Having completed this year’s study of Bamidbar/Numbers last week, this week we open to the first portion of Devarim/Deuteronomy. The book opens with the message, “These are the sayings that Moshe told to all Israel…”
and continues a couple of verse later by saying, “Moshe began explaining the Torah….”
From these statements we understand that the Torah was given not just to the generation at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but to all Jews in every generation since then. It was a national gift, a constitution for the budding nation. While it is true that each of us has mitzvot/commandments to observe, the intent of the Torah is bigger than the individual. It was given to “all Israel”.
Each action of the individual Jew does in fact affect every other Jew. We are all connected in a very deep and significant way because of the covenant between the God of Israel and His people. Think of it this way: Every cell of your body exists for its specific task of promoting and guarding the health of your body as a whole. A heart cell does not get jealous of a liver cell; a kidney cell does not envy a brain cell. Each one fulfills its distinct purpose for the good of the entire body. So, too, is every Jew tasked to live his or her individual life in such a way that all of Israel benefits. This sense of community is at the very heart of Judaism.
That is not to minimize in any way the patriotism or sense of community found in the citizens of other nations — not at all. What we are saying is that fundamentally our Jewish sense of community derives from the encounter of God with our father, Avraham; it was confirmed to Yitzhak and Ya’acov and the Torah was given through Moshe. Our connection is spiritual from its very inception.
So, too, is our connection to the Land which God has chosen. The Chosen Land and the Chosen People are one. God promised the land of Israel to Avraham and his descendants forever. Early in this week’s reading, Moshe tells the people, “Enough of your dwelling by this mountain. Turn yourselves around and journey…” In modern terms we might say it this way, “Leave the comfort and convenience of exile and go to the Land where you belong.”
We are well aware that many Jews have made “Aliya” (which means ‘to go up’) to Israel in recent years. They have in fact left their place of birth, family, friends and careers to come to Israel and start anew. But the concept of ‘Aliya’ is broader than just physically moving.
“Aliya” begins in exile; it begins with a change of mind, a change of heart, a life-altering decision. The actual move to Israel is the result of that earlier decision and commitment.
The concept of “aliya” (to go up) yields spiritual ramifications as well. Life is a process of ‘aliya’ – a journey of going from one level of spiritual maturity to the next. Each change within ourselves that we decide to make is ‘aliya’ – going up higher. There is always a measure of risk in growth, in change. Stepping into the unknown or the little known is a scary proposition.
For the Jews coming home to Israel, a deep and abiding faith in God’s covenant with this Land and with His people is fundamental to a successful ‘aliya’. Add to that, a sincere love for the Land and for one’s fellow Jew and a successful aliya is virtually assured.
Rav Avraham Kook, of blessed memory, taught that it was incumbent upon us to love the Land that God loves and to love the people that God loves. He was a master at finding the good in every person he met. He used to teach that Ahavat Yisrael (the love of Israel, both the land and the people) was not an emotion; it was a commandment and in keeping it, we reflect the same kind of love that God Himself shows towards the Land and His people.
Rav Kook also taught us that the greatest way to protect our Land from its enemies is by increasing unity within the nation. That doesn’t mean letting other issues slide; what it does mean is not allowing those issues to overshadow the main task of promoting love and unity among our own people. Divisions and hostilities weaken the spiritual fabric of the Land. May God help us!
In just a few days, we as a nation will be observing Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple. The reason we lost the Temple and our Land was because of baseless hatred towards one another. When strife and divisions abound, love for one another wanes and so does the love of our Land. How appropriate that this is the Shabbat we should be pondering these principles.
I am well aware that not all of my readers live in Israel; in fact not all of you are Jews. But the underlying principles apply universally – in families, towns, cities, and nations.
In Tune with Torah this week = The familiar psalm comes to mind, “How blessed it is when brethren dwell together in unity….there the blessing flows…” Wherever you are this Shabbat, ask yourself how well you are promoting unity, love and peace in your own home, your own community, your own country.
“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways…….then will I heal their Land.” Israel needs this healing but so do all the other nations of the world.