Acharei Mot/Kedoshim- The Nation Who Cried “Unholy!”

THE NATION WHO CRIED “UNHOLY!”

(וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ, וָאֶפְקֹד עֲו‍ֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ; וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ, אֶת-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ” (ויקרא י”ח:כ”ה”

At the end of the first of our two parshiot, the תורה embarks on a very detailed explanation of the various עריות (forbidden relationships), ending with a warning about keeping holy when they arrive in the Holy Land, or else ” וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ, וָאֶפְקֹד עֲו‍ֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ; וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ, אֶת-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ- And [if you let] the Land become unholy, I will unleash your sins on you, and the Land will spit out its inhabitants” (י”ח:כ”ה). Rashi brings a lovely משל to drive the point home, comparing the Land of Israel to a spoiled prince with a delicate stomach- if he eats something that doesn’t agree with him, he will “spit it out” (or get it out of his system in other ways). So, too, the Land of Israel cannot tolerate its inhabitants sinning. Ramban (there) writes that this fate was the reason that so many of Canaan’s previous inhabitants left, even before the time of יציאת מצרים- this threat applies to any nation that settles in G-d’s Chosen Land.

I was zoche on Monday to attend the טקס יום הזיכרון המרכזי (Main memorial ceremony) in the Har Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem. It was a very meaningful and very emotional affair, and among the speakers there were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and various Ministers of Knesset. While I wasn’t lucky to be close enough to the actual ceremony to see any of these dignitaries, I did hear most of it over the loudspeakers and I was around many Israelis, giving a big sense of אחדות. One thing that troubled me a little bit during the ceremony was that while everyone was silent for the two minute siren that opened the ceremony and they sang along with the singing of Hatikva at the end of it, most of those around were not as silent during important parts in the middle, such as the קדיש and the beautiful ק-ל מלא רחמים said by the Chief Rabbi of the IDF- there definitely was a loud “אמן” at the end, but not even half of the people there were part of that. This led me to wonder; maybe this is why the גאולה hasn’t come yet- because most of the people who dwell in the אתחלתא דגאולה aren’t שומר תורה ומצות enough to say silent during a memorial prayer.

In the context of פרשת אחרי מות, we must ask ourselves; is it this kind of behavior, which many would consider to be sinning, enough to have the land “spit us out?” Maybe if these are the people who are living in מדינת ישראל, it may not be the beginning of the Redemption after all.

To answer these doubts, all we must do is look earlier in פרק י”ח of ויקרא: ” וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם:  אֲנִי ה’- And you shall keep my commandments, which if man does, he will live by them, I am G-d” (י”ח:ה’). Many מפורשים are troubled by the unusual language of “וחי בהם”- it is an unusual way of telling us to keep the מצות, especially since the first word of the פסוק would tell us the same thing. While most of the מפורשים interpret it as a negative “or else” approach to doing מצות, Ramban takes a more positive and inspirational approach. He writes that when בני ישראל do מצות, they are not only fulfilling a commandment of G-d- they are also helping us, since מצות give us (our נשמות) life when we do them. By doing מצות, we don’t only build our connection to G-d- we also help bring more רוח טובה to ourselves, improving our lives and strengthening our נשמות.

I believe that this teaching could also apply to ארץ ישראל. There is no doubt that G-d’s chosen land is sustained by our תורה and observance of מצות- since the Jews have resettled the Land, it has flourished in ways that its previous occupants wouldn’t have even dreamed was possible. Even though a large percentage of the Jewish population of the State of Israel is not religious, b”h there is also a large religious population here, and both their political and spiritual influence has kept Israel alive for 65 years and iy”h it will continue to until the final גאולה very soon. So, too, by the tekes at Har Hertzl, one could be negative and say that since not many Jews answered to the kadish, their country is not the אתחלתא דגאולה and will never merit to host the משיח. Or, we could take the perspective of the רמב”ן and be thankful that the Jewish State is a place that a national military Memorial Day ceremony would have a ק-ל מלא רחמים and קדיש as part of the program and would have so many Jews who did in fact remain silent during the prayers and answer at the end. When looking at it this way, it is hard not to see the progression of מדינת ישראל to be the אתחלתא דגאולה. Or in other words, while many might think that the reason the גואלה hasn’t come is because of all the non-Religious Jews not answering to קדיש, based on the רמב”ן, it could really be that the גאולה hasn’t come because of those who focus on the non-religious Jews who don’t participate and ignore the religious Jews who do participate, and the significance of their זכויות.

In the second perek of Pirkei Avot, a work traditionally studied by Jews during the period of Sefirat Ha’omer, the Tannaic scholar הלל הזקן taught a few lessons for the ages, among them; “ואל תדון את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו- [and] do not judge your friend until you have been in his place” (אבות ב’:ה’). In the spirit of this teaching and the achdut that the Jewish People should be reaching, especially during the Sefira and the commemoration of the recent נסים ונפלאות that we’ve been blessed with, I would like to briefly defend and explain the other side of the above argument, the side of those who believe that מדינת ישראל is not in fact the אתחלתא דגאולה.

We must wonder why our Jewish brothers, who have the same תורה and מסורה as we do, would have such a radically different approach to מדינת ישראל than we do, especially in light of such obvious signs of the start of the final Redemption. HaRav Yaakov Peretz shlit”a, the rav of my Israeli night seder rebbe, Rav Moshe Fortan, and a student of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, once said that one who does not acknowledge the open נסים involved in הקמת המדינה is an אפיקורס because he is pushing away obvious signs from G-d. Rav Peretz is not the only who feels this way- Why would such a large faction within Judaism have such a seemingly stubborn attitude?

To find a possible answer to this quandary, we look to אם הבנים שמחה, authored by Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, truly a man of both worlds, who started out as an Anti-Zionist, then eventually changed his mind and became one of the most outspoken supporters of Religious Zionism in the early 20th Century. In the introduction to his ספר, Rav Teichtal writes that after חורבן בית שני and the expulsion of the Jews from our land, the Jews of Europe, anxious for an opportunity to return back to the Israel, were duped by many false messiahs. This process drained them both fiscally and emotionally, leading them to adopt a less naïve but less open approach towards returning to the Promised Land, taking the “אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח” to be more of a passive than active belief. Though this attitude helped them survive for many generations in Europe, these Jews’ descendants, who have been ingrained with a reluctance to believe in an opportunity to return to Israel for good, are unfortunately missing out on a true opportunity to finally return. Or to explain by משל, it is like the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf- now that the “wolf” is actually here, the “townspeople” are not likely to believe that there is one, after the many false alarms.

However, if one were to continue to learn הלל’s teachings in פרקי אבות, one would notice a very important lesson; “ולא הביישן למד- a “bashful” person cannot ever learn” (אבות ב’:ו’). It is well known that the really good things in life, whether applying to a school or job or buying a lottery ticket, only come by taking a chance. Returning to the Holy Land has been the Jewish National mission since the we were kicked out so many centuries ago, and having a true chance to come home is no doubt important to each and every one of us. The descendants of these anti-Zionist Jews, who are now scattered around the world, are more than justified to continue their forebears’ attitude of passiveness, but they must heed this teaching of Hillel. They must realize that, just as the man who is trapped in a flooded house and chooses not to leave with various rescues because he is waiting for Hashem to save him, only to find out afterwards that those rescues were G-d offering to save him- מדינת ישראל, while it might not appear to be a super-miraculous one-step גאולה, is definitely the beginning of the גאולה. If they ignore the signs and miracles from Hashem, as the trapped man ignores the police boats and helicopters trying to save him, they might end up drowning in the גלות, having lost their chance to leave, only to find out afterwards that מדינת ישראל was their seemingly natural ישועה. Or, to return to our משל from the Boy Who Cried Wolf, if the “townspeople” will not admit there is a wolf even after the “boy’s” body showed up on their doorstep with a complements card from the wolf, then they have a problem. So, too, by us, if the anti-Zionists cannot see the significance of the miracles that the rest of the Jewish Nation has, then perhaps they have a problem with their אמונה in Hashem.

With הקדוש ברוך הוא’s help, we will see the re-unification of עם ישראל in ארץ ישראל, hopefully before any of them “drown” in the גלות, and iy”h we will see the rebuilding of the בית המקדש in ירושלים עיר הקדש very speedily in our days. שבת שלום.