Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Foundations of Faith
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated to the full recovery of

Asher Shmuel ben Rivka

29. “You have shamed me, King of Khazar”

You have shamed me, King of Khazar. What can I say? Our recitations of such prayers as “Bow down to the Mount of His holiness” are like the warble of a parrot. Israel's presence in the exile is but a weakness and a disgrace that must be put to an end.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

The Khazar King heard testimony of the land of Israel's preeminence by the Rabbi. He was told how greatly the forefathers longed to reside there and how greatly the sages of the Talmud desired to go to the Land of Israel.

He heard, for example, about what happened to R' Zaira when he traveled to Israel. Because R' Zaira so desired to reside in the land he eagerly jumped into the river that led into Israel and began to cross by foot despite the danger involved. When ridiculed by a gentile, he responded, "If the likes of Moses and Aaron did not merit to dwell there, who is to say that I shall merit? Who is to say that I will merit entering the land of Israel? Therefore I cannot afford to put it off for even a few moments, for perhaps some sort of obstruction will arise inhibiting me from entering."

When the Khazar king heard all of these things, he said to the Rabbi, "This being the case, you are violating a Torah commandment by not immigrating to Israel, by not making the Land of Israel your place of living and dying. In your prayers you say, 'Have mercy on Zion, for it is our life's home,' and you believe that the Divine Presence will return to Israel, yet still you do not immigrate. Even if its only quality was that the Divine Presence previously dwelled there for about nine hundred years in the era of the First and Second Temples, this would be enough for a person to long to make his home in Israel.

"This being the case, why do you, Rabbi, live in exile and not journey to the land of Israel? How is it possible for you to avoid immigrating to a land which you call 'Heaven's Gate'? Even the gentiles believe that it is the place where the souls gather before they are brought up to the heavens. The Christians believe this. The Muslim's too believe that Israel is the place where the prophets ascend to the heavens. Everyone directs their prayers to the Chosen Land, and it is a place of pilgrimage for everybody.

"This so, why do you and the entire people of Israel not make your way to the land of Israel this very day? Is it not hypocritical to pray, kneel, and bow down in the direction of Israel yet not immigrate?" This is what the King of the Khazar's asked the Rabbi.

The Rabbi responded, saying, "You are indeed correct. You have shamed me, King of Khazar. What can I say? It is this very sin that prevented us from achieving that which God promised us in the Second Temple, as it says, 'Rejoice and be happy daughter of Zion, for I am coming and will dwell in your midst, says God' (Zechariah 2:14). This means that the Divinity was prepared to settle in the Second Temple as it had previously in the First Temple, provided that the Jewish people would all agree to return to Israel eagerly. Instead, only some returned, while the majority – including important leaders – remained in Babylon. They preferred subservience in the Diaspora, so that they would not have to part from their homes and affairs.

Owing to this, the goals which God had set for the Second Temple were not fulfilled in their entirety. The Divine promises were fulfilled only on a small scale, commensurate to the meager awakening. If we had been ready to draw near to the God of our forefathers wholeheartedly, surely God would have been willing to save us as he saved our forefathers in Egypt. And so, our recitations of such prayers as, 'Bow down to the Mount of His holiness,' 'Bow down to His footstool,' 'Blessed are you Who returns His Divine Presence to Zion,' and the likes, are merely like the warble of the parrot and other birds who imitate human voices with no true intention.

"You are correct Khazar king, Israel's persistent presence in the exile is but a weakness, a shortcoming, a disgrace that must be put to an end."

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