Existence in the Land and Diaspora

Existence in the Land and in the Diaspora

The existence of Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) is dependent on its connection to God. In contrast, the historic foundation and development of all other nations occurred naturally, whereby individuals and groups with common goals came together for reasons of economic stability, survival, and defense. Only afterwards did they search for a common ideology and faith. In contrast, the Nation of Israel was created through a Divine fiat during the miracle-filled Exodus from Egypt and the Divine Revelation which took place upon our receiving the Torah – all with the ultimate goal of entering the Land of Israel to live a life of total emunah (faith) in loyal adherence to the commandments of God.

We find, therefore, that emunah is the life and raison d’etre of the Jewish Nation, and Eretz Yisrael is called “the Land of life” (Aggadot D’Rebbe Natan 34,10; Tanchuma, Parshat Vayetzei 23), for only here can emunah be completely revealed. In the Diaspora, because of its quality of separation and division, it is impossible to reveal the unifying faith. Consequently, a danger exists outside of the Land that any attempt to connect to the Holy One Blessed Be He will deviate in the direction of idol worship, as the Sages have stated, “Anyone who lives outside of the Land is like one who serves foreign gods” (Ketubot 110b).

Therefore, Jewish life outside of the Land of Israel is called galut, which means a temporary and unnatural situation of exile that has no value in and of itself, but which is rather only a state of waiting, anticipation, and preparation to return to the Land of Israel (as explained by the Maharal in “Netzach Yisrael,” Ch.1).

Seemingly, according to this understanding, there is no reason to fulfill the mitzvot in the Diaspora. However, we were commanded to keep the commandments in the exile, in order that we would be accustomed to them when we returned to the Land. As our Sages explained, “Although I send you out of the Land to the Diaspora, excel yourselves in fulfilling the mitzvot, so they won’t be new to you when you come back. This is similar to the parable of a king who got angry at his wife, and sent her away to live in her father’s house. The king said to her, ‘While you are there, wear your jewelry, so that when you return, they won’t be new to you.’ Thus God said to Israel. ‘My sons, excel yourselves in fulfilling the mitzvot, so that when you return, they won’t be new to you.’ This is what the prophet, Yirmiyahu, said as the Jews went into exile (Ch.31:20), ‘Set up way marks for yourself,’ these are the mitzvot that distinguish Israel in the galut’” (Sifri, Parshat Ekev 37).

On the verse, “And you shall place my words…” (D’varim, 11:18), Rashi explains, “Even after you are sent out (of the Land), distinguish yourselves in fulfilling the mitzvot – lay tefillin, place mezuzot on your doorposts, in order that they won’t be new to you when you return.” Thus, we see that the fulfillment of the mitzvot in the Diaspora is in order not to forget them, to insure that upon our return to Israel, we will be able to perform them in all of their completeness in the Land (see Ramban, Vayikra, 18:25).

If the Jewish Nation attempts to exist outside of the Land without being connected to Eretz Yisrael, even when it strives to be religious, it is doomed to failure, and in the long run, it will assimilate among the goyim. All of the Jewish Nation’s survival in the galut is dependent on the depth of its connection and yearning for Eretz Yisrael. As our teacher, Rabbi Kook, wrote:

“The concept of Judaism in the Diaspora will only find true strength through the depth of its involvement in Eretz Yisrael. Only through its longing for Eretz Yisrael will Diaspora Judaism consistently receive its inherent qualities. The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself” (Orot, 1:1).

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
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