Thursday, April 20, 2017

An Open Letter to Eytan Kobre and Mishpacha Magazine

Guest Contribution by Rabbi Sholom Gold - Ish Yerushalayim

Tomatoes grown in Israel 
Rabbi Sholom Gold, a renowned Religious Zionist Rabbi who lives in Israel, has asked that I publish his rather strong response to Eytan Kobre. Eytan had written a column in Mispahcha Magazine (issue 653) about what he believed is the Torah Hashkafa about what is truly important about Israel – and what is not. Rabbi Gold's response is a bit longer than my usual posts but well worth reading. As always the views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my own. His words follow.

Re: Issue 653, 24 Adar 5777, pages 32-33 Kobre writes that: 
“Nothing other than our possession of the Torah plays any role in our national character, nothing whatsoever. Not a common land, language and culture.”
Eytan Kobre’s article is a smorgasbord of nonsense, apostasy, blasphemy and a rejection of the very essence of all of Torah. The tragedy is that he believes that he is expressing the true, authentic, genuine Torah hashkafa, certainly approved by “Gedolei Yisrael.” The greater catastrophe is that thousands of innocent Jews read it and blindly and naively accept it. The damage done to their souls and minds is enormous. 

Let’s take a closer look at what he writes and study four words: “not a common land.” A common land, he says, does not play a role in our national character. He must be talking about Eretz Yisrael. Does he mean that the only land in the world where all mitzvahs (613) apply; the only land in which it is a mitzvah to live (to the absolute exclusion of all others); the land about which Torah says “that the eyes of Hashem are on her from the beginning of the year to the end of the year? Does he mean the land to which Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu to journey and there make him blessed and a great nation, a source of blessing to all the nations of the world? 

Does Kobre mean the land that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for permission to enter, the one that G-d swore to Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov to give to their children, to which He promised to bring His people back at the end of their long exile? Is it not the land about which it says “there is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael”? Does Kobre really believe that “a common land” plays no role in our national character? 

When I was rabbi at the Young Israel of West Hempstead I had a neighbor on the block, a baal teshuva. We became good friends. A few years after moving to West Hempstead he told me that he was going on aliyah. He told me “Rabbi, I have been listening to the Torah reading every Shabbos for five years and the whole Torah is about Eretz Yisrael. I’m going.” 

The ability to read Torah and see the truth is something that Kobre has taught me cannot be taken for granted. My baal teshuva friend got it. Kobre just doesn’t get it. 

I find it very difficult to believe that Eytan has forgotten the hundreds of pesukim in Torah that are devoted to “the land.” Of the many I choose the pasuk that is often said in davening in Selichot and appears in the Parshat Hateshuva. 
Then Hashem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your G-d has scattered you. 4If your dispersed will be at the end of heaven, from there Hashem, your G-d will gather you in and from there He will take you. 5Hashem your G-d will bring you to the Land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it; He will do good to you and make you more numerous than your forefathers. (Devarim 30:3–5 3)
I have asked many people to explain the three words “מאבתך והרבך והיטבך – He will do good to you and make you more numerous than your forefathers.” For some strange reason they couldn’t say anything that made sense. 

Historians estimate that the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael during the Second Temple period peaked at 2,350,000. The rest of the Jewish people, numbering around 7,000,000 were in Bavel and Asia Minor. Modern Eretz Yisrael achieved that number 2,350,000 before the Six Day War and has been rising ever since. There are now 6,500,000 Jews here, kein yirbu. 

I am fond of quoting an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in 1990. The author predicted that by the end of the century a man, woman or child will step on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport and a dramatic milestone in Jewish history will have been reached. At that moment the Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael will become the largest Jewish community in the world. The last time Eretz Yisrael held that distinction was during the period of the First Beit Hamikdash!! I usually admit to my audience that I am not so brilliant that I remember an article from 1990 – it’s just that I wrote it. מאבתך והרבך והיטבך the three-word promise of Hashem has been fulfilled. 

How can Etyan say that the land does not impact on the character of the people when Rashi says on the pasuk in the second parshah of Shema “You should place these words of mine on your heart”? Even after you will go into exile be distinguished through the performance of commandments such as putting on tefillin, making mezuzot, so that they should not be new to you when you will return (Devarim 11:18). 

The Ramban (Vayikra 18:25) quotes the pasuk from Devarim and explains “that they should not be new to you when you return” and adds “because the essence of all mitzvot is for those who live in the land of Hashem, therefore the Sifrei says, “Yeshivas Eretz Yisrael shkula kchol hamitzvot – the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the mitzvot.” Study that Ramban well. 

I assume that by now it is unnecessary to quote all the pesukim in Tanach about kibbutz galiyot. 

Further Kobre writes “not ranking on some non-Jews’ list as the world’s eighth strongest power.” That too is as unimportant as “a common land” in Kobrespeak. 

Kobre doesn’t begin to understand the awesome religious meaning of that fact. That list of eight includes China, Japan and India. What Israel achieved in 69 years or less took them thousands of years. Germany and Russia needed about five hundred years, and America about a hundred and fifty. That’s not all. Israel is the smallest country of them all with the smallest population and has nowhere near the natural resources of the other seven. 

Furthermore Israel made it while being in a constant state of war, surrounded on all sides by sworn enemies. Jews had no military experience for 1900 years. According to Janes, Israel’s air force is the best in the world. I don’t have the words with which to describe the incredible nature of that accomplishment. 

A thinking Jew has to ask himself, “Well, how did it happen?” The answer is simple yet profound. For 69 years the Ribbono Shel Olom has been fulfilling his promise, a promise we say so many times. We sing it (I love Carlebach – I cry when I sing it) Hashem oz l’amo yitten. He is working 24/7 to make us a mighty nation. He has done it. He wants the world to see His people in His land as a strong, mighty and powerful nation. The past 69 years have been a constant, incessant, outpouring of Hashem’s strength to His people. The power of the Israeli army should be a religious inspiration to every Jew. A clear manifestation of His presence in our midst in Eretz Yisrael. 

Kobre doesn’t get it. I would have him write one thousand times, “Hashem oz l’amo yitten” until it begins to penetrate his neshama. 

I also object to his obvious snide remark about “a non-Jews’ list.” First, that’s Hashem’s whole purpose, that non-Jews should see us as strong people, which is a Torah value. (See the great Meshech Chochma in Parshat Chukas 21:2. It’s an eye opener.) 

Has Kobre forgotten the pesukim in Hallel: 
הללו את ה' כל גוים שבחוהו כל האמים כי גבר עלינו הסדו ואמת ה' לעולם הללו יה. 
Praise Hashem, all nations; praise Him, all the states. For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of Hashem is eternal. Halleluyah. 
Kobre becomes all good hearted when he writes, 
“Of course we should hope and pray that Israel’s economy thrives and feel great when it does – and then the Reason (get the capital “R”) for it, too.” 
Kobre reduces the thriving Eretz Yisrael to “parnassah for Jews.” He’s far off the mark. He has missed the magnificent and majestic prophetic process playing itself out in real life so carefully orchestrated by “the One who foretells the generations from the very beginning.” 

Two years ago I had written a response to an abusive letter to me by a recognized spokesman for the “religious” world. I had said in a shiur, “If you want to speak to the Ribbono Shel Olam go to the Kotel, but if you want to see Him, go to Shuk Machane Yehudah.” The following is from that letter which I had asked my son-in-law Yehuda Goldreich to put on the web. That day it was reported that three yeshiva students had been kidnapped. Immediately I contacted Yehudah and told him not to publish the letter because then was the time for unity and prayer not debate. Here it is now. 

* * * * * 
The Tomatoes 

Rabbi, you write: 
"It should likewise be pointed out Rabbi Gold's exaggerated words, upon being inspired by the abundance of produce found in the Machane Yehudah market: 'If this is golus then I can't begin to imagine what geulah is.' An abundance of fruits and vegetables is indeed a blessing; however, the final redemption will be exalted and spiritual, with material abundance being a mere by-product. Until then, it would be wise to seek and find Divinity in the world of Torah, whose growth and develop[ment] is infinitely more astounding than that of the tomatoes and cucumbers in the market." 
I must introduce my remarks with a thought, a story, and my deep feelings. 

The Thought – After the League of Nations in 1922 voted that Eretz Yisrael should be a homeland for the Jewish people, Reb Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk, The Ohr Sameach, wrote a letter encouraging Jews to participate in the building of Eretz Yisrael and that the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is in full force. 

At the beginning of his letter he writes that in the desert Jews committed two sins, the sin of the egel (the golden calf) and the sin of the meraglim (the spies). The former was an assault on G-d Himself, the latter was a blow to Eretz Yisrael. On His own honor He was mochel but He was not forgiving for the disgracing of Eretz Yisrael, therefore He said that because of the sin of the meraglim the entire generation shall all die in the desert. 

Rabbi – you unjustly attacked me a number of times in your letter. I can handle that – but when you trivialized the tomatoes of Eretz Yisrael, you just went too far. For that sin I'm not mochel. 

I heard the following story in the 1950s. A chosid had come from Chutz L'Aretz to visit the Belzer Rebbeh and brought a tray of fruit. When he presented his gift to the Rebbeh he refused to touch them and said to the poor chosid – "Ask forgiveness from the fruit of Eretz Yisrael that you shamed." 

Rabbi – you have shamed me. I can be forgiving. You denigrated the tomatoes of Eretz Yisrael – for that I am not mochel. Since you refer to my agvaniyot as "material abundance" it is obvious that you don't have a clue to what the produce of Eretz Yisrael means. The Bach says that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, enters the Jew through the produce of Eretz Yisrael. They are the conduit to bring sanctity. That's "material"?? (See Tur, Orach Chaim, Siman 208). 

Rav Kook writes that "The produce of Eretz Yisrael brings 'internal sanctity.'" Be careful, he warns, of food from out of Eretz Yisrael. If one longs for Eretz Yisrael, then even his golus-produce gains in sanctity. "It is a mitzvah to taste with one's full mouth the delight and sweetness of the brilliant and fresh sanctity of (the fruit) of Eretz Yisrael. I could go on and on. The tomatoes are spirituality, ruchniyut, not gashmiyut. 

But there's much, much more. My tomato talks to me and tells me a tale of such drama and pathos. 

I'll tell you what my agvaniyah says to me. Rabbi Ploni, from here on I hand over the letter to my tomato. 

My tomato to Rabbi Ploni: 

"After the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdosh a message came from Heaven to all the flora and fauna of Eretz Yisrael to stop growing. The word went from cedar to hyssop, to vine, to olive, to flowers, to grain, to all plant life – The Ribbono Shel Olom has decreed that we stop growing until we receive new instructions. We were told that only when Klal Yisrael begins to return from golus will we come back to life. We were all very sad to see our people going off into exile – but we heeded the 'Dvar Hashem.' 

As He said in Bechukotai – 'And I will make the land desolate.' We were told not to respond to enemies of Israel who will enter the land, and we obeyed – Romans, Byzantines, Moslems, Crusaders, Tartars, Saracens, they all came and we did not respond to their attempts to bring us to life. We were told that we would be informed in good time before Klal Yisrael begins to return so that we could wake up from our long slumber. 

"Rabbi Ploni, don't you know the Gemorah in Sanhedrin 98?: 
ואמר רבי אבא - And R' Abba said אין לך קץ מגולה מזה -  There is no clearer indication of the "End" than this, שנאמר – as it is stated: ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל בי ...לבא קרבו – But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and bear your fruit for My people Israel, etc. [when they are about to come].
"Rashi comments that when Eretz Yisrael gives out its produce in abundance that is the greatest sign that 'the end – the keitz' is coming. "

Cecil Roth wrote that the years after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdosh there was severe drought in Eretz Yisrael – you know why? Because, in keeping with the Divine Order of the day we all began to go into hibernation. We didn't know that it would last for nineteen hundred years. We hoped that it would be for only a brief period of time. 

"During that long period there were moments at which we thought that the end of our sleep is coming. We thought that our children are coming home. In the twelfth century we heard reports that 'they are coming.' The rumor went underground from root to root, the cedar to the hyssop, the vine to the olive, the tomato to the cucumber – we heard that they are coming home. Then we learned to our utter dismay that 300 Baalei Tosafot from the Rhineland arrived but no more. 

"We had other false alarms. The Ramban in 1267, Rav Ovadiah miBartenura in 1492, Rabbi Yehuda Hachosid and his followers in 1700, the students of the Baal Shem Tov and the students of the Vilna Gaon, but we did not receive the message from Hashem. So we waited, we hoped, we prayed. Then, toward the end of the 19th century rumors began again beneath the surface of the earth. There was a report that after Mark Twain left Emek Yizrael that there were angels telling blades of grass: 'grow, grow.' We were skeptical at first. We didn't want to be disappointed. 

But the reports became increasingly urgent. Birds flying overhead, clouds cruising the skies said, 'They are coming.' You should have seen (but of course you couldn't) what was going on beneath the surface of Eretz Yisrael. We were all cautious but excited. More and more reports of sightings were coming in. 'They are coming – they are coming home' – and then the word came directly from Hashem:

                           אתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנוי ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבא 

'They are finally coming home! Grow! Respond to the work of their hands! Don't check their tzitzis, it makes no difference whether they are religious or not. Grow – they are My children and they are coming home. Grow even in Shemittah, if it's with the Heter Mechira. Grow, give out your fruits. Grow.' 

"You should have seen the joy and jubilation beneath the surface. You didn't know but we knew. You should have seen how they all started waking up from the 1,900-year slumber, stretching their roots, yawning, smiling. I had not seen such activity in millennia. We were told by the Ribbono Shel Olom that we are commanded to turn little, dry, arid, dusty, nearly dead Eretz Yisrael into a verdant, fruitful, agricultural world super power. And we did it with joy (Google: Israel Agriculture – Wikipedia – It will blow your mind away. Trust me, do it.) 

"I (remember, it's my tomato talking) don't understand how Jews don't realize that we are the bearers of a message that G-d wants all His children home (study that Gemorah in Sanhedrin again)." 

* * * * * 

Kobre has succeeded in trivializing all the manifestations of Hashem’s Presence in our midst. Strong healthy economy, abundance, military prowess – all mean nothing to him. And what is wrong about “hearts swelling with national pride, etc.”? There is a total absence of G-d from the modern miracle of Eretz Yisrael in Kobre’s thought. The awesome fulfillment of so many prophecies is lost to him. 

It has been my misfortune to have just read Kobre’s piece in issue 656, which reveals that he has no longing, yearning or desire to live in Eretz Yisrael. It all is the result of what he recently wrote, “then some people made a state.” Hashem’s greatest gift to a bleeding, battered, decimated people emerging from Auschwitz is reduced to “then some people made a state.” All the pieces of Kobre’s perverted hashkafa are falling into place. There is more. Many years ago I predicted that the incessant finding fault with “the medina” will eventually morph into a rejection of Eretz Yisrael itself. The sin of unbridled rejection of the state has its own built-in punishment. My prediction has proven to be prophetic. 

In issue 656 Kobre writes the worst piece I have ever read. I wonder whether I should rent my garments. 
There’s more than a kernel of truth in the story told of a Jew who, flush with spiritual inspiration, decided he’d had his fill of the tumas eretz ha’amim and would instead make the Holy Land his home. He quickly wound up his affairs, gathered his kin and set out on his journey, his Russian hometown now a mere memory. Entering Yerushalayim, his heart quickened as he made his way swiftly to the Kosel Hamaaravi, the focal point of every Jew’s prayers. 
But strangely, as he prayed passionately for the first time before the ancient stones, he sensed a presence beside him. He looked up and – lo and behold! – it was the yetzer hara, right next to him at this holiest of sites. Stunned, all he could mutter was, “B-b-but I thought I left you behind in Russia!” Came the swift reply, “Silly one – who do you think brought you here?” 
Kobre must ask his gedolim if there is a way to do teshuva for such absolutely despicable trash. 

I have a great deal more to write, about Kobre’s articles but this latest one has wiped me out. I am going to take a break and begin to cleanse and purify myself in preparation for Yom Haatzmaut and the 50th Yom Yerushalayim. 

G-d willing, bli neder, there will be a continuation. 

While reading and thinking about the Kobre papers I was haunted by a still small voice telling me that it rings familiar. Then one morning in the middle of davening it came to me like a flash – the meraglim. That’s exactly what they said, that if we have Torah who needs a land. 

In 1907 HaRav Avrohom Yitzchak HaCohen Kook wrote that what he called “meragliut” or in our idiom “meraglimhood” or “meraglimism” is alive and well. It sure is. Just read Mishpacha.