By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
The following are heartfelt words in response to a phone call I received. The call was brief, one-sided, and profoundly disturbing. Permit me to explain.
Last week, many Yidden celebrated the 67th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. A wonderful yeshiva in the community has a tradition of organizing a yom iyun to focus attention and appreciation of the wonderful gift of Eretz Yisrael that was bestowed upon Klal Yisrael by HaKadosh Baruch Hu after close to 2,000 years. They do this without altering the normal seder ha’tefillah or celebrating in a manner that would conflict with the restrictions of the Sefirah period.
In that vein, I was invited to share with the talmideiha’yeshiva some insights from our Chazal and from our gedoleiYisrael about the significance of EretzYisrael in our lives. I was indeed thrilled to share some personal reflections about what EretzYisrael meant to the gedoleiYisrael based on events I had merited to witness firsthand over the years.
Later that evening, I received a call from an individual in a neighboring community who had heard about my guest appearance and took issue with it. He shared some very sharp words about the difficulties facing the chareidi community in EretzYisrael, particularly over the last few years with multiple governmental laws significantly impacting their quality of life. After a few minutes of sharing his thoughts with me, he concluded by saying, “How could someone who was close to Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, and also a talmid of Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, veer so far from the mesorah and give a public talk on EretzYisrael on that day?” At that point, he abruptly hung up.
While the caller had not given me the opportunity to say even one word on the phone, here is my response:
We just read the parashiyos that deal with the laws of a metzora. There is a halachah brought down by the Rambam that a kohein who is blind in one eye cannot rule on a spot on the skin, even if he has perfect vision in the other eye. I once suggested the possible reason for this halachah, based on an insight found in the Meshech Chochmah, the commentary by Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk. The Torah instructs the kohein to look at the signs of tzara’as and then later in the same pasuk repeats the instruction that “he shall look at it.” Why look a second time? Rav Meir Simcha explained this is because it’s not just important for the kohein to just look at the sign of tzara’as by itself; he has to look closely at the whole situation before rendering the person tamei. He has to look at the whole person and all that is going on around him before rendering his verdict.
Maybe that’s the explanation of the halachah that a kohein blind in one eye cannot pasken on a nega. He can’t just look at the nega; he has to be able to see the whole panoramic view of the person himself.
Similarly, I would say that this caller’s narrow view of Eretz Yisrael has to be expanded to a vision of Eretz Yisrael as seen by our gedolei Yisrael. Yes, there are difficulties and challenges, at times even painful ones; but how can any G‑d-fearing Yid’s heart not be filled with gratitude and awe at the great gift of Eretz Yisrael, which our grandparents could only dream about?
Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz was known for his love and passion for Eretz Yisrael. He once quipped, “A Yid in chutzla’aretz is like a polar bear in the Bronx Zoo. Yes, it eats and sleeps and is taken care of, but it is still not in its natural habitat.”
Rav Kook was stuck in Switzerland during World War I. When he returned to Eretz Yisrael, he marveled at the sight of the majestic mountains of Har Yehudah as he ascended to Yerushalayim. One of his students asked him, “But Rebbe, you have just seen the Swiss Alps, said to be the most beautiful in the world.” To which Rav Kook replied. “The Alps didn’t speak to me. The mountains of Yehudah do—they are mine.”
Anyone who reads the letters of the Pachad Yitzchak about EretzYisrael cannot walk away without being overwhelmed by the depth of Rav Yitzchak Hutner’s love for EretzYisrael. In one place he writes, “The fire of ahavasEretzYisrael burns inside me.” In another letter, he writes, “I was zocheh to be there; I saw, I heard, but I did not acquire it, for Chazal say that EretzYisrael is only acquired with yesurim. I hope the next time I come, it will be through yesurim.”
The Maharal explains that BneiYisrael committed two terrible sins in the Midbar, the chet of the Eigel and of the meraglim. He says that HaKadosh Baruch Hu was able to forgive them for the EgelHaZahav, but He could not forgive them for the sin of the meraglim. The reason being that HaKadosh Baruch Hu can be mochel on His own kavod—but on the kavod of EretzYisrael He can never be mochel.
The previous Amshinover Rebbe was another gadol known for his love of EretzYisrael. Once, during a very hot spell in the middle of the summer, his driver—who, out of respect for the Rebbe, would usually wear a jacket when in the Rebbe’s presence—felt extremely uncomfortable in the stifling heat. He asked the Rebbe if it would be OK to remove his jacket, as it was “unbearably hot” that day. The Rebbe shook for a moment and replied, “For my part you can take off your shirt, but please don’t speak lashonha’ra about EretzYisrael.”
I assume the Rebbe had in mind the Gemara in Kesubos (112a) that describes how Rav Ami and Rav Assi, who were learning together, would switch between the sun and the shade when it was either too hot or too cold so as not to have any negative feelings about EretzYisrael.
So my response to my indignant caller is that love of EretzYisrael is indeed our mesorah. While not everyone celebrates in the same way, as some change the tefillah for the day and others do not, to take a few moments on that day to focus our attention on the great gift and berachah of EretzYisrael is not just the right thing to do, but it is our obligation.
The caller mentioned Rav Elyashiv and my rebbe, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, as well. An interesting tidbit is that the entire source for the name Elyashiv comes from a deep love of EretzYisrael. The family name was originally Luria (the last name of the Ari, zt’l). Several generations back, however, Rav Elyashiv’s great-grandfather made aliyah to EretzYisrael, but after a while life was just too difficult there and they had to return to Europe. In an expression of longing to return to EretzYisrael, he changed his last name to “Elyashiv,” referring to “KeilYashiv,” that Hashem should return us to EretzYisrael. Maybe in that z’chus, he was zocheh to have his future great-grandson not only return to EretzYisrael, but to lead KlalYisrael from the holy city of Yerushalayim for decades.
My own rebbe, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, though he also did not change his tefillah on that day, infected three generations of talmidim with his great love for EretzYisrael. I remember over 30 years ago I had brought the roshyeshiva to the Kotel for Minchah and then asked him if he would like to see a little bit of the Jewish Quarter that had gone through a complete rebuilding. He responded that he would love to see it, but only for a little, because it wasn’t easy for him to walk at that time. Despite my many suggestions that we stop to rest, the rosh yeshiva was so moved by walking on those ancient streets that he couldn’t bring himself to stop until he was totally exhausted.
These are our rebbeim who provide our mesorah and whose depth of love for EretzYisrael knew no bounds, despite all the challenges and difficulties that exist today. How fortunate that I was able to share some of these thoughts with a new generation.
A friend just sent me a beautiful story about the tzaddik of Yerushalayim, Rav Aryeh Levin, that took place in 1949. Dr. Hillel Seidman arrived in EretzYisrael for a visit. It was the eve of Independence Day, and as he went out into the streets, he was surprised to see Rav Aryeh Levin, at 64 years old, dancing with the youth in the streets, his face beaming with joy. When questioned, Rav Levin responded, “After the sea of tears and the flood of hardships that befell our Jewish brethren in the Holocaust, we finally have the good fortune to see Jewish children dancing with joy in their hearts. Isn’t that reason enough for us to give praise and thanksgiving to HaKadosh Baruch Hu?”
It certainly is.