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“The Only Cure for Israel’s Woes”
By Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman
Regrettably, the past year has once again been marred by violence, terror, and missile attacks for the Jews of Israel. Irrespective of national origin and religious observance, we have all been moved by the unforgettable images of tragedy to which we've sadly become accustomed over the past many years. It has reached the point where the uncertainty of daily life in Israel has become commonplace and the norm. To make matters worse, Jews in Israel and throughout the world have awoken to the realization that the situation is quickly deteriorating. The events of the past year have revealed that the United States (and the Obama administration in particular) may not be there for us in our time of greatest need, and with a showdown with a nuclear Iran looming, the situation appears to be truly grave.
In the eyes of many, our control over the Holy Land seems to be slipping away, and many voices have been heard openly questioning whether the Jews of Israel have any future there. Worse yet, there appears to be no end in sight to either the Islamic terrorism or fresh threats of violence. With frayed nerves and our energy spent, many have despaired of finding a respite to our suffering. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Eichah 5:5), "We are exhausted but are allowed no rest."
Despite all that has transpired, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters respond in the all-too-predictable manner, "If we can only find the right mix between diplomacy and military muscle and elect the right government, then we'll finally achieve peace." It is clear to even the most stubborn of observers that this approach has caused us to "struggle in vain and produce for futility" (Isaiah 65:23).
On the other hand, those among us who are more religiously-oriented search for clues in the Torah, the eternal instruction manual, as to how we can ameliorate our suffering. Without question, the Torah speaks of the current situation, and the Gedolim (the elite Torah giants of our era) have imparted to us clear instructions as to how we must proceed.
ON ONE CONDITION...
A recurring theme mentioned throughout the Torah, and particularly in the weekly portions read throughout the summer months, is the lone condition upon which the Jewish people will inherit the Land of Israel. Again and again, Hashem reiterates that the ability of the Jewish people to successfully possess and endure in the Land of Israel is entirely dependent upon our observing the commandments of the Torah. [For example, see Parshas Va'eschanan which contains a stunning ten mentions of this concept, ex. 4:1, 4:5, 4:25-27, 4:40, 5:28, 5:30, 6:1, 6:3, 6:17-19]. As the Torah states in unambiguous language, "You shall observe His decrees and His commandments that I command you this day, so that He will do good to you and to your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days on the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, for all the days" (Devarim 4:40).
It is interesting to note that analyzing the above principle from a purely objective and historical perspective, this phenomenon has not-so-coincidentally held true throughout the ages. It should come as no surprise that the periods prior to the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the subsequent exiles were marked by rampant neglect of Hashem's Torah. Conversely, the periods preceding the destruction, which featured peaceful Jewish dominion over the Land, were characterized by extraordinarily high levels of mitzvah observance. Unfortunately, the passage of time and our inability to look at Jewish history as a unified whole render it almost impossible for the layperson to take notice of and appreciate this trend on their own, for if it were, this "coincidence" would certainly impress and shock the hearts of even the most spiritually detached members of our nation.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF GIFT
Most certainly, the notion that the successful establishment of a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel is wholly predicated on Torah observance is a foreign concept to some ears. However, a deeper understanding of the relationship between Hashem's Torah, the Jewish people, and Israel reveals why this is the case.
Even Jews who do not consider themselves to be ‘religious' know that G-d gave the Land of Israel as a gift to the Jewish people. However, what most fail to realize is that Israel is not a "gift" in the conventional sense of the word. As a general rule, there are two ways one can give a gift: 1) unconditionally, such that receipt and continued possession of the gift are entirely independent of the recipient's conduct, and 2) conditionally, such that receipt and continued possession of the gift are linked to the fulfillment of certain conditions on the part of the recipient. The Land of Israel, Hashem's gift to the Jews, most certainly falls into the category of the latter; our receipt of Israel is solely conditioned upon our fulfillment of His will as expressed in the Holy Torah.
VISIT TO THE DOCTOR
Consider the following analogy: There once was a man who suffered from a grave illness. By stroke of great fortune, this sick individual discovered that the world's leading doctor had recently published an essay detailing how to cure the very same ailment from which he was suffering. In his research, the doctor concluded that there is only one form of treatment that is effective in dealing with this malady. Astonishingly, the sick man, possessing no expert knowledge of medicine, chose to ignore the doctor's wisdom and instead attempted to cure himself with whatever remedies he could dream up. As we could expect, ignoring the doctor's sage advice resulted in a deterioration of his condition and an exponential increase in his suffering. His friends pleaded with him, "Take the true cure! It's the only thing that can save you!" Humbled and in failing health, the man finally conceded that all other remedies were fruitless. When he relented and finally heeded the doctor, the illness quickly disappeared and the man was miraculously restored to complete health.
The above parable, adapted from Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's classic work Mesillas Yesharim ("Path of The Just"), succinctly describes our current dilemma in Israel and why the majority of efforts at rectifying the situation are misguided. It is wholly absurd to imagine that if Hashem Himself has told us the one and only thing that will bring us the peaceful existence in the Land we so desperately seek, that we should achieve the object of our desires by alternative means. Our Gedolim have made it clear that we have been humbled and are in failing health, for ignoring Hashem's prescription has imperiled our very existence.
CHARTING A NEW COURSE
Over 60 years have passed since Hashem gave the Jewish people a fresh start in our ancestral homeland. Although there is a high level of Torah observance among segments of the Israeli population and throughout the world, we have to be honest and admit that the majority of the Jewish nation has not kept the Torah-the very condition upon which our existence in the Land depends. The Torah describes this phenomenon: "When you beget children and grandchildren and you will have long been in the Land, you will grow corrupt...and you will do evil in the eyes of Hashem...you will surely perish quickly from the Land...you shall not have lengthy days upon it." (Devarim 4:25-27). Since we are witnessing the fulfillment of this nightmarish prophecy on a daily basis, our Torah sages have told us that now is the time for a collective call to action for all Jews to strengthen our observance of Torah.
The road to recovery can begin only after we have honestly diagnosed the illness. We've tried every other political and military strategy to no avail; it's time to give Torah observance a chance. The Gedolim of our era have told us that if it feels as though Israel is slipping away, it is only because we are allowing our collective Torah observance to slip away. In the merit of strengthening our own commitment to Torah and gently encouraging others to do the same, may we witness the fulfillment of the verse (Devarim 4:4), "You who cling to Hashem, your G-d, you are all alive today." May we live in times of Torah observance, now and forever.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman is Founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network (JELN), a Lakewood-based organization that shares the beauty of Torah study with young professional men in their 20's and 30's in the New York City area and beyond. His JELN classes are available in video and MP3 format at TorahAnytime.com. In addition to his communal work, Rabbi Bregman manages his own law firm, specializing in Corporate Law and Trusts & Estates. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.