Israel versus Judaism




Just as the Jewish People, according to the view of the Torah, is a unique entity and the result of an original and essential act of Divine Creation, all other matters associated with the concepts of “nation” fundamentally differ from parallel concepts in the non-Jewish world. “Land and Language” by Torah standards are not “a national treasure”, just as Torah is not “a religion” (see later) in the generally accepted sense.

Thus Eretz Israel, “a land which the L-rd thy G-d careth for, the eyes of the L-rd thy G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year”* , is also part of that original purpose of Creation, as explained also in the above mentioned commentary of Rashi on the first verse of Genesis, as we shall try to explain later at greater length.

The “Holy Tongue”, likewise, is the language through which G-d created the world. The “ten fiats” by which G-d created the universe were uttered in the Holy Language, and, as explained particularly by the “ARI” (Rabbi Isaac Lurie) and subsequently in Chassidic literature, the Holy Language is not only an integral part of Creation but also the life-giving force and very basis of existence of all creatures, of all things existing in the universe: "...and also with regard to all things created in the world, the names by which they are called in the Holy Tongue are the very letters of the (Divine) speech, descending from level to level from the original Ten Fiats of the Torah... which are vested in the individual creature and make it live" (Tanya, Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah, end of Chapter 1).

The entire universe is a creation embodied in matter, for, in the words of our Sages, the reason for Creation was that “the Almighty desired to make for Himself a dwelling among those below” (Midrash Tanchuma). Therefore, in this world, even the most spiritual is clad in matter. The commandments of the Torah, though their root and source is in the highest sphere of the Infinite, must all be performed through material objects, and their proper performance can be achieved only through and with matter in its tangible, material form. The commandment of Tephillin can be performed only by putting on the phylacteries made of cattle-skin; Tzitzith have to be made of wool, while Lulab and Ethrog are earthly plants. Even if a man were to comprehend the profoundest secrets symbolized by and embodied in these Mitzvoth, he cannot fulfil them without performing concrete actions. At the same time, it is only the Divine Commandment that transforms, say, the Ethrog into a Mitzvoh. Were a man to take in his hand an Ethrog, even the best and most “kosher” Ethrog, on the day before or after Succoth, he will thereby be doing nothing more than if he were holding a lemon or an apple. Only if and when he holds the Ethrog in the manner and at the time prescribed by the Torah, only then is he performing the Divine Commandment and thereby attaching himself to the Almighty.

The same, of course, applies to the very study of Torah. A person studying, say, the problem of “the partners who wanted to erect a dividing wall in their joint courtyard” either from the passage at the beginning of the Talmudical treatise of Baba Bathra, or from the other sacred sources, is thereby studying Torah and performing the commandment that enjoins the study of Torah; and, during his study, he attains all the sublime attributes ascribed by our sages to one who studies Torah. Yet, a person studying the very same problem of partnership in the building of a dividing wall in a jointly owned yard from, say, the American Civil Code, or from the “Codex Iustinianus”, will not thereby be performing any Divine commandment or sacred deed, even if the ruling in American or Roman law happens to be exactly the same as that of the Torah in that particular case. Such a man will acquire no greater merit than if he had studied, for example, the Customs regulations of the United States.

To be sure, the Torah, in the aforementioned example, deals with exactly the same down-to-earth yard, the same wall or fence of material wood or stone. Yet, that topic derives from revelation of the Will of the Almighty and as part of the Torah is one of sublime holiness. In other words, the Torah and its commandments also deal with tangible matters, for “the Torah has not been given to the ministering angels” (Berachot 25b) but was revealed so as to govern first and foremost our life in this world, yet the Torah itself both transcends matter and sanctifies it.

The same principle applies to all other matters referred to above. Eretz Israel, it is true, is a country on the earthly globe. Like other countries, it has trees and stones and rivers and fields and vineyards and mountains and houses; but it is not through them that it became “the Holy Land”. It acquired its holiness only with the entry of the Ark of the Covenant in front of the Children of Israel, and it is only through that fact that it remains “Eretz Israel”.

The “Holy Tongue” is also of a human language with grammar, nouns, verbs, conjugations, etc., like all other languages, but all these are only its external structure. Its soul is sacred and sublime, it is the language of Divine Creation through which all creatures survive, as has been explained above.

* The L-rd made me, (Torah) as the beginning of His way (Prov. 8, 22)
** Israel is the L-rd's hallowed portion, the beginning of His increase (Jer. 2,2)
* (Deut 11-12)

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