The Jewish em­pha­sis on ‘Com­ing Home’

The lat­est book by for­mer MK Rabbi Dov Lip­man explores the his­tory and ide­ol­ogy of aliyah

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • MENACHEM SHLOMO

Through­out the ages, the de­ci­sion to pick up and move to the Holy Land has been a fun­da­men­tal theme in Ju­daism. From the dan­ger­ous 1488 sea voy­age by Rabbi Ova­dia of Bartenura, to the per­ilous 18th-cen­tury jour­ney out of Ro­ma­nia by le­gendary has­sid Menachem Men­del of Vitebsk, to deadly treks from Ethiopia through the Su­danese desert, to Amer­i­can Jews board­ing mod­ern air­craft on flights char­tered Ne­fesh B’Ne­fesh, the phe­nom­e­non has en­dured.

In Com­ing Home, for­mer Yesh Atid MK Dov Lip­man delves into the rea­sons and sources be­hind this. He scours count­less Jewish texts to an­a­lyze the ben­e­fits and im­por­tance of liv­ing in this tiny stretch of highly con­tested land.

It all starts with the Bi­ble.

In Ge­n­e­sis 12:1, God calls out to Abra­ham, the founder of monothe­ism and the fore­fa­ther of Ju­daism: “Lech lecha” (“Go to your­self,” in lit­eral trans­la­tion), “from your land and from your birth­place and from your fa­ther’s house to the land that I will show you.”

The word­ing of the verse is strange and has been in­ter­preted by count­less rab­bis and schol­ars. Lip­man cites sources that sug­gest the ter­mi­nol­ogy re­sem­bles other bib­li­cal phrases in which God’s in­ten­tion is not to is­sue a com­mand­ment, but to of­fer an op­por­tu­nity.

He then aligns the idea with an ex­pla­na­tion from Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser – more com­monly known as the Mal­bim – who ar­gues that God was en­cour­ag­ing Abra­ham to leave the neg­a­tiv­ity as­so­ci­ated with his place of birth on a jour­ney “to him­self,” to self-ac­tu­al­ize men­tally and spir­i­tu­ally.

To this end, Lip­man of­fers a chap­ter de­voted to un­der­stand­ing Abra­ham’s aliyah, his “as­cen­dance” – both phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally – as well as a chap­ter on Jewish lit­er­ary teach­ings “about the spir­i­tual and phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of liv­ing in the Land of Is­rael.”

The book delves into a tal­mu­dic dis­course that an­a­lyzes Ju­daism’s stress on Jews liv­ing in this land and its fun­da­men­tal role in the Jewish iden­tity. It then explores the 13th-cen­tury teach­ings of the Span­ish scholar, philoso­pher and physi­cian known as the Ram­ban, or Nach­manides. The Ram­ban, who stressed the im­por­tance of liv­ing in the land, left his fam­ily at the age of 73 to spend his last years in the place to which he de­voted so much of his writ­ing.

From there the reader is off on a lit­er­ary ad­ven­ture. Poetry from Rabbi Ye­huda Halevi’s tragic 12th cen­tury de­scribes an ex­pe­di­tion from Spain that cul­mi­nated in his be­ing tram­pled to death upon ar­riv­ing on Is­rael’s holy streets. We learn about the self­less de­vo­tion by Rav Yosef Chaim Son­nen­feld to­ward the suc­cess of the Jewish set­tle­ment in the late 1800s. We read im­pas­sioned calls to cre­ate a Jewish coun­try penned by Hun­gar­ian Rabbi Yis­sachar Shlomo Te­ich­tal in his book Eim Ha­banim Sme­icha, which he wrote in the dark days of 1943. Then come let­ters writ­ten by the first Ashke­nazi chief rabbi of Bri­tish Manda­tory Pales­tine, Avra­ham Yitzhak Kook, to Jews of the Di­as­pora, call­ing on them to come home.

Lip­man de­votes one chap­ter to the spe­cial com­mand­ments con­nected with the land. Some of the laws – like shmita, the sa­cred sab­bat­i­cal year when the land rests and what­ever grows is own­er­less, and truma, the com­mand to des­ig­nate a por­tion of each crop for the priests – are well known, while oth­ers are ob­scure. None­the­less, the book of­fers the reader de­tails and prac­ti­cal ways of com­plet­ing these unique mitzvot that are only de­manded of Jews while liv­ing in their bib­li­cal home­land.

Lip­man ar­gues that the cur­rent State of Is­rael is the ful­fill­ment of a bib­li­cal prophecy sig­nal­ing the near­ness of the mes­siah. He quotes verses from Amos, who proph­e­sied the in­gath­er­ing of ex­iles, which now con­tin­ues in mod­ern-day Is­rael. The Book of Amos speaks of Jews from Europe, the Mid­dle East and Africa liv­ing to­gether in the Holy Land, and pre­dicts they will “build des­o­late cities and in­habit them; and they shall plant vine­yards, and drink their wine.”

Like­wise, in the Tal­mud, Rabbi Abba, a scholar of the third cen­tury CE, un­der­stands a verse in the Book of Ezekiel to mean the tell­tale sign of the mes­siah’s ar­rival will be when the Land of Is­rael once again sprouts veg­e­ta­tion in abun­dance. Lip­man sells this point con­vinc­ingly by com­par­ing the im­age of the cur­rent land­scape we all know – orange, palm and banana groves, wild al­mond trees and grapevines – to the one Mark Twain de­scribed dur­ing his 1867 trip to Ot­toman-ruled Pales­tine.

“Of all the lands there are for dis­mal scenery, I think Pales­tine must be the prince,” Twain wrote. “The hills are bar­ren, they are dull in color... The val­leys are un­sightly deserts fringed with fee­ble veg­e­ta­tion that has an ex­pres­sion about it of be­ing sor­row­ful and de­spon­dent.”

By the end of the book, if Lip­man hasn’t con­vinced read­ers to move to Is­rael, he has def­i­nitely con­vinced them of his wide breadth of Jewish knowl­edge. Lip­man even of­fers com­mon Jewish ar­gu­ments against many of his propo­si­tions be­fore re­fut­ing each of them in­di­vid­u­ally.

The book is densely sourced, which some read­ers might find to be its big­gest flaw. The book can be some­what chal­leng­ing be­fore get­ting ac­cus­tomed to the struc­ture and for­mat of its flow.

None­the­less, rest as­sured that even the most schol­arly rab­binic stu­dents who read it will walk away hav­ing gained some fun­da­men­tal Jewish knowl­edge on the topic of Is­rael. ■

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

RABBI DOV LIP­MAN ar­gues the cur­rent State of Is­rael is the ful­fill­ment of a bib­li­cal prophecy sig­nal­ing the near­ness of the mes­siah.

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