A Correspondence Between Friends, Part 3

The Chareidi connection to Eretz Yisrael

Dear Yisrael:

Your latest letter left me baffled.

As part of your explanation why the chareidim don’t wish to join the IDF, you wrote that “The notion that yishuv Eretz Yisrael is the foremost mitzvah of the age — and one that trumps all other mitzvos — not only has no basis in our mesorah, but is an inherent contradiction to our fundamental hashkafic beliefs.”

You then went a step further, stating that “the idea that the mitzvah of conquering Eretz Yisrael applies while we still await the coming of Moshiach is downright absurd.”

Pray tell me, my dear friend, if that is the case, why did so many chareidim choose to settle in Eretz Yisrael in the first place?

You, of all people, are the last person from whom I would expect such language. You have told me on numerous occasions how you would wish to make aliyah, and only your familial obligations are keeping you back. You have revealed to me how you fervently wish you were able to visit Eretz Yisrael more often, and that if only you could afford it, you would travel several times a year.

If one is supposed to wait until the coming of Moshiach before immigrating to the Holy Land, then why are you so anxious to move there? Why are you so eager to visit?

Yaakov


Dear Yaakov:

In the words of Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol, written in his classic Mivchar HaPninim: “The question of a wise man [contains] half the answer.”

In your latest query, you very accurately represented my feelings towards visiting and living in Eretz Yisrael. These emotions are a direct result of my being raised in a chareidi home and attending chareidi yeshivah.

Let there be no misunderstanding: the intense yearning in my heart is very real, but still only a distant echo compared with the relationship that previous generations of Torah Jews had with Eretz Yisrael.

Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers were so determined to kiss the holy stones of Eretz Yisrael that they made the arduous journey to the Holy Land in the 1920s by boat. When my elderly and ill great-grandmother heard that her son was planning a trip, she insisted on joining him despite pleas from her family members that she was risking her life in the process. Even those who held that yishuv Eretz Yisrael wasn’t a mitzvah that applies while Jews are in exile, cherished the idea of settling and living on holy soil.

Most Torah-true Jews of prewar Europe didn’t have the opportunity to physically visit Eretz Yisrael. But their hearts and minds were always there. Three times a day, they turned towards mizrach while davening Shemoneh Esrei, and three times every weekday they beseeched their Creator to rebuild Yerushalayim and restore the Kingdom of David.

The tzedakah box for “Eretz Yisrael gelt” — funds earmarked to help the poor in the Holy Land — played a pivotal role in a Jewish home. Some were able to drop coins into the box on a daily basis, others every Friday. When one was in need of a yeshuah or in the midst of celebrating a simchah, extra coins would be reverently placed, along with a heartfelt prayer. The greatest leaders of the generation served as the administrators of these tzedakah funds, and some would even travel from town to town, actively raising money as well.

Whenever a resident of Eretz Yisrael, fondly called an “Eretz Yisrael Yid,” would arrive in a city in Europe — usually to raise funds — he would be treated like visiting royalty.

Centuries earlier, the Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon set out to Eretz Yisrael, but Heaven decreed that they should turn back. A group of disciples of the Vilna Gaon did manage to make the trip and helped establish what later became known as the old yishuv in Yerushalayim, and a group of disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov, successfully established communities in Tzfas and Teveria.

It is imperative to realize, however, that the deep-rooted and powerful connection between our ancestors and Eretz Yisrael was wholly spiritual. Neither nationalistic nor political considerations were even contemplated. It was always a matter of the Jewish soul, yearning to be able to bask in the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. Naturally, we always prayed fervently for the Final Redemption, but this, too, was always strictly a spiritual affair. We shed rivers of tears for the coming of Moshiach so that Hashem’s name would be sanctified, and that we should be free from the persecutions and harassment that hinders our ability to devote ourselves solely to serving our Creator.

From our very inception as a people, we were never intended to be a people like all peoples. Our mission is to be a holy nation, a mamleches Kohanim, a kingdom of servants of Hashem. Therefore, the concept of having a “national homeland” just for the sake of having our own, independent country like all the other members of the U.N. is against the fundamental beliefs of Judaism.

While the two issues are sometimes thought to be interrelated, in reality, the concept of yishuv Eretz Yisrael and the notion of having an independent State are two totally separate entities. Under the Ottoman Empire and later under the British mandate, Jews were moser nefesh to visit and settle Eretz Yisrael without even considering the possibility of a state of their own.

Yearning to live a Torah life in Eretz Yisrael should not be confused with conquering land for a modern, secular State of Israel. The former is a holy, ruchniyus concept; the latter a nationalistic drive to make us a people like all peoples.

I hope I have sufficiently clarified this issue, in any case, I look forward to continuing this conversation,

In Friendship,

Yisrael