The only reason I remember the date of my unusual encounter as being November 27th is because it was the same day as the Annapolis meeting of high brow personalities where Olmert was slopsucker – claiming for his country only what was leftover after the others had their fill.
The next evening was Yud Tes Kislev, when the daily portion of Tanya would include the approbation by Rabbi Meshulum Zusil of Anipoli, commonly known as Reb Zushe. The following Shabbos I was privileged to be at the table of Sara and Boruch Nachshon in Kiryat Arba. Boruch gave over two stories of Reb Zushe. I am not sure what the connection is, but I am confident that Chabadnikim around the world reading the name Anipoli in the Tanya, and stories about Anipoli being told at the Shabbos table, created some positive force to combat the negativity coming from the modern day Anipoli, i.e. Annapolis.
The Rebbe often stressed the importance of teaching even one Jew about Torah. That is what I did on that Tuesday. While Olmert was in Annapolis denying the Torah, I was confirming it by sharing the Rebbe’s wisdom with a single Jew, a young man with a troubled Neshama.
It was a chance meeting. I do not usually converse with young men who have their heads completely shaved and have rings in their ears, nose and lips, and who knows where else. And it turns out that this young man – his name was Shai – had never had a meaningful conversation with someone who was familiar with the Rebbe’s teachings about Eretz Yisroel.
Shai asked me what I was doing in Eretz Yisroel. I always have good excuses why I visit – Mivtzaim, research, business – but I told him the bare truth. I was in Eretz Yisroel because I love to be in Eretz Yisroel. His response was a shock to me. He started to say how much he hated the country, hate, hate, hate. There were too many problems for a person to live. Life was too difficult. He kept using the word hate. His father is from New York and he wants to go to New York and forget about his country.
My first response was sympathy. I really felt sorry for him. I told him that religious people have a connection to the land that defies logic, so that even when things are rough, we still have a satisfying connection to our land on some level. I told him I sensed that being distant from religion increased the difficulties and frustrations of life in Eretz Yisroel.
His response: hate, hate, hate.
I asked him if he wanted to share with me the specifics of what was bothering him so much. He told me he completed his army duty not long ago. He was in a combat unit and was stationed not far from Jenin. He saw his commander fall. Then he lost another friend. And now – as we were speaking – Olmert was partying in America, offering the land soaked with his friends’ blood, on a platter of party favors, to our enemies. Shai said that he and his friends just want to get drunk, and that he wants to leave.
I had heard that soldiers who have defended the land are tormented when politicians think they can give that land away in the form of concessions to our enemies – but I never heard such disillusionment first hand. It was painful. Tears came to my eyes. I told him he was a victim, that he had been used by an evil regime. He said he did not want to be thought of as a victim. He did not want sympathy.
I started to explain to him that the Rebbe taught us to relate to Eretz Yisroel as being different from the state. I tried to help him distinguish between, on one hand, the Jewish connection to the land, from the other hand, the state which denies that connection.
At first I thought my words did not hold meaning for Shai. But just before our meeting ended, he told me that he had never encountered this idea before. Before we parted, he told me, ‘I love my land.’
When the state was established in 1948 its founders heralded it as a Jewish state. Some religious Jews rejected the state outright because it was not religious. Other religious Jews whitewashed the fact that the state did not recognize G-d and embraced it as being holy, to the point of saying that reinstatement of Jewish sovereignty was to be considered the beginning stages of Geula – albeit without Moshiach.
Only the Rebbe immediately initiated a policy of making a clear distinction between Eretz Yisroel and the state. As absurd as it must have seen back then, the wisdom of the Rebbe’s clarity can now be understood. The Rebbe accepted whatever good the state was doing, i.e. providing a place for Jews to live, but did not embrace the state as being an embodiment of Jewish fulfillment. When the state was young, this attitude seemed harsh to some. Jews so needed a place to feel they could control their own destiny, they did not want to look at the threatening fact that the leaders of the state excluded G-d from their agenda of a so-called Jewish state. They did not want to find fault with the foundation of the state by founders who would apply their own interpretation of who is a Jew and what his values are – interpretations that would contradict the Torah.
Flying the blue and white flag was a source of pride, a symbol of Jewish victory, yet the Rebbe did not want us flying it. Singing HaTikva. No. Celebrating Yom Atzmeiut/Independence Day, for sure not. Chabad cantors have lost opportunities for well paying positions because they do not sing HaTikva. One could argue that the good they will do in their position would outweigh the wrongness of singing HaTikvah, and that they could make changes in the congregation from the inside. But no. Where HaTivkva is sung, there is no Chabad cantor. And the prayer for the state? If only we could convince others to refrain from saying that prayer. Years ago the Rebbe’s prohibition against this prayer may have seemed uncalled for. Today we know it is praying for our enemies, praying for a regime which uses the army for war against religious Jews – first in Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron, now threatening to attack the three Holy cities which were purchased by our forefathers: Shechem, Yerushalaim and Hevron.
The facts are surfacing, whether people want to recognize them or not. The very government elected to administer the Jewish state is now separating the Jewishness from the state. Recently Prime Minister Olmert told leaders of American Jewish organizations that “the matter of Jerusalem is an Israeli issue and not a ‘Jewish issue’.” When this statement caused a ruckus, he clarified it, made excuses and pretended to have a different attitude. But the truth remains that in his unguarded statement he revealed that he sees the state as being Israeli, not Jewish.
A challenge more difficult than teaching someone like Shai is to teach religious Zionists that there has to be a separation. The soldiers who deported the residents of Gush Katif were wearing flags on their hats, shirt sleeves and vests. Their victims were perplexed. They were loyal to that flag and they prided themselves in being law abiding people. They were not comfortable going against the very army they serve in. It was psychological warfare. The government planners knew that using the flag would weaken their victims. Many of the people of Gush Katif still have a problem separating the land, Eretz Yisroel, from the state. Many of them still celebrate Yom Atzmeiut. They refuse to see the government as their enemy who set out to destroy their magnificent quality of life, with its unique balance of material wellbeing and spiritual fulfillment. Disengagement planners preferred the land be given to Arab terrorists than allow a society of religious Jews to prosper, but many religious Zionists cannot bear to see it that way.
The Disengagement aspired to make sure the younger generation in Gush Katif, that had been nurtured so carefully, would not blossom. Post Disengagement, many of the youth from Gush Katif are confused and distraught. The country which they held in high esteem robbed them of their homes, their communities, the very fabric of their lives. It is one thing if a Nazi or Cossack throws you from your home, but your own brother? The youth have every right to hate the government, but they have always combined their loyalty to the land, and the Torah, with the loyalty to the state. Now, with their justified rejection of the state they are combining rejection of the land and the Torah.
Distinguishing between Eretz Yisroel and the state is the basis for a clear perspective of the reality in Eretz Yisroel. Along with the above safeguards such as not singing the anthem and not flying the flag, the Rebbe did not even use the name the state gave to itself. The following is a translation of part of a letter the Rebbe wrote to former MK Mrs. Geula Cohen in 5729/1969 explaining his reasoning:
“It is somewhat confusing that you have questions regarding the fact that in several circles, including myself, they have not accepted and do not accept and do not use the term ‘Medinat Israel.’
The reason for this is understood and simple. The land of Cannan was given as an inheritance to the Jewish people beginning from the Bris Ben HaBessorim, with Avraham Avinu. And instead of the name Eretz Cannan the name Eretz Yisroel was established. An establishment which has lasted many thousands of years. This is an establishment in Torah which extends also to the language of the common expression of people of all sectors, from the humble to the powerful. Matters such as these were not given for discussion, for decision of majority vote, for such decisions can change from time to time. And it is impossible to know what form they will take.
Just like there is no place for discussion about how the Jewish people are called Am Yisroel. It is the same thing with regard to Eretz Yisroel.
You should know that the change in this name weakens the claim and the ownership of Am Yisroel to Eretz Yisroel. Even including the limited portion that was freed in 1948, Tuf Shin Hes. A new name is given to the entire situation which came about in 1948 and therefore automatically the claim and the ownership of Eretz Yisroel begins then, if you use that name.
I was once told that the Rebbe would use the names Eretz Yisroel and Israel interchangeably depending on whom he was communicating with – Oifen HaMiskabel. I checked this point with Rabbi Yekusiel Rapp, Rabbi Yossi Jacobson and Rabbi Leibel Groner. All three told me the Rebbe did not use the name Israel.
In the letter above the Rebbe explains that the name Eretz Yisroel is not something to be decided by a vote and that any new name will weaken our claim to the land. Not only does the new name result in the nations of the world seeing our claim on the land to be flimsy, but our own nation, Bnei Yisroel, feel distant from the deep rooted connection we have to the land. Our very own Jewish souls are weakened when they are distracted by the name of the state, instead of relating to the land as Eretz Yisroel.
Shai’s attitude that all the elements composing a state are united is a natural perspective. How was he to know the Jews are above nature? Our relationship to the land predates the state and, should it be necessary, our relationship to the land will remain even if the evil concessions made at Annapolis come to be, G-d forbid. Once Shai was able to separate the land from the state, Eretz Yisroel from Israel, he felt better. He was free to love his land.
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