LA, Hypocrisy, Jewish Values

Nearly thirty-seven years ago, I made the wise decision to leave the synagogue that I had built in a thriving LA Jewish community, to make Aliya. My decision was made for one main reason. I was unable to live with myself as a religious Jew, knowing that I had turned my back on the obligation to live in Israel. Despite my bright future, I was not at peace. It felt so hypocritical to pray for, “the return to Zion in mercy” thrice daily, and not do something about it.

I received huge compensation for leaving the life of comfort and honor afforded me in America, by being able to pray nearly every Shabbat at the Kotel, the Western Wall. I try not to take this fulfillment of a Jewish dream for granted, by thanking G-d each time I am able to touch the precious stones of the remnants of our holy Temple. The best part of living in Israel for me, is not only that I am at peace that I did the right thing, but that I truly feel that I am able to serve G-d and fulfill the commandments, surrounded by the atmosphere of the holiness of the Land, and closeness to the Al-mighty.

There are so many references in Jewish writings that confirm these sentiments. The Torah itself refers to Israel as, “the Land that G-d seeks out. His eyes are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” The Kuzari, written by Rav Yehuda Halevi, describes Israel as “the only land where the Divine light shines.” The Netivot Shalom, Rav Shalom Noach Berzoviski, commented about Israel’s sanctity, in his commentary on the story of the spies. “When Kaleb cried out that the Land of Israel is ‘a very, very, good land’, this was a reference to the fact that Israel is the source of all that is good and holy. Only in Israel, can a Jew feel his true connection to G-d.”

The Netivot Shalom referred to the evil spies as the “Gedolim”, the great ones of the generation. It was their arrogance that caused them to speak against Israel. Only the truly humble can appreciate the uniqueness of Israel. In the Mishna of Pirkei Avot, we are told to be very, very, humble. The very, very, good land that Kaleb spoke of, is acquired by being very, very, humble. There are other well known quotes such as, “there is no Torah like the Torah of Israel.” Or, “the air of Israel makes one wise.”

It is so hard to comprehend why Diaspora Orthodox rabbis do not adhere to the simple teachings just quoted. They certainly should be aware, and act accordingly. Don’t they want to feel G-d’s Presence? Is it possible that one can think that just because Jewish communities have all of the amenities a religious Jew might need, such as Yehivot, Torah classes, Mikvas, and kosher establishments, that this is a substitute to serving G-d on the highest level? It feels so wrong and is such a slap in the face to the G-d who has brought back Jews from all over the world, and after two thousand years, given us a homeland, to reject it. Israel is not perfect, but it is the place where the Torah was meant to be observed, and a Jew is truly at home.

I was inspired to write this especially after seeing how the Netivot Shalom makes it so clear that the level of observance outside of Israel is on a much lower level. That is why Diaspora Jews still need to observe two days of Yom Tov. It takes them two days to reach the level of sanctity that in Israel, takes only one. I also felt the need to speak out in connection to the the rioting taking place in America.

The Galut, or Exile, was meant to be a temporary situation for the Jews. Every place that Jews ever lived always ended in either, expulsion, assimilation, or annihilation. It was a situation we were given as a result of being banished from our land. As good as America has been to the Jews, the Torah dictates that it will not always be a safe place for Jews to live. Los Angeles had several synagogues vandalized with serious anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slogans. Is the correct response to wait for things to blow over, or to speak out and call things as they are?

Rabbi Meir Kahane used to say that when things are good for the Gentile, they hate us quietly. When things are bad, they hate us loudly. When things are very bad, they hate us violently. It’s time for rabbis to wake up and have the courage to lead by example. The reaction of the Left to the rioting, is to emphasize racism and police brutality. The Right speaks more of the lawlessness and vandalism, while condemning the murderous act of individual policemen. Rabbis are looked to lead and teach without fear what is right and wrong.

Rabbis need to shout loud and clear the truths that G-d handed down to Moses. A world with no value system that is guided by what “feels good” will self destruct. If there is no system of laws, people will consume one another. This was the reason for the flood. G-d said that man’s inclination is evil and there must be laws for his survival. Therefore, the Seven Noachide Laws, were introduced. Destruction of another person’s property is never acceptable. Nobody is above the law. If one misuses his power, he must pay the price.

And the most important point of all, is to encourage the Jewish people to observe the Torah without hypocrisy. I don’t believe that G-d is impressed by how religious one acts externally. He can walk the walk, and talk the talk. But in the end, is he really prepared to go the distance and live according to the teachings of our sages, and live up to the often difficult demands of the Torah? Jews need to come home, plain and simple. It’s time for rabbis to lead by example so that they can have the peace of mind of being able to live with themselves.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.