Category Archives: Israel

All Hail the High Court!

Much hair is being pulled out of heads because of one of the proposals that the Netanyahu government has embraced; reform of Israel’s highest court. But the furor over what some feel is an attack on democracy is largely based on misunderstanding the nature of that court. 

To read what I mean, click here.

What does it say…

What does it say about a population that sees the murder of innocent worshippers as proper “retaliation” for the deaths, in a firefight with police, of terrorists planning attacks? And what does it say when members of that population cheer the worshippers’ deaths?

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Vayechi – In Praise of Diaspora

Eretz Yisrael is the desideratum to which the Torah’s entire narrative leads. 

From Hashem’s promising the Land to Avraham’s descendants, to our ancestors’ exodus from Mitzrayim and years of wandering in the desert, the path of the Torah’s account leads inexorably to the Land.

Even the Torah’s description of the universe’s creation, as Rashi expounds in his very first comment in parshas Beraishis, is intended to establish that Eretz Yisrael is ours. 

And yet…

Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Vayechi) notes that the first word in our parsha indicates that Yaakov’s true “living” took place during his final 17 years in Mitzrayim, after all the challenges he had lived through. Now he was free to attain his spiritual goals. In Egypt.

Similarly, he continues, the main expansion of Torah Shebe’al Peh took place… in Bavel

Har Sinai, too, is not in Eretz Yisrael.

“In every generation,” writes Rav Tzadok, “souls decline.” Yet “we see what happened to the Jewish people especially when they were in exile… In exile they arrived to the exalted levels of holiness, because this is the will of Hashem.”

And he cites Rav Simcha Bunim of P’shischa as having said that “even though the souls of each generation progressively decline, the essence of the heart (hanekudah shebilev) becomes progressively purified and rarified (nitaheres umizdacheches yoser) in each successive generation.”

I don’t claim to know what those phrases truly mean. But that they mean something can’t be denied.

Why Jews living and developing in places other than their ancestral home is a vital part of Hashem’s plan is not something we can fathom. That fact, Rav Tzadok explains, is symbolized by the parsha’s being sasum, “closed off,” with no space before it. Spaces in the Torah indicate opportunity to absorb and understand. There can be no understanding of the need for galus.

But the need for Torah to develop outside of the Jewish homeland is clearly established, even if inscrutable. Galus and giluy (revelation), after all, share the same root letters.

© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran

NItzavim – The Holy Land Has a Name

“Hashem… will return and gather you in from all the peoples to which [He] has scattered you… and He will bring you to the land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it…” (Devarim 30: 3-5).

“The land.” 

Eretz Yisrael isn’t its name. It is our description of the fact that it was bequeathed to Klal Yisrael. 

But it did have a name: Cna’an. We don’t call it that anymore, but that was its name, and presumably has some meaning. And its meaning must be meaningful.

In his sefer Nachalas Tzvi, Rabbi Meshulam Fayish Tzvi Gross (who had a weekly chavrusa in Kabbalah with Rav Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and whose sefarim had haskamos from some of the greatest Gedolim of his time; and who, as Herman Gross, patented several inventions) ventures an answer.

He sees the name rooted in the Hebrew noun hachna’ah, “deference” or “submission.” While other lands, he explains, are overseen by malachim – divine middlemen, not Hashem Himself – Eretz Yisrael is different; hence the palace of the King demands a special degree of hachna’ah.

He cites the fact that the phrase “me’od me’od” is used both to refer to the goodness of the land (Bamidbar 14:7) and to the degree to which we are to feel shfal ruach, lowly (Ravi Levitas in Pirkei Avos, 4:4).

What occurs to me as well is the idea that, when in possession of Eretz Yisrael, we Jews are to be constantly cognizant that it is a yerushah, a bequeathal, to us from Hashem. And that, even when we rightly tell the world that the land is divinely meant for us, we must ourselves always fully and humbly remember that it isn’t our political or military power that maintains our possession of the Holy Land, but Hashem’s kindness in having allowed us to return to it. 

© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran