By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
It is fascinating that despite the fact that our Torah is all about conducting ourselves in our everyday lives, and its uniqueness lies in that it infuses G-d’s will into earthly, everyday life, it was given in the desert. Moreover, the vast majority of the parshiyot of the Torah were told over and occurred (as events are concerned) in the desert. The desert is a place disconnected from human settlement, and in the case of the Jewish People, it was as if they were living an ongoing Shabbat experience. They didn’t have to go out to work; all they needed to do was to learn Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu, who received it from G-d.
Laws pertaining to life and death, monetary matters, Shabbat, holidays, kashrut, and family purity applied to a great extent in the desert. However, a unique aspect of the Torah, its ability to reveal the G-dliness latent in the soil — the land-dependent mitzvot — were not at all relevant in the desert. On the one hand, the most awesome Divine revelation occurred in the desert, at Mt. Sinai, but much of its practical application did not take place there. There is no doubt that there is a major fundamental issue here that we need to understand, with G-d’s help.
It seems that by taking the Jewish People through this route, G-d wants to teach us the way to run our lives. We must first fill ourselves with Torah, refined character traits, fear of Heaven, and other good things when we begin our lives. But this is not our main job in life. The real work begins when we enter the “real world.” In this arena, we are supposed to use all the tools that we acquired during our formative years when we constructed our spiritual world, so that we can reveal G-dliness in life. Of course, this is the optimal path for most people. Certainly there are those who should stay immersed in the world of Torah for their entire lives, and not enter the “world of action” — even to become rabbis and teachers. On the other hand, there are those who never merited to have a “desert” period in their lives; they were thrown directly into life, but as they went along were able to, thanks to a strong will and Divine assistance, build up their spiritual world and thus rectify the world around them. However, the last two paths do not suit most people; most would not feel happy this way, and it seems that this is not what G-d wants of them.
Beware Of Reality
Here is the room for the question. Why is this? Why are the other two paths not the ideal route?
Regarding the first path, of immersion in total sanctity disconnected from the world of action, it is clear why it isn’t recommended for the masses. G-d created the world because He wanted an abode in the physical world. He desires to reveal His name in the world and eventually achieve a state where the entire world, as it were, cries out that G-d is its master. To this end, there is a need for people of Torah to live in and interface with the everyday world—each person to the extent and area that he or she can.
The reason that the second path is not optimal is different. The physical world is deceiving, and extremely so. We live in a world where the predominant values and desires that drive it seem to be very real in our earthly eyes. To survive in such a world while retaining an internal G-dly truth — and certainly, to be able to scream that the Emperor has no clothes—is exceedingly difficult. Before diving deep into the world, we must prepare ourselves for this encounter. Many have naively and prematurely embarked on this journey, with the intention of “influencing from within.” In the end, though, they the ones who are influenced by their surroundings.
To prepare for the encounter with the world of action and with the blessed, but earthly soil of the Land of Israel, a training period is necessary. For a farmer to rest from his labor one day of the week during the crucial sowing and reaping seasons, or to take a Sabbatical for an entire year during Shemittah, and be oblivious to whatever anyone else has to say is no simple feat. Serious preparation is necessary.
One of Jerusalem’s Talmudic geniuses was Rabbi Yoel Moshe Solomon. Many believed that he would be Jerusalem’s next chief rabbi. Rabbi Yoel Moshe was undoubtedly raised on the teachings of the Vilna Gaon and his disciples, who established the yishuv of the Perushim in Jerusalem. He firmly believed that the way to bring the Redemption and rectify the world was rooted in the world of action. After many years of intense Torah study, he traveled to Germany, where he studied lithography (stone press), and returned to Palestine and opened a Hebrew press, where he published (together with two partners) the first Hebrew-language newspaper, HaLevanon, which became the mouthpiece of the Yishuv. Later on, he took an active role in establishing the new neighborhoods outside of the Old City, Nachalat Shiva and Meah She’arim, and even established the mother of colonies, Petach Tikvah.
This did not stop him from learning and teaching Torah, giving Torah classes to the public, or teaching his sons while tilling the field. Later on, when the colony was in financial straits, the colonists turned to Baron Rothschild for assistance. Rabbi Yoel Moshe was strongly opposed. He was afraid that the secular clerks of the Baron (who himself was mitzvah-observant) would have a negative spiritual influence on the new colony. There is no doubt that Rabbi Yoel Moshe was a majestic figure who can serve as a role model for the proper way to serve G-d, which is so critical for us now in the generation of Redemption. n
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.