What Israel Can Do For You and What You Can Do For Israel
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. Eerie.
It was just 10 days ago when I was just driving that very street in Rechavia where the latest murder bombing took place.
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 be?”
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 forging ahead!
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 with it?
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 deeper dimensions.
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 or spirit?
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 Divine.
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 aspire.
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 displaced.
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 be kosher.
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 the universe.
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 own soul.
[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.