By Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
After the Holocaust, many survivors were overwrought with feelings of confusion, loneliness, and anger — anger at the Nazis, anger at the com- placent world, and even anger at the Almighty. Some were disillusioned to the point of losing their faith. Al tadin es chaveircha ad shetagia l’mkomo. Do not judge your fellow unless you are in his place … and, hopefully, nobody will ever be in that place again. A voice came along and turned that anger on its head, imploring those bedraggled masses, “Do not let Hitler win! To despair of Hash- em, to surrender your faith, is to hand Hitler a posthumous victory.
For if you lose your faith, if you give up your identity as a Jew, then Hitler has successfully killed off one more Jew!” I wish to apply this same idea to one of the 20th century’s greatest theological conundrums, Zionism.
Secular Zionism is a total anathema to maaminim bnei maamin- im. To render Artzeinu hakedoshah as nothing more than a national homeland, an expression of national pride, is worse than saying we wear tztitzis because it looks trendy. Eretz Yisrael without emunah in HaKadosh Baruch Hu seems almost like idolatry: What difference is there between worshipping land and worshipping an asheirah tree? [Once, scanning the radio stations on a Sunday morning, I heard a preacher belt out, “The Jews claim to have a Divine right to Israel. What Divine right? The founders of Israel, Hertzel, Ben-Gurion, and Weitzman, did they even believe in the Divine? What Divine right?!” Hmm.]
The passion against secular Zionism is fueled not so much by ge- maras in Kesubos, but rather by the specter of Eretz Yisrael being led by individuals who have by and large rejected the basic tenets of the faith, by an ideology that seeks to divorce the Jewish People from its heritage and its Torah. Of course the plan has backfired, and instead the State of Israel has become the catalyst for an explo- sion of Torah learning without precedent, perhaps, since the time of King Chizkiyahu; a teshuvah revival without parallel since the time of Ezra haSofer. Yet I fear that we, in chutz l’Aretz, have unconsciously handed the secular Zionists a victory.
For chibas haAretz, love of the Land, has always been a central part of being a sincere Jew. I speak not of whether there is a mitzvah of yishuv haAretz nowadays. That may or may not be subject to a de- bate among the Rishonim. Rather, I speak of love of Eretz Yisrael, an idea that has been universally accepted and axiomatic within Yiddishkeit from time immemorial, and which certainly applies even after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. As the Gemara reports: Rav Zeira crossed into Eretz Yisrael on a dangerous rope bridge; Rav Abba literally kissed its stones; Rav Chaninah smoothed out its potholes like a common construction worker; Rav Chiya bar Gamda would roll in its dust. All this occurred post Churban. We know also of the great pains taken by many of our great luminaries to live in Eretz Yisrael, such as Ramban, Rav Yehudah HaLevi, the talmidei HaGra andBaal Shem Tov, to name just a few. Yet, nowadays, one rarely hears shmuesssen in yeshivos and the yeshivah world about chibas haAretz. It has reached the point that a speaker who does lecture on chibas Eretz Yisrael would instinc- tively be associated with Orthodox movements linked to political Zionism. But by adopting this attitude we are granting the secu- larists a victory. We — and I refer to galus Torah Jews — have al- lowed the secularist to steal Eretz Yisrael from us and link it to a political movement.
Let’s take it back. Chibas Eretz Yisrael is a religious ideal and im- perative, and not a political or nationalistic ideal.
When you think of those who did not return with Ezra, don’t you feel disappointed in them? Are we galus Yidden any different? I know that chinuch and parnassah considerations are serious issues, but should living in Eretz Yisrael not at least be a dream, a goal? Should we not at least fantasize about retiring and moving to Artzeinu haKedoshah? Where has our chibas haAretz gone? Will future generations look at us as we look at the generation of Ezra? L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalyim habenuyah. — Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger is rosh mesivta at Yeshiva Gedola Ohr Reuven, Monsey, a writer for the ArtScroll Shas (Bavli and Yerushalmi), and serves as rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of New Hempstead.
Originally featured in Mishpacha Magazine in July 2013. Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger is the rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of New Hempstead and the author of Positive Vision, a Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation project (ArtScroll\Mesorah)