Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
To dedicate this lesson

Jews And The Land Of Israel


Rabbi Berel Wein

The relationship of the Jewish people to their homeland in the Land of Israel has always been a delicate one. Firm in faith but fragile in application. We find that Moshe sends his trusted lieutenants on a fact- finding mission to assess the situation in the Land of Israel. Moshe fully expects a positive report from them and is shocked when the majority report in essence says "it is a great place to visit but we could never live there." Eventually the desert will consume that entire generation but their reaction to the Land of Israel has left a deep and abiding impression amongst Jews for all generations. Jews have maintained a constant presence in the Land of Israel - sometimes a large and dominant and independent presence and many times a smaller, subservient presence - for over three millennia. Jews prayed thrice daily for their return to Zion and Jerusalem. Over the centuries individual Jews, many of them the spiritual leaders of their times, risked everything to reach and settle in the Land of Israel. Jews never forfeited the hope of returning to their homeland no matter how improbable that hope seemed to be of actualization. Yet in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century when the great emigration of Easter European Jews took place barely five percent of those Jews chose to settle in the Land of Israel. Most Jews then opted for North America and Western Europe as their new home. In the main, these were the same Jews who continued to pray daily for their return to Zion and Jerusalem. History contains many ironies.

The Zionist movement and its predecessor the Lovers of Zion attracted greater Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel but the vast majority of Jews still did not come. When the gates of the Soviet Union and later Germany and finally all of Europe shut and trapped the Jews of Europe six million of them were doomed to destruction. After World War II there was a determined effort by hundreds of thousands of survivors to reach the Land of Israel. With the creation of the State of Israel these Jews were absorbed into the Jewish state as were soon afterwards almost six hundred thousand Jews who were expelled from their homes in Moslem and Arab countries where they had lived for centuries. The early leaders of the state, Ben Gurion, Weizman and others fully expected a large wave of immigration of Jews from Western countries especially the United States to occur. They were surprised and shocked when this did not at all materialize. In effect for most Jews in the world the Land of Israel was a nice place to visit (though most of them did not even visit) but they preferred to live elsewhere. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed a great wave of Russian Jews came to live in Israel. But over the decades hundreds of thousands of Jews left the Land of Israel to live elsewhere, some of them even former high ranking legislators and officials in the government of the state. I do not write any of this in criticism of anyone but these are merely the facts of the matter. And there continue to be millions of Jews who pray every day for their return to Zion while living comfortably or uncomfortably as the individual case may be on foreign shores.

The ultimate test for the State of Israel in my opinion is not so much what our enemies or even our erstwhile friends think about our wonderful little country but what the Jews of the world think about it. How deep is their real affection for Zion and Jerusalem? Does it enter into their future plans to arrive and settle here and help build the Jewish state physically, financially and spiritually? How do we explain to the world that our affection and longing for Zion and Jewish independence is not solely a Holocaust related cause and effect situation? The original words of the Hatikvah anthem had it more correct than the new improved version. In the old version we sang about David’s city, where he lived and ruled millennia ago. That is our claim to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem. The current version speaks of independence and freedom but those are not exclusively Jewish values - everyone in the world wants to live in independence and freedom - and do nothing to buttress our more than legitimate claim to our land and our capitol city. If we are not for ourselves than who will be for us? The saga of Moshe and his fact-finders lingers on.
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