We ask not what will be? But what can we
do about it? – The Rebbe
Just a couple of hours after I began a new series of classes
titled Israel: The Inside Story, another tragic blast rocked
downtown Jerusalem killing 10 people and wounding 50 others.
It was just 10 days ago when I was just driving that very
street in Rechavia where the latest murder bombing took
Just as we read about how the Jewish people leave Egypt
on their long awaited journey to Israel 3316 years ago,
the Promised Land still eludes us.
People are asking: G-t in himmel: vos vet zein? G-d in
heaven: what will be?
Rabbi Yisrael Lau, former chief Rabbi of Israel (is there
such a thing as a former chief rabbi?) relates a story that
happened with him the first time he came to the USA in 1974.
He was then a rabbi in a small synagogue outside of Tel
Aviv, and came to Brooklyn to visit the Rebbe. In middle
of their conversation, the Rebbe asked him what Jews are
saying these days in Israel (it was right after the 1973
Yom Kippur war). Rabbi Lau replied that Jews are asking
each other: “Vos vet zein”? “What will
The Rebbe grasped Rabbi Lau’s arm, and vehemently
said: “Yiden fregen nit vos vet zein; zei fregen:
vos geit men ton!” Jews don’t ask what will
be; they ask: What are we going to do!
“What will be” is the question of a victim. “What are we
going to do” is a proactive question. When you are at war,
the last thing you want to hear is your commander-in-chief
questioning, “What are we going to do?” You want to hear
that we have a plan, a direction, a strategy – and we are
In the series about Israel that I began this week, we addressed
the most compelling question of all. Israel has always been
in the news. From the beginning of time people, nations
and religions have been fighting for control of the Holy
Land. Disproportionate to its size the Promised Land carries
unparalleled influence throughout history. What is the mysterious
power of this small piece of the map that has everyone consumed
Like everything in life, the mystique of Israel can only
be understood by getting to its soul-root.
When you want to understand the true nature of a phenomenon
you must always travel beneath the surface into the underlying
causes. To understand existence we must study its complete
structure in full context. Doctors and scientists explore
the physiological causes for any given experience. Not just
the symptoms, but also the biological, anatomical, chemical
and other variables that shape life. Physics digs further
into the molecular and cellular structures, until we reach
the sub-atomic level. As of today, we have yet to discover
Mysticism – which is a better name than metaphysics – goes
further by exploring the spiritual structure that lies within
it all: The soul inside the “body” of the phenomenon.
When we see how Israel so illogically dominates the news,
and not just today but for millennia on end, there is no
way to understand this mystery without getting into the
deepest roots of existence itself – the soul of life.
The same can be said about the Bible, the “best selling”
book in history, and one that continues to top all charts.
What lies behind its power?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the… annals
of Jewish mysticism.
The world in which we live is actually made up of two parts:
One part matter, one part spirit. Everything in life consists
of a body and a soul. The Kabbalists call it container and
light, but you can also define it as form and function,
style and substance, outside and inside, package and product.
The outer layer of the material universe is like a shell,
a peel – a thick skin that conceals the enormous spiritual
energy within. Just as it is on an individual level: Your
physical body is a container that carries within itself
your personality, your soul and all its faculties. The naked
eye that only views the body does not see what lies inside;
it may have no inkling of what lurks within your psyche.
Indeed, it may even have a distorted view of who you truly
are. The macrocosm is just like the microcosm: The “body”
of the universe conceals the potent forces that lie within.
But one big question remains: Even though spirit and matter
are in actuality two sides of one coin, they are perceived
by us as two separate entities. Indeed, one could even deny
the existence of the spirit within (as many claim they do).
In Kabbalistic terminology this denial or dichotomy is possible,
nay, necessary as a result of the great primordial Tzimtzum,
in which G-d concealed the conscious Divine energy, so that
existence as we know it could emerge and experience itself
as a distinct entity, not overwhelmed by the Divine unity.
So here’s the big question: Is this concealment airtight?
Is it ever possible to reach a place where these two worlds
meet? Or are we doomed to live either in the world of matter
This, mind you, is not merely an academic question. It
determines the very essence of life’s possibilities
for us. It touches on the wall that divides us in the material
world from our loved ones who have passed on to the world
of spirit. It defines the greatest search of all mankind
– for the ultimate unified field theory that unites
all of existence. And above all, it tells us whether our
search for the ultimate utopia is possible.
Can we reach beyond the doors of perception and truly live
a life of integration – a life of peace between body
and soul, between matter and spirit? Is there an intersection
that connects the two worlds?
The answer is Israel. The Holy Land is the portal between
heaven and earth. The split between the two worlds is deep
indeed. Yet, G-d left one door open between them, and the
opening to that door is in the Promised Land. This is what
makes this land holy. Holiness means something that simply
has less egocentric layers that block out the inner Divine
energy. G-d left this door open so that the holiness of
Israel will ultimately transform the rest of the world.
Israel – Eretz Yisroel as its accurately called in the
Torah – is the spiritual ‘center’ of the universe. The sages
tell us that Israel has ten levels of holiness, one greater
than the next, with the highest point being Jerusalem, and
within it the Temple Mount. Jacob called it “the gate to
heaven” (Genesis 28:17).
Israel is the place that bridges heaven and earth. The
word “Israel” is the name given by Esau’s
angel to Jacob after their all-night wrestle. “Hereafter
you will be named Yisroel, for you have battled with the
Divine and with man and you have prevailed” (Genesis
32:29). There is a battle between the Divine and man, between
spirit and matter, and Jacob prevailed, allowing for the
fusion of the two.
One of the most eloquent ideas in Kabbala is the interwoven
unity of time, space and the human being: Everything that
exists in one entity also exists in the other two. Everything
in time and space is also contained in microcosm within
each of us. And vice versa: Everything within the human
system manifests somewhere in time and space.
Jacob’s victory as reflected in his name Israel manifests
itself in space in the land called Israel. The Holy Land
of Israel is the physical manifestation of the fusion between
the spiritual and the material – between the human and the
The centrality of Israel in Torah is actually a psycho/spiritual
centrality. The Holy Land represents a state of sanctity
within each of our souls, and its ability to integrate with
our physical lives. It’s role as Promised Land –
the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land
that consumes the journey of the Jewish people throughout
the wilderness – is the destination to which we all
And that’s why everyone gravitates to this land. Unconsciously,
ever nation, religion and individual senses that the Holy
land is the spiritual vortex of existence, the place where
the doors open up to reach the Divine.
The collective unconscious of the universe is obsessed
with Israel. Not with China, land of 2+ billion, not with
India, not with the USA, a country 10 times younger than
many walls in Jerusalem. The only place on Earth which continues
to dominate headlines, today just as it did 3500 years ago,
is this small country (1/19th the size of the
state of California) called Israel!
But the question begs: If Israel is the bridge between
heaven and earth why is there no peace in the Holy Land?
Why don’t we experience this unity? True, one can
sense a mystical presence in Jerusalem, Tzfat and other
cities, but why has it not permeated the people that live
there, and for that matter, why hasn’t it spread to
the rest of the world?
The entire point of Israel’s centrality is to serve
as a spiritual hub which will bring peace to the entire
world. It is a place that is meant to serve as a model of
what the world would look like when heaven meets earth.
So where are the results?
Ahh, this brings us to the crux of it all. The thing called
“galut.” Galut means exile. A better translation
is displacement – a spiritual dissonance, in which
we become misaligned from our source and our purpose.
Health is a sound soul inside a sound body – body
and soul aligned in one seamless whole, and the body serves
as a container that allows the soul to freely flow through
it. What happens when there is an impediment, G-d forbid,
when the soul’s energy cannot freely flow through
the body? This is the definition of illness.
So it is with spiritual and psychological health. A healthy
organism, a healthy person, nation or religion is one in
which the “body” is one with the “soul.”
However, when “what you do” is not one with
“who you are,” when there is a dichotomy between
your physical activity and your soul’s aspirations,
you are in “galut” – spiritually and psychologically
This galut is perhaps most acutely felt in the Holy Land.
In the spiritual vortex of the universe any dissonance is
most keenly experienced. A speck of dust on your arm is
hardly noticed. The same dust on your eyeball is quite irritating.
Israel is called the Divine “eye.” Every disparity
in the world is amplified in the eyeball, in the soul.
In our prayers we declare: “Because of our iniquities
we were exiled from our land.” Everyone says this
prayer, including the Jews living in Israel. But they are
living in the land, how can they say, “we were exiled
from the land”? Because exile is much more than physical
displacement; it is spiritual displacement – and that
is the state of affairs in the universe for the last 19
centuries, actually, from the beginning of time. Until the
day when we actually integrate matter and spirit, we are
living in an unhealthy state of displacement and disconnection.
The fact that we may feel healthy only accentuates the disconnection.
But the good news is this: The cause for this displacement
is our iniquities. Why? What is a sin? Sin actually means
displacement. When we, say, hurt another person, we are
actually hurting ourselves. Every sin is a form of wandering
away from fulfilling our true purpose.
However, the word sin has become loaded today, as have
many religious references. No one has a problem with being
told that spilling water into your hard drive will destroy
your computer. Or that eating poison will harm you. We don’t
call this a “sin,” we call it “destructive
behavior” and as a result of “cause and effect,”
destructive behavior will result in damage to the system.
[Just as we don’t call them “sports fanatics”
and “religious fans,” even though the word “fan”
is short for “fanatic”].
Once you get beyond the stereotypes and distorted myths
surrounding sin (many of which have been fed to us by a,
well, displaced religious establishment), you discover that
the true meaning of sin is exactly that: displacement, a
behavior that is inconsistent with what makes the “machine”
of life work best. As a result, according to the rules of
“cause and effect,” we were displaced (exiled)
from our land. Not as an incidental punishment, but as an
effect of our behavior. When you wander away from your calling,
you in effect have wandered away from “Israel”
– your soul and the collective soul and conscience
of the universe.
Yes, as painful as it is, you can live in Israel, but Israel
may not live in you. Just as you can eat kosher and not
Two important qualifications, before you criticize what
I just wrote. One, the Holy Land retains its inherent holiness
despite our displaced exile. Two, it is a great mitzvah
to live in Israel, and one of the great miracles of our
time is the renaissance of Jewish life in Israel today.
And perhaps the noblest role of all is the one played by
Tzahal, Israeli soldiers sacrificing their lives to protect
their brothers and sisters.
However, the challenge still remains for all of us, both
those living inside and outside of Israel: Is Israel –
the true spiritual nature of Eretz Yisroel – living
inside of us?
As we are left reeling by more appalling news coming from
Israel, as more innocent lives are broken, as we read how
the Jewish people leave Egypt and begin their 40 year journey
to the Promised Land – what better thought to ponder
on than our own relationship with the spiritual center of
Our hearts cry out, our feelings and thoughts are with
all the innocent victims and their families, we do whatever
we physically can to support Israel and all those in need.
But there is something more, much more that we can do.
As much support as we offer, many of us are left absolutely
paralyzed with the question: “What will be?”
It seems like there is nothing we can do to change the situation.
In truth there is something very powerful that we can do.
In addition to our immediate support on every possible level,
we must never forget the root of all our problems in Israel:
Our misalignment and displacement from our spiritual hub.
Our call today is to realign our lives with the spiritual
Israel within and without. As the Tzemach Tzedek told one
of his Chassidim: “Make here (the place in which you
live) Eretz Yisroel.” Wherever you are – inside
or outside of Israel – you must battle the forces
that separate man from the Divine, you must take your life
and transform it into “Eretz Yisroel,” a spiritual
force that prevails over all. And prevail we will.
The angrier you get about events in Israel, the more you
should channel that intensity into positive action to create
a spiritual revolution in your life, in your home, in your
community and in your corner of the world. This is the true
conquest of Israel.
And we are told, we are promised that a positive shift
in your life wherever you may live, positively shifts the
state of affairs in Israel. A shift in the spoke shifts
the hub. By building our “spiritual Israel”
within we build physical Israel.
Here’s a suggestion, if I may:
Our sages teach us that by studying the laws and details
about a specific entity, we help rebuild it. So even when
we cannot physically perform a certain mitzvah (e.g. bring
an offering in the temple, build and serve in the physical
Temple), we “perform” the mitzvah by studying
and “recreating” the experience as best as we
possible can with the resources we have available to us.
You can call it cognitive actualization: Cognitive focus
generates practical reality. Sometimes when we can’t
perform a certain action, we can focus our mind on it, thereby
setting in motion a force that gets actualized in the process.
A form of positive projection, if you wish. By thinking
about the action we project and actually create it.
Based on this concept, here is the suggestion: As a show
of solidarity with Israel and a way to help “build”
the true Israel both in body and soul, let us organize classes
to study in depth and detail the nature of the Holy Land
– both its physical and spiritual nature. By exploring
the spiritual and psychological parallels of Israel in our
lives today we bond with the land. Israel's geography, its
personality, its very terrain – mountains and valleys,
fruits and deserts, all reflect our own spiritual personality.
To appreciate and preserve the power of Israel we must recognize
and access its soul.
This of course is in addition to all other ways in which
we support Israel – financially, emotionally and so
on. Obviously, a powerful way of showing support is by visiting
the Holy Land or even deciding to live there. But even for
those of us that cannot do that (for whatever reason), we
are not released from the obligation of building Israel
within our lives and having Israel live inside of us. Indeed,
perhaps our obligation may be even stronger, and it behooves
us to find deeper ways to bond with Israel as the soul of
the universe and recognize its integral connection to our
[In this spirit, we at the MLC will launch in the near
future a series of classes dedicated to an in depth study
of Israel – its history, geography, and above all
– its psycho-spiritual parallels in our lives. Perhaps,
concluding with a group trip to the Holy Land].
Yes, we are on our way to the Promised Land. 3316 years
ago, 1936 years ago, and today. How long it will take is
up to us.