Throughout the centuries of exile, our people have yearned for Zion. With the help of Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, our new series will explore the “soul” – the inner spirit – which expresses the raison d’etre of Zion.
It has been said that we are a generation of spiritual seekers. I have therefore decided to share with you the story of my own quest to discover the soul of Zion. Before we begin our discussion, we need to realize that within our Sacred Scriptures, the term “Zion” can have various meanings, depending on the context of the verse, and the following references can serve as examples:
1. Although the term “Zion” refers to Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, south of the Temple Mount, it can also refer to the Temple Mount, as when the Temple was destroyed, the Prophet Jeremiah lamented, “For this our heart was faint...for Mount Zion which lies desolate” (Lamentations 5:17,18).
2. “Zion” can refer to Jerusalem, as it is written: “And they shall call you the city of Hashem, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).
3. “Zion” is a term for the Land of Israel, as it is written: “For Hashem will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her wasteland like a garden of Hashem; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music” (Isaiah 51:3).
4. “Zion” also refers to the People of Israel, as in the following Divine promise: “And to say unto Zion, ‘You are My people!’ ” (Isaiah 51:16)
The above definitions of Zion lead to the following insight: When we discover the soul of Zion, we discover the sacred raison d’etre of the Temple, Jerusalem, the Land of Israel, and the People of Israel.
In this series, I will describe my personal sense of exile growing up in the tough working-class neighborhoods in New York City during the 1950’s and early 60’s. I will also discuss why my parents, who were progressive social activists, began to experience a yearning for Zion which caused them to consider the idea of living on a kibbutz in the newly established State of Israel.
For various reasons, my family remained in America. In the meanwhile, I began to identify with the modern Zionist movement and the State of Israel. It was during this period of my youth that I also began to explore Judaism; however, this process eventually led to an inner conflict between my bond with the modern Zionist movement and my growing bond with Judaism. Through my study of Judaism, I discovered that the Torah – the Divine Teaching – is the “soul” of Zion, but through my study of the modern Zionist movement, I became aware that the umbrella organization of this movement, the World Zionist Organization, became dominated by secular activists who rejected this ancient spiritual vision. They sought to have “nationalism” replace the Torah as the raison d’etre of our people and our land. An example of their approach can be found in the following excerpt from the writings of Jacob Klatzkin, a leading Zionist thinker:
“In longing for our land we do not desire to create there a base for the spiritual values of Judaism. To regain our land is for us an end in itself – the attaining of a free national life.” (The Zionist Idea by Arthur Hertzberg).
Klatzkin added that Zionism is opposed to those who believe that the basis for our life is “the eternal content of Judaism” and that we are to be a “priest people, a nation of prophets.” He wrote: “Zionism is opposed to all this. Its real beginning is the Jewish State and its basic intention, consciously and unconsciously, is to deny any conception of Jewish identity based on spiritual criteria” (Ibid). The basic premise of Klatzkin was accepted by the World Zionist Organization when it passed a resolution in 1911 which stated, “Zionism has nothing to do with religion.”
How different this statement was from the prophetic proclamation, “From Zion shall go forth Torah” (Isaiah 2:3), and how different it was from the following daily prayer for the return of the “Shechinah” – Divine Presence – to Zion:
“May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who restores His Shechinah to Zion.” (Shemoneh Esrei)
In an attempt to resolve my growing conflict, I began to read the writings of dissident thinkers within the World Zionist Organization – both secular and religious – who were unhappy with the movement’s attempt to reject the spiritual heritage of our people. I was fascinated to discover that these secular critics of the movement viewed the rejection of Judaism as the cutting off of our roots.
I also began to explore the views of religious thinkers who loved Zion and helped to establish communities in Zion, but who refused to join the World Zionist Organization. They viewed the organization’s ideology of nationalism for its own sake as a form of idolatry which had no place in the Land of Zion, which is to serve as the Temple of the Shechinah. They therefore felt that strengthening the power and influence of this secular organization in the Land of Zion was akin to bringing an idol into the Temple. Their spiritual perspective led them to engage in the renewal of Zion independently of the World Zionist Organization, and most of them joined a new international organization, Agudath Israel, which was founded on the following principle: The fulfillment of the Torah is the raison d’etre of our people; thus, all our problems must be solved through the light of the Torah.
As the series progresses, I will discuss how my spiritual searching and study helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the light-giving soul of Zion. It is a light that is destined to illuminate the entire world, as Hashem promised Zion:
“Nations will walk by your light and sovereigns by the glow of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:3)
We have not yet merited the fulfillment of the above prophecy; instead, we and all humanity seem to be entering an age of darkness where we face the possibility of great destruction, God forbid. I am not just referring to the threat of “global warming” and the related environmental crisis; I am also referring to the threat of “global heating” from certain hostile governments and groups that are in the process of gaining access to nuclear weapons and that have publicly stated that the State of Israel is to be the first victim of the nations that are on their death list. In addition, many Israeli Jews feel that the State of Israel is also threatened with destruction from within, due to increasing decadence, corruption, and injustice.
We also need to be aware of the positive developments within Zion, as it is written, “And you shall see the good of Jerusalem” (Psalm 128:5). Our series will therefore describe some of the signs of spiritual renewal within our land.
Our prophets have stressed over and over again that in order to have true shalom in Zion, we need to remain loyal to the Divine Teaching that serves as the soul of Zion. It is therefore crucial that each of us find ways to strengthen this light-giving soul, and we can find inspiration in the following prophetic message:
“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch.” (Isaiah 62:1)
With love of Zion,
And with blessings for true shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
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