I originally wrote this article in 2008 but as I review it and read the headlines of the Israeli newspapers it seems even more relevant today.
There is nothing that brings out my identity crises more than living in Eretz Yisroel on Yom Haatzmaut.
This week a large segment of Klal Yisroel will be celebrating G-d’s gift of the millennium to the Jewish People, Eretz Yisroel. The modern State of Israel presents a troubling contradiction. Moving to Israel or even coming to Israel for a visit can bring about an incomparable spiritual high on the one hand, and shock and disappointment on the other.
When my Rebbe, Rav Chaim P.Scheinberg, moved to Israel with his family and his Yeshiva in the early sixties he made a going away speech for a large group of his students and friends. He commented on how when he would walk through the streets of New York and see so much crime, promiscuity, and lack of respect for ideals and morals -he would ask himself on a regular basis, “What am I doing here?”
So he went to visit Eretz Yisroel. On that visit he toured the length and breadth of the country. As he traveled, he looked around and he saw so much crime, promiscuity and lack of respect, just like back home! – The difference was, he said, he found himself asking “what are THEY doing here?”
That being said it is painful to walk the streets of Tel Aviv, Netanya and even Jerusalem and see Jews that have adopted the culture of Puerto Rico or Denmark over the beautiful mesorah of Yiddishkeit. It is equally painful to walk the neighborhoods and the political arenas of those that have not forsaken our tradition and see such a disappointing measure of division and rudeness.
On the other hand, consider the Torah giants and geniuses of Eretz Yisroel. On any given corner of Jerusalem or on the bus it is not unusual to overhear an intense discussion of some of the most complex Talmudic issues. There is a renaissance of publishing in Eretz Yisroel; approximately 50 new publications are published in Jerusalem every single week! The immense love of Torah – last year on the last night of Pesach I went to listen to a lecture of Rav Moshe Shapiro. The lecture was to be given before Kiddush. It seemed to me to be such an awkward time that I really thought that I would be the only one there. In fact, it was so crowded that I actually couldn’t enter the building. I found myself a place by a window that I could hear from and before long I had ten others leaning on my back so they can would also be able to hear. Such was the case by every window. Mi K’amcha Yisroel.
Even in secular Israel. A while back there was an exchange of 400 terrorists for 3 dead Jews and one live one. A huge controversy broke out. On the one hand Israel must show how much they value every citizen. On the other hand 400 killers were let loose. I was listening with interest to the debate in Knesset. Tommy Lapid, seconded by the Prime Minister cited the Maharam M’Rutenberg. Rav Meir of Rothenberg, among the latest of the Tosafists and mentor of Rabbenu Asher, was imprisoned by Emperor Rudolf in Germany in 1286. Upon hearing of the immense ransom demanded by the emperor, the Maharam outright refused to be released. Even after his death in prison, the authorities refused to give his remains to the community for proper burial until a certain philanthropist donated practically his entire fortune for the retrieval of the Maharam’s remains. The Maharam felt that paying the ransom would endanger all the chachmei Yisroel. A debate ensued in the secular Knesset about the comparison to the Maharam M’Rutenberg. Mi K’amcha Yisroel.
I’d like to share with you a spiritual insight into where I think we are in the historical process.
The Torah speaks about a spiritual skin disease called tzoraas. Tzoraas is a form of spiritual leprosy which makes the afflicted one ritually impure or tamey. The sign of impurity in Tzoraas is white. If the kohein sees white in the blemish, the patient is tamey. The more white the more impure. As it gets whiter it gets more serious and more impure. Then the Torah presents us with a shocking law, “hafach kulo lavan” let’s say that the blemish turns completely white. This should be the ultimate in impurity! Tahor – the Kohein proclaims him as pure! How can the sign of tumah become the sign of purity?
Metzora stands for motzei ra, to exude the evil. (It is interesting that it doesn’t stand for motzi shem ra, as is commonly said, it stands for motzi ra.)
What is happening with a tzoraas, probably similar to many dermatological illnesses is actually a positive process. A person has negativity in their soul. Something evil is stirring with in them. They begin to do teshuva and the evil wants to leave the body. When tuma leaves the body it looks horrible. White spots of leprosy looking blotches, but what you are actually seeing is impurity leaving the body. The mess is actually a positive process! Motzi Ra!
Often in psychological therapy things get worse before they get better. Negativity that has been hiding dormant for years is brought to the surface. It begins to show, it begins to hurt, however it is so positive that it is leaving the body. Motzi Ra.
“Rava said: Moshiach won’t come until the government becomes heretical! As it says: “hafach kulo lavan – tahor! If it turns completely white it is pure!” Like a tzoraas, the government must bottom out and turn completely white to be purified. Once the negativity is out of its system. Tahor!
We are a traumatized people. The Jewish people have gone through so much during the last two millennia. So much negativity has developed within us. We all know what the holocaust did to people’s souls. We became poisoned by torture. What we see in Eretz Yisroel is the Jewish people acting out and getting the negativity out of our system.
At the time of the founding of the State of Israel, the organizers thought that we needed a new kind of Jew. Max Nordau, a partner to Herzel in building secular Zionism, at the first Zionist Conference called for a more muscular Jew that was more intimidating and more macho. The Yeshiva Bachur became the nebechel. Tension grew and that tension became a tzoraas – Motzi Ra! Possibly the tension was and is part of a positive process – maybe even Messianic.
Times are changing. There are tens of thousands of Baalei Teshuva in Eretz Yisroel. Disdain for Torah Jews is diminishing. We are recovering from galus, “hafach kulo lavan – tahor!” We have bottomed out and we are becoming pure again.
I live less then a mile away from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Teddy stadium is where 30,000 people gather at least once a week to watch soccer competition take place. A few months after we moved to Israel I was sitting in my sukka, at the start of the soccer season, and I heard a rumble that made me cry. 30,000 people chanted together the official Beitar cheer. “HaKadosh Boruch Hu, Anachnu ohavim Otcha!” “We love You – G-d!?? I couldn’t believe my ears, “HaKodesh Boruch Hu, Anachu ohavim Otcha!” at a soccer game!
Something is happening! May we all come together in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh and hear the entire Klal Yisroel lead the world in song, “HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Anachnu ohavim Otcha!