In this series, I have begun to describe my search for the “soul” of Zion – the inner spirit that defines the raison d’etre of our people in this sacred land. The correspondence which I have received from many of you reveals that I am privileged to have spiritually-sensitive colleagues who are participating in this quest. Our search for Zion’s soul is an indication that we cannot be satisfied with the shallow ideology which began to dominate the modern Zionist movement – an ideology which claimed that the raison d’etre of our people is to become a nationalistic entity like other nations with a land, state, flag, and army of our own. We are therefore seeking a spiritual understanding of our people’s raison d’etre which reveals the higher purpose of our life in Zion.
The insights that we gain from this search can also help us to reach many of our spiritually-searching brethren who do not yet feel the strong bond with Zion that we feel. For example, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published an article by Ben Harris with the following title: “Ethnic identification is on the wane, spirituality rising among Jews” (March 31, 2009). The article described a new sociological study on the growing spiritual awareness of many American Jews, and I will share with you the following excerpt from this article which is particularly relevant to our discussion:
Taken together, the researchers conclude that ethnic identification is on the wane for American Jews, replaced with identification through spirituality, and that this trend will have significant policy implications.
“Simply asking Jews about raising money to give money to Israel or Jewish causes and expecting they'll do it just because they're Jewish is yesterday's thinking,” said Lawrence Hoffman, a professor at HUC who co-authored the report with the sociologist Steven Cohen. “Instead, they'll have to see some transcendent purpose of the Jewish people.”
May Hashem help all our brothers and sisters to rediscover the transcendent purpose of our people – the purpose which reveals the soul of Zion.
In my search for the soul of Zion, I discovered that our spiritual tradition does not have an annual festival which celebrates our entry into the Land of Zion, nor does our spiritual tradition have an annual festival which celebrates the establishment of an independent government or state in the Land of Zion. Our discussion will begin with the following examples
1. After enduring a brutal enslavement in Egypt and after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, we finally entered the Land; however, an annual festival was not established for commemorating this event. In addition, an annual festival was not established when we later developed an independent government to rule over the land within our possession.
2. At a later stage of our history, when the majority of our people abandoned the Covenant of the Torah and ignored the continuous warnings of our prophets, the First Temple was destroyed and the Babylonian exile began. Later, with the permission of the King of Persia, we were given permission to return to the Land, and a minority of our people did return; moreover, they built the Second Temple. An annual festival, however, was not established for commemorating this event.
3. The annual Festival of Chanukah was established by the Sanhedrin – the Supreme Court of our nation whose members were the leading Torah sages of the generation. In addition to their judicial role, the leading sages of the Sanhedrin had the power to enact certain decrees which would enhance or protect Torah observance. They also had the power to establish festivals for future generations – a power which they rarely used. In the “Related Teachings” section at the end of this letter, we cite a kabbalistic teaching which explains the deeper reason for the establishment of all Jewish festivals, including Chanukah. According to the simple explanation, the Festival of Chanukah was established by the Sanhedrin to commemorate the liberation of the Temple and the miracle of the oil. At this stage, our people had not yet regained political independence in Zion; moreover, parts of Jerusalem and most of the countryside were still under the control of the Syrian Greeks and their Jewish allies, the assimilated Hellenist Jews who wanted our Land to be a center of Greek culture. When we eventually regained political independence, an annual festival was not established to commemorate this positive development.
There is, however, another side to the story. Through further Torah study, I discovered that the Festival of Shavous – the annual commemoration of the giving of the Torah – begins a special season where the farmers of our people also commemorate our entry into the Land. This is the season when they bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. This is one reason why the Festival of Shavuos is also called, “The Festival of the Harvest of the First Fruits” (Exodus 23:16), and “The Day of the First Fruits” (Numbers 28:26).
The Torah states that the farmers of each generation should bring the first fruits to the Temple, and each farmer should then commemorate the entry into the Land by saying to the officiating Kohen (Minister):
“I declare today to Hashem, your God, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us” (Deuteronomy 26:3).
Ramban, in his commentary on this statement, explains that the farmer is saying:
“Through this fruit which I have brought, I profess and give thanks to Hashem, your God, Who brought me into the Land which He swore to our forefathers to give us. Thus God fulfilled His words, and I give thanks and praise to His Name.”
The farmer’s declaration is therefore a statement of thanksgiving to Hashem for the gift of the Land. Why, however, does the season for this commemoration of the gift of the Land begin with the Festival which commemorates the giving of the Torah? I would like to suggest that this linkage is to remind us that the Land was given to us for the fulfillment of the Torah, the Divine Teaching, as Moshe proclaimed to our nation:
“See, I have taught you statutes and social laws which Hashem, my God, has commanded me, so that you may act accordingly in the midst of the Land” (Deuteronomy 4:5).
Had there been a separate festival commemorating the entry into the Land, we might have mistakenly assumed that acquiring the Land is an end in itself. By including the commemoration of the Land in the Festival of Shavuos, we are reminded that the Land is a means to a higher goal. The same is true with the establishment of an independent state or government in the Land, for this is only a means to a higher goal, and it is not the goal itself.
A well-known example of the spiritual and universal goal of our nation in the Land of Zion is found in the following prophecy:
“It will happen in the end of days: The Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2: 2,3)
May we be blessed with a good
Shabbos and a good month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The First Fruits of the Land were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Within the Holy of Holies of the Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, and within the Ark were the Tablets of the Covenant which we received at Mount Sinai. Within the Ark was also the Torah scroll transcribed by Moshe, and according to another view, this scroll was placed on a board protruding from the Ark (Baba Basra 14a-b).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch therefore reminds us that the Temple is the “House of the Torah”; thus, the bringing of the first fruits to the House of the Torah inspires us to dedicate the produce of our Land to the fulfillment of the Torah (commentary to Exodus 23:19).
2. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato was a leading sage and kabbalist of the 17th century. In the following excerpt from his classical work Derech Hashem (The Way of God), he discusses the deeper significance of the holy days of the Torah, as well as the holy days which were later established by the leading sages, such as Purim and Chanukah:
“On each of these special days, something happened whereby at this time a great tikun (rectification) was accomplished and a great Light shone. The Highest Wisdom decreed that on every anniversary of this period, a counterpoint of its original Light should shine forth, and the results of its tikun renewed to those who accept it.”
He adds: “Chanukah and Purim also involve this same concept.” The leading sages of the Sanhedrin realized through their deep understanding of the hidden wisdom of Torah that the above spiritual criteria was fulfilled with regard to Chanukah and Purim.
We no longer have the Sanhedrin, but it will be restored to us in the messianic age of spiritual renewal, when all of our people will return to the Torah and will therefore be willing to be guided by the leading sages of the Sanhedrin. In this new age of spiritual renewal, the leading sages of the Sanhedrin, together with the Messiah, will guide our people and help us to fulfill our spiritual and universal mission.
The above quotes are found in Derech Hashem, Part 4, Chapter 7. Feldheim published an English edition of Derech Hashem which was translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. For information, visit: www.feldheim.com