought to turn the Etzel into a formidable army. But Stern the revolutionary saw more value in a clandestine underground. His Marxist background enabled him to analyze the factors standing in the way of Israel’s freedom. He identified Britain’s material interests in the Middle East, concluded that these interests demanded permanent control of Palestine and decided on the necessity of an anti-colonial struggle to free the country. In fact, by applying Marx’s method of analysis to the Jewish people as an indigenous people victimized by British imperialism, Stern came to deeply identify with the anti-Roman rebels of the Second Temple era – even taking for himself the penname “Yair” in honor of Masada’s Sicarii commander Elazar Ben-Yair (according to Professor Joseph Klausner, an influential teacher of Stern’s, the Sicarii were proto-communist Jewish nationalist guerrillas).

Raziel had the long-term vision for Malkhut Yisrael as a “light unto nations” but his short-term political vision was too narrow and myopic to reach Stern’s conclusions. When World War Two erupted, Stern distinguished between the German tzorer (persecutor) and British oyev (enemy), arguing that while the Germans hated and sought to harm the Jews, the British were the true enemy for standing in the way of the Jewish mission (by occupying our homeland and preventing Jews from returning home). These conclusions were reached prior to the Wannsee Conference at a time when German policy was merely to deport Europe’s Jews to whatever far-off country would take them. Adept at finding common ground with anti-Semitic Polish officials, Stern suggested a diplomatic agreement with Germany that would send the persecuted Jews to Palestine in exchange for the Etzel’s cooperation against England. But with or without such an agreement, Stern concluded that all efforts should focus on fighting British rule, for the sake of both freeing the homeland and rescuing Europe’s Jews.

Lacking the analytical tools to even recognize the inherent conflict between Jewish and British interests, Raziel accepted upon himself the political authority of Z’ev Jabotinsky and placed the Etzel at the disposal of the British war effort. Rejecting Jabotinsky’s leadership, Stern demanded a Jewish war aim in exchange for helping the British. He felt that without a commitment from London to either open Palestine’s gates to Jewish refugees or commit to a Hebrew state following the war, fighting for the British was betraying the Jewish cause. From Raziel’s perspective, the Germans – who most fiercely hated and were attempting to harm Jews – were the primary foe. But because Stern and his followers viewed the Jewish people not as an object with a problem (anti-Semitism, persecution, etc.) but rather as a subject with desires (independence in Jerusalem), they were able to recognize the necessity of an immediate anti-British struggle. They broke away from the Etzel and created a revolutionary underground dedicated to freeing Palestine from foreign rule. Although his knowledge of Torah was clearly deeper and broader than Stern’s, Raziel lacked the political sophistication to recognize the moves that would bring their people closer to the ultimate goal both men shared.

Hunted by the regime and driven by the symbolism and meaning of their leader’s demise, Stern’s small band of followers – the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel – possessed the strategic understanding to make each move count.

Raziel fell in battle wearing a British uniform on foreign soil. And the Etzel suffered from paralysis until 1944. Stern, by contrast, was shot dead while handcuffed by British detectives in Tel Aviv. Hunted by the regime and driven by the symbolism and meaning of their leader’s demise, Stern’s small band of followers – the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel – possessed the strategic understanding to make each move count. Every single explosion, shot fired and word of propaganda pasted to the walls of urban centers was geared towards very specific short- and long-term goals – forcing the British into a policy of collective punishment to maintain security, fostering general hostility towards the empire among the populace, dragging the Etzel (and even briefly the Haganah) behind them in their anti-colonial struggle, finding points of common cause with progressive forces in the Arab world, generating global sympathy – especially on the left – for their cause and making the price of ruling Palestine more expensive for the British than the benefits of exploitation. Applying the same Marxist analysis as their martyred leader, the Sternists identified the empire’s material interests in the region and attacked those interests until retreat became England’s best strategic option. And official British documents attest to the fact that it was “Jewish terrorism” that forced their withdrawal from Palestine.


Israel’s contemporary national-religious sector, of which I am apart, shares much in common with David Raziel – faith, long-term vision and a readiness to sacrifice. Our boys serve with distinction in Israel’s most elite units and we’ve successfully made a two-state solution impractical through our efforts to populate Samaria and Judea with Jews. But like Raziel, most of us sadly lack the political sophistication to recognize the material factors driving efforts to divide the country or to formulate effective strategies to advance Israel closer to our vision. The failure to save Gush Katif in 2005 is perhaps the clearest example of this flaw. Despite the many arguments focused on whether or not to actively resist, no one presented a sound strategy for HOW to effectively stop the disengagement plan. No one properly identified the material conditions and pressures driving Ariel Sharon to act as he did and no one suggested a comprehensive strategy to prevent the expulsion from being carried out.

There are questions the national-religious sector desperately needs to ask.

How do Israeli political leaders benefit from promoting a two-state solution?

How is such a policy in the regional interests of the United States and why does Washington push so aggressively for it?

How have the Israeli and Palestinian ruling classes benefited from the Oslo process?

In what way does accepting American aid make our leaders subordinate to Washington and vulnerable to pressure to surrender our heartland?

Is it possible to increase our Knesset representation without diluting ideology?

What is the best way to win over the Israeli masses to our vision?

Can the struggles for Eretz Yisrael and Jewish identity be communicated to the world in a language that would at the very least generate broad-based critical support?

With whom should political alliances be sought?

Is a relationship with Evangelicals desirable or dangerous?

Is reality truly as simple as “those giving us money are our friends and those trying to harm us our enemies” or should we carefully discern our own national interests, identify who might have common interests and then create the proper conditions to enable an alliance?

What material factors are driving Jews and Palestinians into conflict?

Must Palestinian grievances be rejected out of hand or could they somehow become part of advancing Jewish liberation?

If the forces of westernization within Israeli society have used the Palestinian cause to advance their agenda for decades, couldn’t those loyal to Eretz Yisrael and Jewish identity potentially do the same (especially now that partitioning the land has become practically impossible)?

We need to analyze the real obstacles standing in the way of Israel’s destiny and formulate the most effective means of overcoming those challenges.

In addition to raising another generation of dedicated soldiers, the national-religious sector must develop sophisticated political leadership. Rather than follow the modern-day Jabotinskys into a fantasy of Israel as an outpost of Western civilization, we need to analyze the real obstacles standing in the way of Israel’s destiny and formulate the most effective means of overcoming those challenges.

David Raziel, the prototype for our most courageous and dedicated young men, teaches us a valuable and tragic lesson. If we don’t learn to think outside the box and start questioning the very assumptions behind most of our political ideas, we can easily lose our way and unwittingly betray the struggle we’ve committed our lives to. Dedication to a higher purpose and the willingness to sacrifice for a greater vision might make us a powerful force in Israeli society. But a scientific analysis of our situation and the ability to formulate effective political strategies are crucial to actually thwarting the plans of those seeking to divide our land and advancing to the next stage of our people’s liberation.

Reunification of the Nation of Israel with the Land of Israel

“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 Progressas 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.

Israel Is to Be An Example of Justice and Perfection to Mankind

[This week’s Torah portion is the Parsha of Behar]

While the Torah instructs Israel to aspire towards a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” (SHEMOT 19:6) in the Land of Israel, a just social order and healthy economy are two crucial ingredients to fulfilling this charge. Since modern Zionism’s early years, there has existed a conflict between self-proclaimed adherents of socialism and their opponents who favor a free market economy. For decades following the reestablishment of Jewish independence, this battle has raged and formed deep divides. Although security threats, increased westernization and foreign pressure to shrink the country’s borders in recent decades have often caused class issues to fade into the political backdrop, Israel still lacks the socio-economic ideal necessary to serve as a paragon of justice and morality to other nations.

Israel is tasked with becoming a light unto nations. As the national expression of HaShem’s Ideal for this world, the Jewish people are meant to demonstrate to mankind how to live all facets of life in such a way that actualizes and fully expresses our inner kedusha (holiness). The State of Israel must set an example of excellence to the rest of the world in every sphere of nationhood, from commerce and agriculture to governance and social services. Israel must aspire to build a perfect society that functions according to G-D’s Truth in every detail of life. The formula is not man-made but rather a sacred reality that transcends the limited perception of human beings. Only through existing as such a holy nation in the whole of Eretz Yisrael can the Jewish people hope to bring humanity towards a future of genuine harmony and universal fulfillment.

In order for Israel to achieve this goal, it is necessary that we establish a just society reflecting the values of our Torah. The Children of Israel must determine and implement social policies that benefit the collective society as well as the individuals within. Because Israel is meant to serve as a national light to mankind, the Jewish state must become a model civilization in which people live lives of dignity and fulfillment while wholeheartedly sharing in the collective national burden.

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you.” (VAYIKRA 25:35)

Various modes of production and social structures may possess positive features from which man can benefit. But in order to arrive at a complete and perfect system, Israel cannot be limited to working within the framework of the choices offered by the outside world. Rather than adhere to rigid foreign concepts, Israel must set our agenda in accordance with Hebrew values and promote a new outlook in compliance with Torah culture – an all-encompassing approach that will succeed in expressing the highest values in seemingly clashing ideologies. A central goal of Israel’s redemption process is freeing mankind from the limitations of dualistic thinking. Israel must bring man beyond the artificial contradictions of ostensibly conflicting ideals towards a higher awareness of opposites actually enjoying a deep inner unity.

A clear example of this concept is found in the Hebrew understanding ofkedusha. While Western thinking has traditionally viewed holiness as the triumph of the spiritual over the physical, Israel’s more holistic approach recognizes kedusha as being the healthy unification of spirituality and physicality.

Dualistic thinking is only one of the many negative features of Western civilization – a civilization principally based upon the values of Esav, whose Edomite descendants ultimately became the Roman Empire, morphed into the Christian Church and dominated Europe. Essentially utilized as a means of social control, the poisoned doctrine of Christianity spread far and wide while spiritually oppressing a significant share of humankind. As Europeans began to conquer and pillage the new world, the culture of Edom took on a secular form still rooted in the barbarism of its forerunners as Europe’s feudalist social structure gave way to the rise of capitalism. Capitalism as a mode of production is essentially based on the competition between rival capitalists to attain profits. To beat out their contenders and constantly feed this ever-expanding system, leading capitalists enlist the aid of their governments in finding markets in other countries, gaining access to natural resources and exploiting cheap labor, essentially spawning the same imperialism that characterized ancient Rome. Within the capitalist mode of production itself exists a drive compelling nations to dominate and oppress weaker peoples.

Capitalism gave rise to a powerful culture that indoctrinates the masses to constantly consume, subliminally promoting the goal of life as the acquisition of wealth. The motivational forces driving Western man to be productive became the pursuits to accumulate the most money, bed the most attractive women, drive the fastest cars and live in the largest homes. While the Torah certainly requires men to be physically attracted to their wives and successful in providing for their families, these do not serve as the actual foundations of a Hebrew society. Unlike Western civilization, which places the materiel success of the individual at the center, Hebrew civilization is primarily concerned with the moral and spiritual wellbeing of the collective.

The future to which Israel is bringing the world is one in which the motivational force driving man becomes an idealistic desire to perfect the entire world. To become partners in Creation that experience HaShem flowing through us as we actively bring history to its ultimate goal. For Israel to lead the world to this stage first requires a conscious rejection of Edomite values in favor of a society based on giving and caring for the other, in which production is determined by actual human need. We must realize that the capitalist system only seems natural to us when we perceive ourselves as separate from – and at odds with – one another. The more we recognize mankind’s true inner unity, the more we appreciate our intrinsic subconscious drive to succeed collectively as one.

The Torah forbids us from allowing the impoverishment of other people as we are commanded to provide assistance to our brothers in need. Helping the poor is not merely a recommendation but actually a directive from HaShem and Divine expression of justice, no different than safeguarding the Sabbath or liberating Eretz Yisrael from foreign rule. Israel’s historic mission necessitates bringing all of humanity to the conscious awareness that Creation, with all of its multiplicity and variety, is actually one single entity – an organic whole of which we are all unique and crucial parts.

The ultimate goal towards which history is advancing necessitates the establishment of a social order founded on the morality and justice of our Torah where no person goes hungry and all live in friendship and mutual respect, setting an example of justice and perfection to mankind.

Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Commandment For Independence On Its Land

In order to appreciate the full significance of Israel’s Independence Day, one must clarify what the day is meant to commemorate as well as what this connotes within the context of Jewish history and Torah Law. One of the major reasons for the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut is to rejoice in the restoration of Hebrew independence in the Land of Israel following a long and bitter exile of the majority of Jews from our soil. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from British rule and the reestablishment of Jewish political sovereignty over our country.

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 HaEzersection 75, Pitḥei Tshuva 6)

The Nation of Israel is eternally commanded to conquer and implement Jewish sovereignty over our country. Yom HaAtzmaut commemorates the fifth day of Iyar, 5708, when Israel fulfilled thismitzvah for the first time in nearly two thousand years by declaring Hebrew independence in portions of our homeland.

Just as a young man celebrates becoming a Bar Mitzvah because it is his first opportunity to truly fulfill Torah commandments, we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut as our first opportunity to carry out the Divine directive of Jewish sovereignty over our homeland. It is our collectiveBar Mitzvah signifying the Jewish people’s national renaissance.

Aside from renewing the mitzvah of Hebrew sovereignty, there is another essential reason to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. The Megillat Ta’anit teaches that it is a mitzvah to thank HaShem for the miracles He performs. This was the basis for sanctifying Ḥanukah and Purim. And like Ḥanukah, Yom HaAtzmaut commemorates the triumph of a small and ill equipped band of Jewish freedom fighters over one of the world’s most powerful empires.

The British had ruled the Land of Israel since World War I and had done everything in their power to prevent the Jews from achieving statehood. While Israel’s political leadership grudgingly acquiesced to Britain’s imperialist designs, a courageous minority of young revolutionaries launched a war of liberation that eventually succeeded in attaining independence. As Hebrew fighters displayed tenacious heroism in the face of nearly impossible odds, HaShem worked through these fighters to force the British Empire from the shores of Palestine. And it was on the fifth of Iyar – Yom HaAtzmaut – that the Union Jack was ultimately lowered from the Jewish homeland.

Throughout the period of our exile, scattered Jewish communities have had the authority to establish what is called a “Purim Katan” – a sacred day of thanksgiving meant to express gratitude to the Kadosh Barukh Hu for saving a community from danger. Since Yom HaAtzmaut is a day on which a miracle occurred for the entire Jewish people, it is a Torah precept to ordain a public festival for commemoration of HaShem’s kindness towards His people. Israel’s Chief Rabbinate declared that the nation recite Hallel on this day in order to remember the miracles performed on Israel’s behalf.

But if the commandment is really so obvious and clear, why would so many great scholars appear so unsure about – or often even vehemently opposed to – the State of Israel and the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut? The Gaon of Vilna answers this question in Kol HaTor (the Gaon’s teachings regarding the redemption process compiled by his student Rabbi Hillel Rivlin of Shklov).

“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)

The Torah debate over Yom HaAtzmaut is actually far more psychological than it is legal. Those who relate to Jewish history as having played out in ancient times, but being currently paused until the eventual arrival of a Messiah, generally restrict Jewish life to matters of “religion” often divorced from public life and national developments. But those who view themselves as participants in history and active characters in an incredible living story appreciate how current events – and even the actions we take – can have the power to impact and influence the Hebrew calendar.

The most amazing miracle of Yom HaAtzmaut is perhaps the foundation for all of the others. After so many centuries of persecution in exile, HaShem placed a new spirit of valor into our people. For the first time in modern history, a generation of Jewish heroes arose – willing to lay down their lives for the liberation of their homeland. And even more astonishing than this is the fact that theKadosh Barukh Hu strengthened the hearts of Israel’s political leaders so that they would declare independence for the Nation of Israel despite being faced with overwhelming international pressure not to do so.

Yom HaAtzmaut is the most significant world event to take place in nearly two thousand years. It was on this day that HaShem returned the Children of Israel to the stage of history so that we may lead mankind towards a world of total blessing. It is the goal of Creation that the Divine Ideal be fully expressed through Israel bringing humanity to an awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all. The Maharal of Prague teaches in Netzaḥ Yisrael that in order for AmYisrael to fulfill our historic mission, we must first unite as an independent nation on our soil. Only as a strong and healthy nation living a collective life of national kedusha can Israel reveal the greatness and unity of HaShem’s Ideal in every major and minor sphere of existence. Only by establishing the Kingdom of Israel in the whole of our land can we bring mankind towards a universal blessing through illuminating the world with the light of Torah.

The modern State of Israel – the foundation of HaShem’s Throne in this world – must be understood not only as His Divine handiwork but also as an early stage in the development of universal redemption – a process that unfolds through a series of historic events. While the current Jewish state has not yet reached the greatness for which it is destined, it must be recognized that the physical vessel is once again in our world and will eventually grow to reveal its exalted inner potential. After so many centuries as a ghost walking through history, Israel again exists as a living nation on the world stage. The Jewish people has taken an enormous step forward by reestablishing Hebrew independence in portions of Eretz Yisrael. While the mere existence of a Jewish state was never the final goal of our ancient yearnings, it is certainly a powerful vehicle with which to now achieve the Hebrew Nation’s greater aspirations. The liberation of our people will continue to progress as new heroes arise to confront the challenges of our generation and advance Jewish history to the next stages of redemption.

The Holiness of the Land of Israel

“The land became contaminated and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the land disgorged its inhabitants.” (VAYIKRA 18:25)

The Ramban expounds on this verse by teaching that HaShem (G-d) has placed angelic forces to rule over virtually the entire world. Nearly every country has a designated angel acting as an intermediary between that nation and the Kadosh Barukh Hu (G-d). In fact, only in the Land of Israel – where HaShem’s Divine Providence is direct – are there no spiritual liaisons between Him and man. As a result, the Hebrew Nation can only engage in a pure Divine service, without any foreign barriers or impurities, when situated within the borders of our country. This is how the Ramban explains the Talmud’s harsh declaration that “All who live in Eretz Yisrael resemble one who has a G-D, and all who live outside of Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) resemble one who has no G-D” (Ketubot 110b).

In the Diaspora, a Jew’s service to HaShem actually moves through these intermediary forces and works to increase their spiritual power, leading them to then strengthen the countries over which they preside. The Ramban’s explanation is supported by the fact that throughout the long exile of the Jewish people from our land, many of the countries in which we wandered had become great powers on the world stage. Their cultures, economies and diplomatic standings flourished while Jews were practicing mitzvot (commandments) within their borders. But often as a nation would mistreat us, however, we would be forced to relocate and the country left behind would begin its historic decline. This remarkable pattern was relatively common during the centuries of our exile.

Simply by living Torah lives in foreign lands, Jews actually strengthen the celestial powers of those nations. The Ramban teaches that Israel’s inadvertent bolstering of these intermediary spiritual forces is actually a form of idolatry, as pure Divine service can only take place within the Land of Israel. While HaShem is equally present and supreme over the entire universe, there is a distinction in our ability to connect with Him and actualize His Ideal based on our own physical location.

Every mitzvah (commandment) is like a faucet that, when opened, releases Divine blessing into our world and elevates it to a level beyond where it previously existed. These faucets, however, must be connected to the correct plumbing in order for this blessing to successfully flow through them. The Torah, which was given to Israel to be performed specifically in our homeland, is connected to the plumbing of Eretz Yisrael. A person who performs mitzvot outside the Land of Israel is essentially turning on a faucet without a pipe. No blessing flows through. The physical act was completed but not according to the Torah’s instruction. A Jew practicing mitzvot in the exile may be performing the ritual precepts but he is not enhancing Creation on any spiritual plane. There are no pipes behind his actions because the full expression of HaShem’s Torah is only realized when performed inside the Land of Israel (as nearly the entire Book of DEVARIM instructs).

HaShem divided the world between peoples and gave each one a particular territory appropriate for its specific historic role. He fashioned Am Yisrael and set us in the center of His blueprint – within the borders exclusively suited to our unique inner kedusha and national mission. Like the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel enjoys a special relationship with HaShem. Eretz Yisrael is the point of intersection between our physical world and the Divine. Nefesh HaḤaim (4:11) explains that “G-D, Israel and the Torah are One.” HaShem manifests His greatness in our world through Divinely designated receptacles of kedusha. Just as the Torah serves as the Kadosh Barukh Hu’s written expression, the Nation of Israel is His national representation in human form. Similarly, the Almighty’s manifestation of kedusha in geographic form appears as the Land of Israel. Therefore, a Divine Providence graces Eretz Yisrael to the exclusion of all other places and it is only within our homeland that the Jewish people can truly realize the fulfillment of our national mission.

Only once HaShem’s representatives in this world are able to function according to our full potential can the ultimate expression of His Ideal be revealed. Only when the entire Hebrew Nation is situated in and sovereign over all of Eretz Yisrael – while living a national life expressing the full grandeur of Torah – can the goal of human history at long last be achieved.

It is impossible for a Jew to actualize his full potential outside his homeland, no matter how many mikvah baths, kosher restaurants oryeshivot his community boasts. Eretz Yisrael is not simply a better place to perform mitzvot but actually the only place to perform mitzvot. Rashi (quoting our Sages in his commentary to DEVARIM11:18) teaches that Jews must continue to observe Torah commandments even in the Diaspora to ensure these commandments remain familiar to us for when we eventually return home to our borders. Ramban, in his commentary to VAYIKRA 18:25, further elaborates on this concept by explaining that the Torah is meant to be observed specifically in Eretz Yisrael. The mitzvot only fulfill their true Divine function when performed within the borders of our country. And only by actualizing the Torah’s full expression can Israel bring humanity to universal redemption.

Passover – The Story of the Exodus Continues

Between Israel’s slavery in Egypt and the final redemption in Jerusalem, the story of the Exodus continues throughout time. In every generation we find challenges and heroes in our unbroken struggle for complete liberation as we inch ever closer towards history’s ultimate goal.

The festival of Pesaḥ (Passover) is the holiday of Israel’s initial emancipation, marking the birth of the Hebrew Nation and HaShem’s great love for us. It was on this day that the Kadosh Barukh Hu (God) took Israel out from Egyptian slavery in order that we become His human representative in this world. We were brought from subjugation to freedom in order that we establish the kingdom meant to express His Divine Ideal and bless humanity with the light of His Truth – a light that can only be illuminated through Israel experiencing complete independence in our entire historic homeland. It is therefore precisely on Pesaḥ – on the birthday of the Hebrew Nation – that we must educate ourselves to the true value of freedom.

Rashi teaches that the miracles of the Exodus began on the tenth of Nisan, a few days preceding the festival. It was on this date that Israel overcame our fears and psychologically freed ourselves from our chains of bondage. Each household prepared to slaughter a lamb, one of Egypt’s most prominent national deities, and displayed it defiantly for our oppressors to see. Although the Egyptians would naturally seek to punish their Hebrew slaves for such an offense, the Children of Israel remained miraculously unharmed. This was therefore the day on which the miracles of redemption truly began and when Hebrew courage was first demonstrated after so many years of persecution.

On Pesaḥ of 5707 (1947), the last year of British rule over our country, an important seder took place in the Jerusalem central prison. A few days before their scheduled executions by the foreign regime, six young men were conducting the Pesaḥ seder with Rabbi Yaakov Goldman. They were Dov Gruner, Mordekhai Alkaḥi, Yeḥiel Drezner, Eliezer Kashani and Meir Feinstein from the Irgun Zvai Leumi(National Military Organization) and Moshe Barazani from the Loḥamei Ḥerut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel). Dressed in their red death row jumpsuits, these boys were provided with haggadot and food so that they could sit together and celebrate the holiday of their people’s freedom for the last time.

The young men eventually arrived at the part of the haggadah which relates Rabbi Akiva and other Sages discussing the Exodus from Egypt all night in B’nei Brak. When dawn broke, their students came to inform them that it was time to say “Shema Yisrael.

The prisoners sitting around the table discussed where these rabbis might have been that they could not see the light of day in order to know the time. It is well known that these Sages had supported the Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire and that Rabbi Akiva had even served as Bar Kokhba’s personal arms bearer. Acting as the spiritual leader of the insurrection, Rabbi Akiva had gone so far as to proclaim Bar Kokhba the Messiah. These rabbis must have been hiding in caves from where they were organizing the revolt against Rome. They were discussing the Exodus – the importance of freedom – all night long and when dawn broke, their students came to tell them that it was time for “Shema Yisrael” – time to sanctify G-D’s Name through liberating the Land of Israel from foreign rule.

Nearly two thousand years later, these six boys – Jewish freedom fighters captured and sentenced to death – were reading the story of the rabbis in B’nei Brak. Dov Gruner said to the others, “It is a shame that our political leaders do not learn what Rabbi Akiva said, that if the Egyptians had not received fifty makot (plagues/strikes) and another two hundred and fifty makot at the sea, they would never have granted the Hebrews their freedom. If Rabbi Akiva understood that in order to become free, there had to be makot, then why is it so difficult for Israel to understand now that we must give makot to the British in order to win our freedom?”

Dov Gruner – ready to be executed by the British administration – internalized the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, who had himself been brutally executed by Rome. Now, after nearly two thousand years of terrible degradation, the students of Rabbi Akiva had at long last arrived. The students that history had been waiting for had come to proclaim that dawn was finally braking. The students – all dressed in red and eating a prison seder only days before their executions by a modern incarnation of Rome – had arrived to reestablish a sovereign Hebrew state – even if at the expense of their lives. These were men who walked in the path of Rabbi Akiva, knowing that it was their final Pesaḥ seder before singing HaTikvah and mounting the British gallows. And without fear or regret, they questioned why the official Jewish leadership of their generation had not understood the eternal teachings of redemption.

Prior to his execution, Dov Gruner wrote a farewell letter to his commander, Menaḥem Begin:


From the bottom of my heart I thank you for the encouragement that you have given me during these fateful days. Be assured that whatever happens I shall not forget the principles of dignity, generosity and resolve. I shall know how to uphold my honor, the honor of a Jewish soldier and fighter.

I could have written in high-sounding phrases something like the old Roman ‘Duce est pro patria mor.’ But words are cheap, and skeptics can say ‘after all, he had no choice.’ And they might even be right. Of course I want to live. Who doesn’t? But what pains me, now that the end is so near, is mainly the awareness that I have not succeeded in achieving enough. I too could have said ‘let the future take care of the future’ while enjoying life and being content with the job I was promised upon my demobilization. I could even have left the country altogether for a safer life in America. But this would not have satisfied me, neither as a Jew nor as a Zionist.

There are many schools of thought as to how a Jew should choose his way of life. One way is that of the assimilationists who have renounced their Jewishness. There is also another way, the way of those who call themselves Zionists – the way of negotiation and compromise, as if the existence of a nation were but another transaction. They are not prepared to make any sacrifice and are therefore forced to make concessions and accept compromise. Perhaps this is a means of delaying the end but, in the final analysis, it leads to the ghetto. And let us not forget that in the ghetto of Warsaw alone there were five hundred thousand Jews.

The only way that seems, to my mind, to be right, is the way of theIrgun Zvai Leumi, the way of courage and daring without renouncing a single inch of our homeland. When political negations prove futile, one must be prepared to fight for our country and our freedom. Without them the very existence of our nation is jeopardized, so fight we must with all possible means. This is the only way left to our people in our hour of decision: to stand on our rights, to be ready to fight, even if for some of us this way leads to the gallows. For it is a law of history that only with blood shall a country be redeemed. I am writing this while awaiting the hangman. This is not a moment at which I can lie, and I swear that if I had to begin my life anew I would have chosen the same path, regardless of the consequences.

Your faithful soldier,


Dov Gruner embodied the teachings of Rabbi Akiva and understood the struggle for freedom in Eretz Yisrael as the highest and truest service to HaShem. After receiving Gruner’s letter, Menaḥem Begin wrote:

“Great is the courage in Israel at a time of destruction and in this time of resurrection. We will be proud of them all and in all of them we will recognize holiness. But in the ladder of Jewish heroism, there is one level that is supreme. And from that level arises those who areHarugei Malkhut (martyrs of the kingdom). They were fighters whose fighting was not passive. It was active. They were revolutionaries whose revolution was not without choice but initiated. They went to the gallows and their heroism was not once. It is eternal. From their bleeding hearts, a song of freedom was sung. The song that sang how there is no purpose in being slaves anymore and that freedom would win and justice would arrive. And now, G-D of Israel, I tell You: Because You have given Israel such children as these, I say ‘Yitgadal V’Yitkadash Sh’mei Rabbah.’”

Begin declares “Yitgadal V’Yitkadash Sh’mei Rabbah” – “May His Great Name be exalted and sanctified.” The evidence that G-D’s Name is exalted and sanctified is that Israel has sons who are prepared to give their lives – boys ready to sacrifice themselves on the alter of Israel’s freedom so that the next generation would see a Hebrew flag over Jerusalem.

The legendary tzadik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, came to see Yeḥiel Drezner before he was taken to the gallows. When Drezner asked the pious sage for help with the confessional prayer before death, Rabbi Levine began to cry. He told the young fighter not to worry about death and that the confessional prayer is not necessary for martyrs.

And dawn broke. The British retreated from Eretz Yisrael shortly after the execution of these courageous boys. A Hebrew flag signifying renewed Jewish independence once again soared over portions of our homeland, initiating the first flowering of Israel’s redemption.

The Talmud (Brakhot 20a) asks why Israel experienced less open miracles in Talmudic times than in Biblical times. The Sages question if it might be because the Jewish people in Talmudic times were less immersed in the study of Torah. But the Talmud dismisses this and answers that it can be proven that there were Biblical generations that studied less Torah yet still experienced greater miracles. The Talmud continues by revealing that the difference is not due to a distinction in scholarship but rather to a distinction in self-sacrifice for the Hebrew mission. Israelis in Biblical times were more willing to give their lives for the sanctification of G-D’s Name. The Talmud therefore concludes that miracles are a result of courage and selfless devotion. When Israel is ready to meet HaShem half way, we are rewarded with assistance and great Divine kindness.

So dawn breaks not when Rabbi Akiva has students who merely study the Torah but rather when he has students who actually live the Torah and are willing to give their lives for the advancement of Jewish history. The young death row inmates understood what the haggadahmeans when it proclaims that next year the Jewish people will be free. In blood and fire Hebrew sovereignty fell and in blood and fire it would again rise. The haggadah is not simply a book that teaches us what took place once upon a time in Egypt. Nor is it merely an instruction manual for properly conducting the rituals of a seder. The haggadahin every generation is meant to teach Israel how to liberate our people and to understand the basic values of our freedom. The heroic martyrs of the pre-state Jewish underground were not simply fighters. They were educators – educators for a generation who did not yet understand the true meaning of freedom. And when the Jewish people will understand the true significance and value of Hebrew liberation, there will no longer be any necessity for such martyrs.

The lesson is clear. Freedom is a miracle and miracles require valor. History demands that Israel establish a kingdom that will manifest the Divine Ideal in all spheres of national life in order to liberate humanity from profane cultures and false dogmas. But in order to accomplish this lofty mission we must first psychologically free ourselves, as did our ancestors in Egypt on the tenth of Nisan. The sooner we believe in ourselves and in our ability to stand proud as a strong moral force among nations, the closer we will come to expressing the full grandeur of HaShem’s Ideal for this world and ushering in an era of total blessing for humankind.

Purim – Israel’s Determination To Survive Then and Now

Throughout the entire Scroll of ESTHER, G-D’s Name does not appear even once. Upon a casual reading, it would seem that Haman, Aḥashverosh, Mordekhai and Esther are fully responsible for the incidents taking place. Intrigue, human jealousies and political machinations all account for the twists and turns within the Megillah as events of great significance to the Jewish people unfold.

After completing the Megillah, however, it becomes clear that the juxtaposition of all the coincidences is nothing short of miraculous as HaShem’s Hand becomes visible through the thin veil of history. It is important to note that the story took place over a period spanning roughly ten years. Aḥashverosh’s party took place in 3395, Haman drew the lots in 3404 and Israel won our victory in 3405 (dates according to Seder HaDorot). Living through that period, one would probably not have noticed anything extraordinary taking place as everything was unfolding according to a natural progression of political events. There was nothing especially supernatural about the series of occurrences we retroactively understand to have been miraculous.

Our Sages teach in the Jerusalem Talmud (Brakhot 1:1) that the Purim story serves as a model for understanding the process of Israel’s ultimate redemption. Through the epic story of mankind, HaShem weaves the goal of Creation. When making the effort to closely examine our own times from a more holistic perspective, we can see G-D orchestrating the historic events – large and small – that have brought the Jewish people back to our borders and are bringing the world ever closer to perfection.

We celebrate Purim today with great joy because we are familiar with the story’s happy conclusion. But the Hebrews of ancient Persia – who actually lived through the events – must have been terrified at the threat of state-sanctioned annihilation. And Mordekhai, who the Jewish people now praise as a national hero, was actually much less appreciated in his own generation. A superficial reading of ESTHER can even lead one to attribute Mordekhai blame for placing his people in such a dire situation.

“All the king’s servants at the king’s gate would bow down and prostrate themselves before Haman, for so had the king commanded concerning him. But Mordekhai would not bow and would not prostrate himself.” (ESTHER 3:2)

The rabbinic leadership of Shushan at the time strongly condemned Mordekhai’s refusal to bow down before Haman. Comfortable with life on foreign soil, they feared Mordekhai might provoke Persian Jew-hatred and spoil their enjoyable Diaspora existence. But Haman had either engraved the image of an idol on his robes (Ibn Ezra) or attributed to himself the powers of a deity (Rashi). Because it is well known that the Torah directs one to die rather than bow down to a false god, the condemnation of Mordekhai seems somewhat unjustified.

In Ohr Ḥadash, the Maharal of Prague clarifies the rabbinic position by explaining that Mordekhai went out of his way to appear before Haman in order to purposefully demonstrate that he would not bow, thus creating an otherwise avoidable confrontation. The Sages record how the Jews of Persia reacted.

“They said to Mordekhai, ‘Know that you are putting us at the mercy of that evil man’s sword!’” (Agadat Esther 3:2; Megillah 12:2, commentary of the Radvaz)

“So the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordekhai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Finally, when they said this to him day after day and he did not heed them, they told Haman, to see whether Mordekhai’s words would avail; for he had told them that he was a Jew.” (ESTHER 3:3-4)

A close reading of the Megillah reveals that Mordekhai’s refusal to bow before Haman was not an isolated occurrence. Rather, he had gone out of his way several times in order to walk near the minister and publicly antagonize him. Because Mordekhai could have easily avoided the situation but instead engaged in actions that were deliberately confrontational, Shushan’s Jewish leaders seem justified in their condemnation.

Even when Mordekhai saw that “Haman was filled with wrath” (ESTHER 3:5), he continued to intentionally provoke the king’s viceroy. Based on his actions and the Talmud’s teaching (Pesaḥim 64b) that a person is forbidden from relying on miracles, one could easily argue that Mordekhai behaved irresponsibly with the lives of his people. The Maharal, however, defends Mordekhai’s behavior by asserting that challenging Israel’s enemies ultimately leads to the full manifestation of HaShem’s Ideal for this world.

The Midrash recounts that Mordekhai explained to Haman that the reason he would not bow was that he was born of kings from the tribe of Binyamin. Haman countered, “But Yaakov, Binyamin’s father, bowed before Esav, my ancestor.” Mordekhai answered him in turn, “Yes, but that was before Binyamin was born. He was born in Eretz Yisrael, and his soul, therefore, was an elevated soul. He would not bow down before others.” (Esther Rabbah 7:9)

Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Ḥarlop – a leading student of Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook – explains in the sixth volume of Mei Marom (based on teachings from the holy Zohar) that subordination to gentile rulers is a form of idolatry. Israel must trust completely in the Kadosh Barukh Hu (G-d), who controls and directs all historic events. To fear foreign nations is to reject G-d’s supremacy and a terrible desecration of His Divine Ideal.

The Talmud (Brakhot 7b) discusses whether appeasement or confrontation is the proper course of action when dealing with gentile antagonism towards Israel. While Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai – who himself resisted the Roman oppressors of his generation – teaches that it is acceptable to antagonize and provoke the wicked, the Talmud concludes that not everyone is capable of following this position. Only a person whose motivation is purely for the sake of heaven can allow himself to take such dangerous risks.

Mordekhai refused to humble himself before Haman, arguing that Hebrews must stand strong in the face of aggression. The rabbinic leadership of Shushan agreed with Mordekhai in principle but felt that in order to display such courage, the Jews had to first feel internal strength. Mordekhai rejected the notion that his people were weak and instead recognized Israel’s true inner potential. He argued that even if Jews first need to feel internal strength before being able to stand up against Haman, that strength will never come while they remain on their knees. In fact, bowing to tyrants is precisely what leads people to mistakenly believe they lack the power to assert their rights. Haman was already seeking an excuse to destroy Israel and demands for submission could easily lead to further oppression. Appeasing evil, according to Mordekhai’s logic, would only succeed in encouraging further evil.

As G-d’s chosen people and national expression in this world, Israel must realize our own inner strength. When the Persians came to destroy the Jews, Mordekhai led our people into battle and prevailed. The actual decree to annihilate Israel had not been rescinded and the Jews were required to take up arms against those who had sought our destruction. At that point, Israel realized our true inner might by taking the initiative and killing 75,800 Persians without losing even a single Hebrew life. The message is clear for every generation. Israel must demonstrate confidence in itself and an iron determination to defy its oppressors. Mordekhai teaches that it is not through appeasement that one achieves peace but rather through the courage, self-assurance and unbreakable certainty in G-d’s Ideal that empowers us to resist the malevolent plans of our antagonists.

What is True Jewish Leadership?

Leadership has played – and continues to play – an essential role in the life of the Hebrew Nation. While Israel has at times been blessed with great shepherds who have brought our people to incredible heights, poor leadership has too often resulted in disaster for our people. This week’s Torah portion of VAYAKHEL offers a glimpse of improper Jewish leadership, from which we can discern the attributes a true leader should possess.

“The leaders brought the shoham stones and the stones for the settings for the Ephod and the Breastplate; the spice and the oil, for illumination and for the anointment oil and the incense spices.” (SHEMOT 35:27-28)

Rashi cites Rabbi Natan on this verse, noting that the word “leaders” (Nesi’im) is spelled without the two yuds the word would normally include. He explains the defective spelling of their title as an implied rebuke for having not brought their gifts until everything else had been contributed. Assuming that the general contributions would not be enough, the tribal chiefs waited to see what would be lacking so that they themselves could step forward and provide it. Because the national response was so generous, however, there was almost nothing left for the leadership to contribute.

The Talmud states that “G-D cries over three things each day… one of these is a leader who behaves arrogantly towards the public” (Talmud Ḥagigah 5b). Rabeinu Baḥyah teaches on this that “For it is the way of leaders to look down upon the rest of the people… and thus leaders brought the stones that rested on Aharon’s heart, in order to atone for the arrogance of their hearts. These leaders had been lowly slaves in Egypt and were now princes of Israel. Upon receiving their high appointment, they immediately began to look down upon their brothers.”

Because Israel’s tribal chiefs were idle in their participation, the Torah spells their title defectively. Had their exhilaration over the Mishkan been equal to that of the masses, they would have immediately joined in the national spirit of generosity. But influential people often view themselves as superior to their public and are unwilling to compromise their status in society. This contemptuous attitude is precisely what leads people in positions of responsibility to harm the national welfare in favor of advancing personal agendas.

The Maharal of Prague teaches in Netivot Olam that a leader who relates to his public with arrogance can easily begin to rule through coercion and brute force. He can become a tyrannical dictator, persecuting any who stand in the way of his ambitions. Throughout history, this type of leadership has resulted in calamity for the Children of Israel. An attitude of false superiority can often cause a person to neglect what is best for his people in favor of personal success or political gains. Such arrogance can even drive a leader to sacrifice innocent lives in exchange for the fleeting approval of foreign rulers.

The ideal Torah concept of melekh (generally translated into English as “king”) 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.

Unlike the tribal chiefs who demonstrated less enthusiasm than their people for the Mishkan, a true leader of Israel leads his nation by displaying even greater passion and fervor in serving HaShem. This is clearly exhibited in the behavior of David.

“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 theshofar.” (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 Melakhim 3:6)

Like the heart, which is one of the smallest organs of a body yet provides for that body’s entire energy and 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 Rabbah19:28)

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.

“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 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 historic destiny.

Genuine Hebrew leadership is the higher calling to unite and inspire Israel towards reaching our full potential as the nation that manifests HaShem’s Ideal in all spheres of life. This national mission is the essence of what a king must fully absorb into himself so that he may place Israel’s honor and well-being before his own. Such leadership is vital for Israel to succeed in bringing about history’s ultimate goal – that the Divine Ideal be seen, felt and perceived in everything that exists so that all may understand themselves as active participants in the greater story of mankind. It is the deterministic blueprint of human development that all peoples unify behind Jerusalem’s leadership in ushering in a world of total goodness and perfection – a world where each people fully expresses itself as an essential organ of a greater body with Israel serving as the heart.

“Pharaoh approached…”

“Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold! – Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to HaShem. They said to Moshe, ‘Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the Wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Is this not the statement that we made to you in Egypt, saying, Let us be and we will serve Egypt? – For it is better that we should serve Egypt than that we should die in the Wilderness!’

Moshe said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of HaShem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again! HaShem shall make war for you, and you shall remain silent.’” (SHEMOT 14:10– 14)

Acknowledging that Israel greatly outnumbered the Egyptian military at the Sea of Reeds, the Ibn Ezra provides a remarkable explanation of the above verses. He writes: “How could a camp of six hundred thousand men fear their pursuers? Why should they not fight for their lives and the lives of their children? The answer is that the Egyptians had been Israel’s masters. The generation leaving Egypt had learned from childhood to bear the Egyptian yoke and they possessed a low soul. Being weak and unaccustomed to warfare, how could they now fight their masters? We see that Amalek came with a small force and, if not for Moshe’stefillah, they would have weakened Israel. G-D alone does great deeds and orchestrates events. He arranged for all the males who had left Egypt to die out – because they lacked the strength to fight the Canaanites – until another generation arose who had not seen exile and who possessed an exalted spirit.”

The Ibn Ezra teaches that despite their superior numbers, Israel was not commanded to stand and fight. The Hebrews had been conditioned by several generations of slavery to fear and obey their Egyptian masters. Possessing a low soul made them near incapable of warfare, thus requiring Moshe’s tefillot to later overcome the Amalekite ambush (SHEMOT 17:8-13). According to the Ibn Ezra, this low soul was the reason that the generation who left Egypt would later need to die out in the desert over a forty-year period. Their children – a new generation raised in freedom – would then be able to wage a war of liberation against the Canaanite kings.

The low soul that the Ibn Ezra speaks of is similar to what modern psychologists term “learned helplessness.” At various historic points, this slave mentality has prevented the Jewish people from successfully advancing our national mission. One example of this neurosis in recent decades has been the confusion among many scholars concerning the process of redemption and how the Jewish people must relate to – and interact with – the historic events unfolding in modern times.

Israel’s Prophets and ancient Sages teach that there are two ways in which the final redemption can occur. There is the miraculous way (aḥishena) and the more mundane natural process (bi’eta). Due to the bitter realities of life in the Diaspora, Jewish communities in recent centuries were conditioned to believe that the redemption could only transpire through open miracles. Taking the initiative to advance salvation through physically conquering the Land of Israel was scorned as forbidden by many rabbis who claimed that Israel must sit patiently and wait for the Kadosh Barukh Hu to redeem His people. In the ghettos of Europe, where day-to-day life included a fear of gentile persecution, the idea of Jews valiantly recapturing Eretz Yisrael by force of arms seemed as if it would be even more an aberration of the natural order of the world than HaShem performing supernatural miracles on our behalf. As a result of this reality existing for so long, many Jews became trapped in this mindset of helplessness even once the political reality surrounding them had changed.

Other factors also contributed to the Jewish idealization of learned helplessness. Because of the internal damage inflicted upon Israel by so many unsuccessful messianic movements, the study of the redemption process was halted in most houses of study throughout Europe, leading to any attempt at bringing salvation closer through human efforts becoming widely seen as tantamount to an act of heresy. The combination of these factors created an expectation that the redemption would occur through supernatural events above and beyond human participation. Practical efforts to achieve redemption came to be viewed as destructive behavior stemming from a weakness of faith.

Learned helplessness became most prevalent in Jewish circles during the decades leading up to the development of political Zionism. The handful of Torah giants at the time who understood that Hebrew liberation could – and most probably would – unfold through a series of natural historic events were unable to effectively spread their ideas or inspire the faithful masses to actively participate in the redemption process. But examining the words of these visionary scholars helps us to retroactively recognize how correct they truly were and how much their teachings still illuminate our proper path.

Rabbi Yehuda Ḥai Alkalai, the famed kabalist of Sarajevo, wrote of redemption from within in Raglei Mevaser. In it he explains: “Redemption will reach us in a natural way. Had the Almighty wished to redeem His people through miracles, the exile would not have lasted so long. Moreover, in the present Jewish situation even a naturally attained redemption would be miraculous. Redemption will grow from within the people and not with the Messiah performing miracles, as in the days of the Exodus from Egypt. Final redemption will be the result of national initiative aided by G-D, as it is written: ‘And the Children of Judah and the Children of Israel will be gathered together’ (HOSHEA 2:2), and ‘Shake yourself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem, release the bonds from around your neck,’ (YISHAYAH 52:2). Yishayah uses the reflexive form to emphasize that redemption will stem from self-help.”

In his Reply to the Skeptics, Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmakher states: “To our great misfortune there are yet many who mistakenly believe that they will sit in the comfort of their homes when suddenly a voice from heaven will proclaim redemption. But it will not be so! The Babylonian exile, though destined to last no more than seventy years, required the practical leadership of Daniel, Ezra and Neḥemia to achieve a significant return to Eretz Yisrael. Unlike many of our own contemporaries they did not say ‘let every man remain at his place and redemption will come of itself.’”

Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher illuminates the way to redemption in Drishat Tzion. He writes: “It is wrong to believe that redemption will come as a sudden revelation of G-D from heaven, calling upon His people to leave the Diaspora. The vision of the Prophets must come true, but not as a sudden event. Final redemption will come in stages with the return of the people to the land and ultimately by the coming of the Messiah. Dear friend, you must rid yourself of the illusion that the call of the Messiah will come as a bolt from the blue arousing the sleeping masses. Redemption will come about through an awakening of well dispersed gentile leaders and governments, viewing favorably the return of Jews to the Holy Land.”

In Awake, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever teaches: “Even though natural events will lead to redemption, this is not simply an historical accident. There are no coincidences in the Universe, since G-D’s Will is also manifested in the course of natural events. Accordingly, it is for us to rouse the powers that be to treat the Jewish people favorably, whereupon Divine help will surely be forthcoming in the ingathering of the exiles to the Holy Land. As the Prophet proclaims (YISHAYAH 62:10): ‘Go through, go through the gates; clear the way of the people; cast up, pave the road; clear it of stones; raise a banner over the peoples.’ Yishayah’s intention is clear: we must awaken and do all in our power to clear away the obstacles in the path of our redemption.”

These scholars stressed the fact that human initiative would be necessary in bringing Israel’s redemption to fruition. Their ideas were highly advanced for their time – especially when compared with many of their contemporaries – and their teachings represent a Torah of action that challenges the psychological state of learned helplessness. While it is clear that we have still not yet tasted full redemption, the process has certainly begun to unfold. There exists a sovereign Hebrew state in much of Eretz Yisrael but in order for us to participate in bringing total salvation, a higher approach to Torah study must be adopted.

The holy Ohr HaḤaim speaks of redemption and self-awakening in his commentary on VAYIKRA 25:25. There he states: “Redemption will start with a stirring in men’s hearts urging them: Do you feel secure living in a strange land, exiled from your G-D? What pleasure does life offer so far removed from the lofty values that were yours in the presence of the Almighty? Superficial, ill-conceived desire will then become repulsive and a spiritual craving will awaken your soul, improving your actions until G-D will redeem. Who will be called to stand in judgment? The Jewish leaders of the Diaspora who throughout the years did not encourage their people to return to Zion. They will be made to bear the shame of a forsaken homeland.”

In Eim Habanim Smeiḥah, written during the Holocaust, Rabbi Yissakhar Shlomo Teikhtal echoes the Ohr HaḤaim’s statements on the dangers of passivity. “The Orthodox, on the other hand, those zealous for G-D’s Will, stood aside and took no part in this effort. They remained with their traditional view that ‘sitting back and doing nothing is best’… It seems to me that all the leaders who prevented their followers from going and joining the builders [of Eretz Yisrael] will never be able to cleanse their hands and say ‘our hands have not spilt this blood.’”

A new generation has arisen today, alive with a more vibrant Torah of redemption. It is a generation infused with an exalted spirit of vitality as Israel’s youth is again being raised on our natural soil. The homeland – which had for so long refused to provide fruits to any stranger – has blossomed under the renewed political sovereignty of her native people.

The vitality infused into the Jewish people today has inspired incredible acts of valor and self-sacrifice, even amongst those not observant or even knowledgeable of mitzvot. At nearly impossible odds, Israel has won miraculous victories over our enemies. We have liberated portions of our homeland and revived the Hebrew language after many long centuries of separation from both. These incredible events are part of a greater process prodding history forward as Israel returns to the international stage in order to ultimately shine blessing and light to mankind. HaShem has inspired a new generation with a lofty spirit uncorrupted by fear, passivity or learned helplessness. Israel’s youth demands a greater and fuller Torah that encompasses and infuses all aspects of life with the necessary strength and courage to usher in an era of universal redemption.