Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Torah Perspective
To dedicate this lesson
part I

The Importance of the State of Israel in the Writings of Rabbi A.I. Kook

Why did G-d create Am Yisrael as a nation and not just a religion? Why, in addition to the mitzvot between individual Jews, and between man and G-d, does the Torah call for a framework of a national land, army, political system, and even coin?


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Shvat 5773
2 min read
1. The Universal Cultural Influence of Popular Superpowers
Entire Nations Living by the G-dly Ideals

The most basic of questions that must be clarified regarding Zionism or religious nationalism is: Why did G-d create Am Yisrael as a nation and not just a religion? Why, in addition to the mitzvot between individual Jews, and between man and G-d, does the Torah call for a framework of a national land, 1 language, 2 army, 3 political system, and even coin? 4 Why does Hashem tell Avraham in his very first sentence of prophecy, that he must leave his homeland and family in order to go to Israel where He will make him into a "great nation "? 5
By comparison, the other monotheistic religions seem to manage fine without the aspect of nationalism. If a gentile doesn’t believe in Yeshu or Mohammed, he simply isn’t Christian or Muslim. Why is a Jew always Jewish even if he’s not religious? Even if he is a baptized apostate, a Jew is always a Jew because he belongs to the Jewish nation! 6
To sharpen the question, if our goal is to be a "Light for the Nations" of the world, 7 it seems more logical to live and mix with them in order to influence, and not to live in a separate land, speaking a separate language, with political and national needs that often bring to international conflict , rather than peace, cooperation and influence. Consequently, the Moslems and Christians spread their word very effectively by being dispersed throughout the world, rising above any borders, languages or nationalism which limit and exclude the "enlightening" of many potential candidates.
Even if it is true that we are not interested in converting the gentiles to Judaism, 8 we definitely want to influence them to observe the seven Noachide Laws, to be moral, and eventually to believe in the One and Only G-d of Israel . 9
Simply put, it even seems to be counterproductive to have this limiting nationalist and separatist aspect built-in to the Torah framework.
True, there are technical problems with the "unnationalist" approach. For example:
1. If we are dispersed and living as a minority amongst the gentiles, instead of us influencing them, we see that they influence us and we assimilate.
2. There is also some truth to the claim that a concentrated light shines much more brightly than millions of sparks here and there.
3. One can also claim that technically, when living among Jews in a Jewish country, our obligation of all mitzvot bein adam l’chavero apply on a non-stop basis, towards each and every driver on the highway, telephone operator, bank teller, and person in front or in back of me on line in the supermarket.
4. One can also suggest that technically, if Judaism were just a religion, in a generation which opts, through its free will, not to believe in G-d or religion, we would chalila, have eternally lost the vast majority of our brethren! Today, Zionism or nationalism serves as an anchor to keep most of the assimilating world Jewry at least minimally connected to Judaism.
Nevertheless, there must be some more G-dly ideal or deeper logic to Jewish nationalism and Zionism which play such a central role in the complete Judaism, the framework which was and will be forever, as seen in the Tanach and in the modern day national rejuvenation. Why are most of the mitzvot dependant upon living in the Land and State of Israel? 10 It must be more than just a technical means which "brought" Hashem to reveal Himself to the world through a Chosen Nation, rather than a "chosen religion". For if He wanted, G-d could have created the entire "ground rules" of the world differently, in a way that answers all of the aforementioned technical necessities. As always, Hashem does not choose between existing options, but He creates exactly what He wants. If He did so, apparently He davka wanted this Jewish Nation. The question is just "Why"?

1. The Universal Cultural Influence of Popular Superpowers

In order to deal with Jewish nationalism we must first remember the rule "Sof ma'ase b'mahshava t'chila", recall the ideal which motivated the deed. What is the role of Am Yisrael in the world, for which we were created? In His very first appearance to Avraham, Hashem tells him to leave his land, his home, his family, and go to Eretz Yisrael, where Hashem will "make you into a great nation, and bless you… and through you will come blessing to all of the nations of the world." What type of blessing does G-d wish to bring to all of mankind through the Chosen Nation of Israel?
Rav Kook explains very beautifully:
"With the first blooming of this Nation, the Nation that knew to call out to the clear and pure G-dly ideal, even while the world was strongly ruled by paganism, in all of her impure wildness, the (G-dly) desire was revealed to establish a great community which "will observe the way of Hashem, dong kindness and justice". 11 This desire, stemming from the clear and strong realization, from the lofty general moral demand, to free mankind from the yoke of the terrible spiritual and physical troubles, and bring her a life of freedom, full of glory and paradise, in light of the G-dly ideal, thus, bringing success to all mankind. In order to fulfill this desire, this community davka needs to have a social and political state , a sovereign national throne, at the height of human culture, "a genius and wise nation, a great country", 12 run by the law of the objective G-dly ideal, which livens the Nation and the Land of Israel, with her living light." 13
As we explained in the chapter HaDor, 14 the world of yore, the world ruled by paganism, the rule of the jungle, was a terrible place to live. Before Avraham brought monotheism and morality to the world, the rule of "survival of the fittest" served the needs of the powerful few, while the rest of the world was exploited, suffering and serving the mighty. Not only was society chauvinistic, imperialistic, rascist and violent, but the class or caste system didn’t leave hope for anyone to better their lot. Property and freedom weren’t even a dream in a society without police protection or an objective judicial system, and consequently, most people, not only slaves or the conquered, were suffering morally, spiritually and physically .
In order to alleviate the evil, G-d revealed His plan for acculturating and bringing morality to the world, according to the G-dly ideal . Knowing the future, as usual, here too, G-d’s revelation of the Chosen Nation, was not in reaction to the evil, but rather part of the original "masterplan". The creation of one tribe who seems externally to be like all the others, and is therefore able to "infiltrate" and show them, slowly but surely, over the generations, how to run their respective countries according to the G-dly ideals of justice and morality. 15
We can often understand the macrocosm by first examining the microcosm. On an individual level, we are familiar with the marketing technique of having super-star athletes, actors, models, and musicians endorse commercial products. If profit hungry companies pay billions of dollars annually to these cultural heroes, it obviously succeeds. The question is why does it work? I can understand a model endorsing make-up or an athlete recommending sports-shoes, but why should I listen to Joe Dimaggio, a 70-year-old who, four decades ago, was a baseball star, when he suggests which bank I should invest my money (especially if his business acumen is so poor that he needs to lower himself from the pedestal of idols to such a pitiful unbecoming level!)? I find it difficult to comprehend why the musical genius of my favorite band-leader stems from his breakfast cereal, or that we should stay off drugs just because the all-stars say so!
The answer is clearly connected with our desire to emulate our idols, to copy them even in their most remote habits, in order to be associated with their greatness. Similarly on the macrocosmic or international level, America sets the standards and priorities of the world, not through coersion or force but simply because they are the super-power of the world. The movies, fashions, and music, not to mention the language, which stem from Hollywood, set the pace, tempo and values of the world.
If the role of Am Yisrael is exactly that, to influence the prioritites of the world, the easiest and cleanest way of doing so is for the State of Israel to return to the status of super-power just as our prophets promise, like we were in the times of David and Shlomo. As Shlomo, the wisest of all men, advised, "And I say that wisdom is greater than strength, but the wisdom of the weak is scorned and nobody listens to him". 16
Many have a tendency to pay lip-service to the essential belief and dream of the messianic era, when Israel will return to being the super-power and influence on the world, but deep-down, have difficulty really see it technically happening.
It’s true that the interdependency of the world economy and security, the ending of the Cold War and subsequent fall of the former Soviet Union, and the uniting of the nations of Europe, have surely contributed to the hastening of the vision of world-wide cooperation and peace. The globalization of the world through internet and e-mail, cell-phones and mass transportantion has overnight turned the world into one village and one culture, speaking one language and having one set of priorities. 17 This messianic scene bringing world cooperation and even love and intermarriage 18 from opposite sides of the world, and was totally unpredictable even 100 years ago, yet has come true!
Indeed, this quick and unexpected universalism, unquestionably sets the stage for the realization of y’mot haMashiach in the most practical of terms. Nevertheless, the major switch, of turning that one culture, that one language, into the holy Hebrew culture, still seems far-removed from reality.
True, not coincedentally, almost parallel to the aforementioned world-wide events, came Zionism, the "revival of the dead" of Jewish nationalism. 19 But how can the relatively nascent, small and hated Jewish State replace America as the super-power and popular super-influence of the world as prophecized in the Tanach?
As we’ve already seen, Rav Kook already suggests the answer: "In order to fulfill this desire (of bringing the G-dly ways of morality, justice etc. to the world, A.C.), this community davka needs to have a social and political state , a soverign national throne, at the height of human culture , "a genius and wise nation, a great country". 20
Statistically, within 25 years, for the first time in 2,800 years, most of the Jews of the world will be living in Israel. 21 In other words, we should start thinking about what the ingathering of the exiles really means in the most practical and realistic terms.
What is the ingathering of the exiles? Can you imagine bringing all of the Jewish doctors, physicists, scientists and Nobel Prize winners in the world, into one small country! 22 All of the Jewish politicians, lawyers, businessmen uniting together in one place. Indeed if 3 out of the 5 greatest minds of the 20th century (Einstein, Freud, Salk) were Jewish, 23 it figures that 60% of the leading thinkers of the world will be in the Holy Land. All of the Simons and Garfunkels, Bob Dylans, Barbara Streisands, Barry Manilows, Irving Berlins, George Gershwins, (or their grandchildren) into one state. If swimmer Mark Spitz holds the record for winning 7 gold medals in one Olympics, imagine when his grandson will be winning them in the name of the Jewish State!
Although it might be uncomfortable to mention at interfaith meetings, upon examination, one cannot help but notice that an outstanding percentage of those formulating today’s international world culture from Hollywood, are Jewish! From 20th Century Fox to Metro Goldwyn-Meyer, Warner Brothers to Paramount (the Zuckor family), not to mention Steven Spielberg, the Jewish names speak for themselves. The world of fashion wouldn’t be the same without Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Sasoon, Levi Strausse, Mizrachi, et al.
In short, the State of Israel, soon to become the undisputed center of the Jewish world, will logically become the cultural and intellectual center of mankind. As such, it is not difficult to fathom how a small but talented nation "at the height of human culture, 'a genius and wise nation, a great country'," 24 can, and will, influence the agenda and the priorities of the world, as we are informed by the prophets.
The masses do not go to museums nor do they watch documentaries. They accept their values unquestioningly from popular movies, music, and the influencing universal global culture. Just as, today, the world blindly follows the American culture, in the same way, in the future, the prophets inform us, their attention will be transferred to Israel. Indeed, even today, Israel already holds a disproportionate amount of news space and world attention. The CNN crews are already here.
When that one global culture will base its priorities upon idealistic values, the world will sing about honesty and true love rather than about lust; will watch movies valuing justice and faithfulness rather than violence and adultery; will wear fashions based on modesty instead of showiness, arrogance, and frivolity. All this will be achieved with the aid of that same Jewish talent and creativity with which we are all familiar. The Jews already disproportionately shape and influence the global culture. Just the content must change, that they should do so according to the values of Yerushalayim instead of those of Hollywood.
"And it will be, in the end of days, the mountain of Hashem (Y'rushalayim) will be established on top of all others, and will be exalted… and all the nations will flow to her… and say, 'Come, let's go up to Y'rushalayim, to the house of the G-d of Ya'akov, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths', for from Tzion will come Torah, and the word of Hashem from Y'rushalayim." 25

Q. How are you so sure that all of these Jews, or their replacements, will become ba’alei tshuva and utilize their talents to give over idealistic priorities?
A. We believe, based on experience, that it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed and accepted. Just as the individual learns and constantly improves through trial and error, so too, mankind slowly but surely, is improving. Although there are ups and downs along the way (as the natural heartbeat inevitably will show), the general direction of the world is improving, abandoning the imperialism, racism, chauvinism, slavery and idolatry which used to run the world. 26

Q. The Jewish people are a historically hated nation. How can that ever change?
A. Rav Kook explains that people like those who give them gifts once they understand the benefits. Just as a child often hates going to his dentist, despite the fact that everything done there is for the child's own good. Only when he matures will he eventually thank his dentist for all he has done. Similarly, as the "conscious" of mankind, we often make them feel guilty. Nevertheless, as the world is gradually maturing, they will eventually thank us for the morality and monotheistic truths and values, the greatest treasures of modern society, which we, the Jewish people, brought to mankind. 27

Q. Almost all of those Jewish Nobel prize winners and cultural creative giants were davka not religious. This cannot be a coincidence. These are Jews who are assimilating, whose grandchildren won’t even be Jewish. Those who remain Jewish will be the religious, whose contribution to world culture is minimal, and accordingly, that nice scenario of not only Jews but Jewish influence, will never take place. The world is not interested in g'mara, talit and tfilin which is the forte of the religious, and surely couldn’t care less and will not be influenced by the intricate monetary laws of Bava Kama!
A. There is obviously no difference, for better or worse, between the IQ or DNA, of religious Jews as opposed to our not-yet-dati brothers. The discrepency is simply a result of the different priorities as to which fields we direct our creativity and efforts.
Indeed, as long as we were in exile, and Judaism was intended to be temporarily limited to developing the "4 amot of halacha," 28 all of that Jewish genius was justifiably focused on Torah, in its most limited sense. In previous generations any Jewish child who showed signs of intelligence, even if he was from the poorest of homes, was directed to the Beit Midrash, and the Jewish community (usually in the form of a proud, wealthy father-in-law) tended to all of his needs, enabling the nation as a whole, to eventually benefit from his Torah acumen.
Similar to what we saw in Rav Kook’s article "HaDor", the emancipation and subsequent rebellion against religion, brought the Jew out into the world, and spread his genius and creativity towards the broader world culture, at the temporary expense of the Beit Midrash. The Jew was, B"H, so attached to his Torah, that in order to widen the scope of topics for potential and eventual Jewish influence in the world, it was necessary to have that temporary exit (although obviously, a certain percentage of geniuses do remain) from the Beit Midrash. A temporary "drop for the sake of the next climb," 29 just as one pushes a spring down to enable its jump.
No less important, this entrance into the secular fields of knowledge and life were also necessary, in order to activate the Jewish national revival. Anyone who contemplates the topic will arrive at the same conclusion that in the modern world, it is unthinkable to build a state without doctors, engineers, soldiers, reporters, hi-tech, scientists, and the like. Anyone who believes realistically in the messianic era of a Jewish State, will agree that although learning Torah is of utmost importance, the Jewish genius must be shared with other fields, as well. That’s one of the reasons why, in the words of Rav Kook, Zionism, at least in its first stage, had to be led by the non-religious, pragmatic and secularly-trained. 30 At the time, there simply were no religious candidates who could fill those roles!
Nevertheless, with the upsurge in Rav Kook’s Torat Eretz Yisrael, 31 a new generation of dati'im, numbering hundreds of thousands, is being educated in the well-rounded way of our fathers, being healthy and proud in body and soul, as the Rambam depicts the ideal Jew, "a ladder firmly based on the ground with its head in (the ideals of) heaven". 32 "The galut could not produce that wholesome type (of personality)," 33 who is capable of revealing the G-dly ideals in every facet of the individual and nation.
"Here in Israel, the true type of Jew must be developed through successfully educating our children,… with love of our Nation and Land, we must develop a strong educational system… based upon the natural Israeli, …a wholesome Jew, good to himself, and good to his nation, faithful to his Land with true belief. In summary, good to G-d and man, alike." 34
As long as we were disconnected from the secular world and culture, we may have assimilated less, but we didn’t stand a chance of using the tools of modernity and culture to influence the world. In addition to a strong and deep Torah education, most religious youth today benefit from a basically identicle secular and academic schooling as their gentile peers.
In summary, it’s hopefully just a matter of a generation or two, before the next Einsteins, Spielbergs, Paul Simons or Ralph Laurens will be inventing or creating according to the G-dly ideals and influencing the world from Y’rushalayim instead of Hollywood. Again, in the words of Rav Kook, to influence world culture, we " need to have a social and political state , a soverign national throne, at the height of human culture ," or in the words of the Torah, "a genius and wise nation, a great country".
At that time, there will be a true cultural influence of Israel upon the entire world. For the influence of an important nation is not just regarding some incidental detail, rather (she influences) from all of her essence". 35
Only superpowers can influence, and they do so not out of coercion, but with ease.

2. Entire Nations Living by the G-dly Ideals
In the continuation of the paragraph we saw above, Rav Kook mentions yet another facet of our national role and goal, of bringing G-dly morality and ideals to the nations, which necessitates having a national state.
"So that all should know, that not only individual outstanding geniuses, pious monks, holy beings, live in the light of the G-dly ideal, but even entire nations, with all their modernity and sophistication, with their cultural and political systems, entire nations including all of the different classes of society: from the height of the artistic intelligentsia, the ascetics, the educated and the holy, but also including the wider social, political, and economical masses, the proletariat in the broadest sense of the term, even the lowliest and most materialistic." 36
One of the problems of secular morality, 37 is that even if individual moralists are able to withstand the powerful temptations, 38 this is the case only regarding a selected few. That is not enough for us. For there always were, and there always will be "individual outstanding geniuses, pious monks, holy beings, who live in the light of the G-dly ideal".
Yet our goal is "to fix the (entire) world according to the G-dly Kingdom." 39 How is this possible?
Despite the fact that the socio-economic level in Bnei Brak is among the lowest in Israel, that city has almost no crime. Statistically, a city of more than 130,000 people includes all types of people: upper class, lower class, more educated and less, more intelligent and less, white collar workers and blue collar, etc. Nevertheless, the reason there is almost no theft, drugs, murder, or rape there is clearly because of the religious atmosphere and education, which set the tone and standard for all citizens, without exception.
If a large city can exist with almost no crime, than an entire country can, as well, were it to be run upon the same values and education. And if an entire nation can, than that would serve as an example that all nations and all mankind can do the same.

^ 1.See the article "The Centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism" regarding the mitzvot of aliya, living in and building Eretz Yisrael, et al.
^ 2.Ibid; Sifre and Rashi on Dvarim 11,19; Y. Shab.1,3; Gra on Y.D. 245,10; Mishna Brura 307,63; Igrot Moshe Ev.H. III 35; Chatam Sofer (resp. Ev.H.11); See extensively in Kuntres Safah LaNe’emanim, by R. Baruch HaLevy Epstein (author of the Torah Tmima), Warsaw, 5653, and my article, "Hadibur Bilshon Hakodesh", Talilei Orot 2 (5750) pp. 87-101.
^ 3.Rambam, M’lachim Umilchamotehem 5,1; Shulchan Aruch Ch.M.426,1 and Or.Ch. 330,6; Resp. Nodah B’Y’huda II Y.D. 161.
^ 4.See Rambam, Hil. M'lachim at length.
^ 5.Breishit 12, 1.
^ 6.Kidushin 36a; Sanhedrin 44a, Shulchan Aruch Y. D. 372, 2. There are sometimes rabbinic sanctions or punishments for different degrees of irreligiosity or conversion, such as mourning for them as if they died, see Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 340, 20, or not mourning for them, and not granting them a Jewish burial when they do die, Shulchan Aruch, ibid, not to drink their wine, Chochmat Adam 75, 13, etc., These are only meant as deterrents or punishments, but do not change the halachic status that one born Jewish will always be Jewish. If he gives even a pruta to a Jewish woman, they are halachically married for all intents and purposes. If a Jewish apostate gives birth, the child is 100% Jewish!
^ 7.It should be noted that, as opposed to the common misconception, the idea of making a "Kiddush Hashem" before the eyes of the gentiles, is always mentioned in the Tanach within the framework of our national existence in a Jewish State in our Jewish Land. Not living and working (and assimilating!) among the gentiles in chutz laAretz.
^ 8.Yivamot 46a; Kidushin 70b.
^ 9.Rambam Hil. M'lachim 10, as is clearly seen from many prayers, such as the second paragraph of "Alenu L’Shabe’ach", and the Yamim Nora’im, "וידע כל פעול כי אתה פעלתו... ויאמר כל אשר נשמה באפו: ה' א-להי ישראל מלך ומלכותו בכל משלה. See also Yishayahu 2, 2-4.
^ 10.Maharal, Gur Aryeh Breishit 1, 1. Sifre Ekev 43.
^ 11.Breishit 18, 19.
^ 12.Dvarim 4, 6.
^ 13.Rav Kook’s article "למהלך האידיאות בישראל", Orot, p.104.
^ 14.Particularly, footnote 4.
^ 15.See R.Aryeh Kaplan, "If You Were G-d", N.Y., 1983.
^ 16.Kohelet 9,16.
^ 17.Although the Moslem fundamentalists would greatly differ, it’s hard to imagine, in a generation with internet, that western culture and freedom will not infiltrate and eventually, popularly if not militarily, overtake the strictures and immorality of Islamic tyranny and terror.
^ 18.R. Y.M. Charlap, Mimayanei HaYishua, pp. 321-322, explains in ironic exactness of how this point of intermarriage and universalism will be the base of the world war of Gog uMagog in the end of days. The world of globalization and universalism, will challenge the fact that Israel will continue to refuse to intermarry, accusing us of racism and separatism, and unite to oppose our adamant adherence to our national identity.
^ 19.See the chapter on Mashiach Ben Yosef.
^ 20.Dvarim 4, 6.
^ 21."American Orthodox Jews:Demographic Trends and Scenarios," by Sergio DellaPergola and Uzi Rebhun, "Jewish Action" Fall, 5759, p. 30.
^ 22.Jews comprise roughly 0.25% of the world's population yet have received 171, or 22% of the Nobel prizes awarded to individuals. Jews are about 2% of the U. S. population but constitute 37% (!) of all American recipients of the coveted award.
^ 23.Selected by Time magazine, 3/29/99.
^ 24.Dvarim 4, 6.
^ 25.Y'shayahu 2, 2-3.
^ 26.Orot HaTshuva 5, 3; 4, 3.
^ 27.Orot pp. 157-158.
^ 28.Orot, pp. 121; 77; 108, paraphrasing Brachot 8a, "From the day the Temple was destroyed, G-d has no place in His world but the 4 cubits of halacha".
^ 29."Because I fell, I arose…", Yalkut Shimoni Dvarim 852, based on Micha 7, 8.
^ 30.Arpiley Tohar, p. 68; Orot 83-84. In addition, were Zionism to be a religious movement, we would have lost the participation of most of the Jewish people, who due to assimilation, were not interested in the Holy Land. It simply would not have been a comprehensive and "national" revival.
^ 31.Aided abroad by the similar, but different, "Torah im Derech Eretz" of R. Shimshon Rephael Hirsch, and "Torah uMadah" of R. Y.D. Soloveichik which related mainly to the individual, not the national, renaissance. Even though these other two movements were not connected with Zionism, and apply as well outside of the Land, nevertheless, in the historical outlook of Rav Kook, being that our entire generation is already preparing for ge'ula, it is only natural that this modern-religious philosophy receive support from many different, but complimentary, directions.
^ 32.Guide for the Perplexed, p. 31in the edition of R. Y. Kapach, Jerusalem, 1977/5737.
^ 33.Orot, p. 73.
^ 34.Ma’amarei HaRe’iya, p.229.
^ 35.Ikvei HaTzon, "Da’at Elokim" p.238.
^ 36.Rav Kook’s article "למהלך האידיאות בישראל", Orot, p.104.
^ 37.Although Rav Kook, Orot HaKodesh I, pp. 1-2, points out that there is no such idea as secular morality for the source of our sensitive conscious is our G-dly soul and nature. In addition, the very idea of not recognizing and thanking the all-giving Creator is an immoral act. Accordingly, morality and atheism are contradictory (Orot HaKodesh I, intro. p. 24, et al).
^ 38.Contrarily, a learned religious person realizes that just as he would not eat pork for all of the money in the world, so too, he will not lie, even for all the money in the world.
^ 39.Aleinu L'shabe'ach prayer.

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