What is the Purpose of Zionism, Part 2- By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

Last week I wrote that it seemed from the torah that the goal of the Jewish people to be a “blessing to all the peoples of the world” as God tells Abraham, can only happen by going to the “land which I will show you,” and there becoming a “great nation.”  Why is it that being a Jewish landed nation is important beyond the obvious reason that the world and its nations can see us more clearly as a national example on par with other nations?  Is there something uniquely spiritual and holy, something uniquely “torahdik” about being a nation in a land? The following quote from Rav Kook I think may shed some light (my thanks to my teacher Rabbi Israel Samet for the quote):

אורות עמ’ קד

בראשית מטעו של העם הזה, אשר ידע לקרוא בשם הרעיון האלהי הברור והטהור בעת השלטון הכביר של האליליות בטומאתה-פראותה, נתגלתה השאיפה להקים צבור אנושי גדול אשר “ישמור את דרך ד’ לעשות צדקה ומשפט”. זוהי השאיפה, שבאה מכח ההכרה הברורה והעזה והתביעה המוסרית הכוללת והרמה, להוציא את האנושיות מתחת סבל נורא של צרות רוחניות וחמריות ולהביאנה לחיי חופש מלאי הוד ועדן, באור האידיאה האלהית, ולהצליח בזה את כל האדם כלו. למלואה של שאיפה זו צריך דוקא, שצבור זה יהיה בעל מדינה פוליטית וסוציאלית וכסא ממלכה לאומית, ברום התרבות האנושית, “עם חכם ונבון וגוי גדול”, והאידיאה האלהית המוחלטת מושלת שמה ומחיה את העם ואת הארץ במאור-חייה. למען דעת, שלא רק יחידים חכמים מצויינים, חסידים ונזירים ואנשי-קדש, חיים באור האידיאה האלהית, כי גם עמים שלמים, מתוקנים ומשוכללים בכל תקוני התרבות והישוב המדיני; עמים שלמים, הכוללים בתוכם את כל השדרות האנושיות השונות, מן רום האינטליגנציה האמנותית, הפרושית, המשכלת והקדושה, עד המערכות הרחבות, הסוציאליות, הפוליטיות והאקנומיות, ועד הפרולטריון לכל פלגותיו, אפילו היותר נמוך ומגושם.

“At the beginning of this nation’s formation, it knew how to call in the name of the pure idea of God at the time of the controlling ideology of idol worship, there was revealed in it them a desire to form a large human group that would “guard the way of God, to do justice and righteousness.”  This is the desire that comes from the clear, subtle, ethical  recognition of the need to take man from under the terrible burden of physical and spiritual pain and to bring man to a life of freedom full of grace and kindness, in the light of Divine ideology, and through this to redeem the whole person.  But to fulfill this yearning there must be a community that has a politic, country, and culture.  A “big nation that is wise and intelligent.”   This encompassing divine ideology must rule there and enliven the people and its land in its light in order to know that not just wise and holy individuals alone live in the light of this Divine ideology but also whole nation with elaborate cultures and a functioning society, from the intellectual, holy, and esthetic to the vast systems -social, political and economic, to the proletariat and all its sub-sections, even the lowest and poorest of them.”  (Orot 204)

Rabbi Kook here seems to be saying that the torah and a relationship to God and Godly ideas can not be achieved solely as an individual or even as a community.  It takes the complexities and structures of nationhood to truly achieve it.

In addition to this second outwardly oriented national reason for the importance of a Jewish nation state in the Land of Israel, another important reason for the existence of a Jewish nation state I think, is as a light unto itself.  Some have argued that the Torah, though given in the desert, is clearly written for the Jewish nation living as a people in the Land of Israel, and thus can only truly be observed as just that.

The Ramb”n is the most famous opinion who holds that mitzvoth kept outside of the Land of Israel are not truly obligatory mitzvoth.  That settling the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvoth and that outside of Israel mitzvoth are done only so we do not forget them but are not really an obligation in the same way as those performed within the land are.

Why is this so?  It’s a holy land but how does that change the nature of specific person oriented mitzvoth such as matza, shofar or tifilin?  Such mitzvot do not seem tied to the land.

Perhaps if the mitzvoth are not just meant to be about an individual’s soul and relationship to God but about a landed nation’s function visa via other peoples, this would explain why each mitzvah, how each citizen acts, is in turn an inextricable part of the whole, like a mosaic or a Surat painting, together coloring the world in the shades of Torah.

2 Responses to What is the Purpose of Zionism, Part 2- By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    Vayikra / Leviticus, Parshat Kedoshim, chapter 20, verse 22:
    You will obey My statutes and My laws and do them, so that you will not be expelled by the land to which I am bringing you there to live there.

    Vayikra / Leviticus, Parshat Behar, chapter 25, verses 17 to 19:

    [17] You may not cheat each other and you must fear your G_d because I am HASHEM your G_d.
    [18] You must obey My decrees and carefully obey My laws and do them, and then you will live in the land securely.
    [19] The land will yield its fruit and you will be satisfied with it and you will live securely on it.

    Bamidbar / Numbers, Parshat Shelach, chapter 14, verse 23:
    …all those who angered Me [G_d] will not see it [the Land of Israel].

    Bamidbar, Parshat Masei, chapter 33, verse 55:
    But if you do not drive out their inhabitants of the land before you, those whom you leave over will be spikes in your eyes and thorns in your sides and they will persecute you upon the land in which you settle.
    To receive quick quotes from Jewish Torah books, go to:


  2. David says:

    I’ve heard the inyan “that mitzvoth kept outside of the Land of Israel are not truly obligatory mitzvoth,” which is truly fascinating, both in the name of Ramban and Rambam.

    I think of birkat hamazon:
    ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה’ אלקך על הארץ הטובה אשר נתן לך
    i.e. if you’re not “al ha’aretz hatovah,” bentshing is optional.

    I’d love to read it inside. Would you happen to know where the source could be read?

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