Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman
Director of the WZO’s Religious Services Department
Next week, we will celebrate the State of Israel’s 61st Yom HaAtzma’ut, a historic occasion which will be marked by ceremonies and festivities in Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora as well.
The word morashah (loosely, heritage or legacy) appears twice in the Torah. First, in reference to Eretz Yisrael, the pasuk states:
“And I will give it to you as a heritage (morashah).” (Shmot 6:8)
The second time pertains to the Torah:
“Torah tziva lanu Moshe morashah kehilat Yaakov.” (“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov.”) (Devarim 33:4)
Rabbenu Bechaye distinguishes between the word morashah and the word yerushah (inheritance). The latter refers to a gift which one receives and which one is permitted to use as one sees fit. In contrast, a morashah is meant to be bequeathed to future generations.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu promised Moshe that Eretz Yisrael will be given to future generations. After all, the Exodus generation did not merit entering the Land. Similarly, the Torah is a morashah which we must bequeath to our children. As the pasuk states:
“And you shall teach them to your children.” (Devarim 6:7)
Every future generation must observe the Torah’s precepts as well.
Hence, the Torah uses the word morashah only in these two contexts.
Interestingly, however, the nations of the world differentiate between Am Yisrael’s two morashot.
The entire world accepts that the Torah was given to the Jewish People as a morashah, and no one dares to contest this fact. Indeed, when other religions were established, they produced their own sacred texts. For instance, Christianity has the New Testament; Islam follows the Koran; and neither claims that the Torah is theirs.
However, when it comes to Eretz Yisrael, the situation is very different. The nations of the world insist that they are the rightful owners of the tiny bit of land in the Middle East which HaKadosh Baruch Hu promised as a morashah to Am Yisrael. Although the Middle East boasts numerous alternate tracts of land which could theoretically sustain millions and millions of people, the nations of the world resolutely demand the very same small morashah which was promised to the Jewish People.
In fact, these two different approaches stem from the Jewish People’s own attitudes towards the two morashot which we received from HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Although Hashem promised Eretz Yisrael to Am Yisrael, Bnei Yisrael requested that Moshe send spies to scout out the Land:
“Send out for yourself men, and they will scout the Land of Canaan.” (Bamidbar 13:2)
The Midrash famously explains that “for yourself” means “based on your own discretion.” Hashem did not command Moshe to send out spies, and when the spies return, only two of them said:
“The Land is very, very good.” (Bamidbar 14:7)
But the other spies expressed reservations, had misgivings, and insisted:
“We cannot go up.” (Bamidbar 13:31)
In contrast, during Matan Torah, the prevailing attitude was completely different. The Torah teaches us that at Har Sinai:
“And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.” (Shmot 19:2)
Chazal explain that Bnei Yisrael camped “as one man with one heart.” The nation stood as a cohesive unit, and everyone declared, “we shall do, and we shall hear,” in unison.
When it came to Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael was divided and did not believe in it, and so the nations of the world contest our ownership of the Land. However, at Matan Torah, we were unified, and so the nations of the world accept our rights to the Torah.
Our nevi’im envisioned the Jewish People returning to our Land from the four corners of the earth. However, sixty-one years after the State’s founding, reality is somewhat different. Over the past century, Am Yisrael has undergone demographic, social, and religious shifts, and assorted ideological, cultural, and religious outlooks have been introduced – both in Israel and the Diaspora. Jewish communities which had existed for hundreds of years have since disappeared or have been reduced to a fraction of their original sizes. Meanwhile, new communities have materialized, and existing ones have grown. Also, the social, economic, and political stature of Jews around the world has changed dramatically.
Today, half of the Jewish People still lives outside Israel – the majority in North America – and has no plans to move. Many of these Jews are affiliated with established communities which boast vibrant synagogues, schools, communal and religious services, and hundreds of congregations. As far as they are concerned, their lives are based abroad.
Moreover, the vast majority of Diaspora Jewry does not feel as if they are living in Exile. They live wherever they want and suffer neither coercion nor discrimination. After all, unlike in the past, Jews from around the world can come to Israel on aliyah whenever they so choose. Furthermore, they can now flaunt their Jewish identities everywhere and are able to maintain a thriving Jewish way of life.
In addition, many of these Jews are not convinced that the State of Israel constitutes the Jewish People’s spiritual hub. Indeed, researchers have observed that Israel’s status and centrality within Diaspora Jewish life has been diminished. Similarly, we are witnessing the development of a “New York and Yerushalayim” phenomenon, induced by both objective and subjective factors.
The Holocaust survivors who arrived on American shores viewed Israel’s founding as a both pragmatic and sentimental event and acted accordingly. In the wake of all that they had endured, the survivors considered their new place of residence to be transient at best. Also, they had an emotional attachment to Israel, which was manifested by their generous financial contributions and demonstrations of solidarity. Yet, mainly, they believed that the State of Israel is the center of Am Yisrael’s existence.
However, the younger generation has adopted a different approach. For them, the State of Israel is a given, and they are comfortable with the fact that some of the Jewish People live in Israel while others live elsewhere.
Hence, we must do what we can to emphasize Israel’s importance and significance to Diaspora Jewry. After all, the basic Zionist fundamental is that throughout the ages, Am Yisrael – no matter where they were – constantly longed for Eretz Yisrael. Thus, the State of Israel is not another way station in the Diaspora. Israel is inherently connected to millennia of Jewish history and tradition and serves as the center of our Jewish and spiritual lives.
Since its founding, the State has oscillated between great moments and difficult times. Diaspora Jewry must ensure that Jewish life everywhere revolves around the State of Israel and must help Israel as it continues to grow and develop.