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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

On Bonfires, Zionism, Torah Learning, and IDF Service

Shemitta, with which our parasha opens, is one of the land-based mitzvot, which give expression to the sanctity of the Land of Israel in comparison to other lands. Rav Kook (Shabbat Ha’aretz, intro. to ch. 15) cited the Radbaz’s question: If the pre-Shemitta sale of the land to non-Jews eliminates the Land’s sanctity in regard to Shemitta, how can one fulfill the mitzva of living in the Land? Rav Kook answered that the Land’s sanctity is not a result of the possibility to fulfill the mitzvot related to it. Rather, the kedusha of the Land and the mitzva to live in it exist even when laws such as Shemitta do not apply. The gemara (Chagiga 5a) posits that exile of the Nation of Israel from its Land caused the greatest undoing of the Torah. Just as with the greatness of Torah, the basic level exists independently of the ability to fulfill the mitzvot commanded in it, so too the Land of Israel maintains its core value even if certain of its mitzvot are not in force.
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Shemitta, with which our parasha opens, is one of the land-based mitzvot, which give expression to the sanctity of the Land of Israel in comparison to other lands. Rav Kook (Shabbat Ha’aretz, intro. to ch. 15) cited the Radbaz’s question: If the pre-Shemitta sale of the land to non-Jews eliminates the Land’s sanctity in regard to Shemitta, how can one fulfill the mitzva of living in the Land? Rav Kook answered that the Land’s sanctity is not a result of the possibility to fulfill the mitzvot related to it. Rather, the kedusha of the Land and the mitzva to live in it exist even when laws such as Shemitta do not apply. The gemara (Chagiga 5a) posits that exile of the Nation of Israel from its Land caused the greatest undoing of the Torah. Just as with the greatness of Torah, the basic level exists independently of the ability to fulfill the mitzvot commanded in it, so too the Land of Israel maintains its core value even if certain of its mitzvot are not in force.

We will soon commemorate Lag Ba’omer, which according to many, highlights the bravery of the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva – who were the fighters of Bar Kochva – who were apparently killed in their battle against the Roman Empire (because they did not treat each other with respect). Their fight was done as part of a heroic effort to restore independence to Israel. Lag Ba’omer also commemorates the sanctity of the Torah, especially in light of the revealing of its inner elements by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his disciples over the generations. The flame of sanctity of Bar Yochai, commemorated with the symbolic lighting in Meiron, has only a weak connection to the "culture" of pollution and dangerous bonfires that are lit throughout the country.

The revealing of secrets of the Torah was strengthened tremendously from the time that Rav Yosef Karo and his colleagues, and finally the Arizal and his students, returned to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Safed. Rav Shlomo Alkabetz, the student and friend of Rav Yosef Karo regarding matters of Torah secrets, left for the Jewish people his beautiful poem, "Lecha Dodi," which deals with longings for liberation from both a political and internal, spiritual perspective. This combination is based on the idea that the book and the sword came down together.

The pioneer "sword-holders" of our times (most of whom had little to do with our holy books), came to Israel as part of an attempt to build an independent Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. They adopted the theme of bonfires with a feeling of connection to Bar Kochva’s fighters, but without a connection to Bar Yochai and his disciples.

We have to look at the connection between the bonfires and kumzitzes of the Israeli pioneers, captured in the famous poem by Chaim Cheffer, "Dudu," and between the holy fire of the study of Torah. We will continue next week. In the meantime we will try to strengthen our approach of connecting the sword and the book – which represents our attempt to strengthen the State of Israel from both a national and a spiritual, Torah-based perspective.
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