The “Firstborn Land”: A Message for Shabbos

Dear Friends,
According to our tradition, the Creator began the creation of the earth on Mount Moriah - the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem. Our sages find a poetic allusion to this tradition in the opening verses of Psalm 50:
“A Song of Assaf: Almighty God, the Compassionate One spoke and summoned the earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, consummation of beauty, God appeared.”
The exact location on the mountain where the creation began was known as “the Foundation Stone,” and it was found in the inner Temple chamber known as the “Holy of Holies.” It was called the Foundation Stone, as it was from this stone that the Creator expanded and enlarged the earth. (This tradition is found in Midrash Tehillim and the Targum to Psalm 50:2.)
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni cites a related tradition: Just as the Creator began the creation of the earth from this mountain, so too the Creator will begin the renewal of the earth from this mountain, as it is written:
“It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of the Compassionate One will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it… For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of the Compassionate One from Jerusalem… They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare.” (Isaiah 2:2-4)
As we have begun to discuss in this series, we are to become the people of the new beginning through fulfilling the Torah – the path to the new beginning. We were therefore brought to the land of the new beginning – the land which is to become like the Garden of Eden. As the Prophet proclaimed: “For the Compassionate One will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like the Garden of the Compassionate One” (Isaiah 51:3).
We are to develop within the land of the new beginning a model society which can serve as a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). As all the prophets indicate, the Redeeming One did not bring us to this sacred land in order to become a nation like all other nations with the usual nationalistic ambitions; we were brought to this sacred land for a spiritual and universal purpose.
This religious view regarding our purpose in Zion was not accepted by the majority of the leaders of the World Zionist Congress – an organization which was founded at the end of the 19th century. This is discussed in the book “The Zionist Idea” by Dr. Arthur Hertzberg, a noted scholar on the history of the modern Zionist movement. As Dr. Hertzberg explains, these secular leaders of the World Zionist Congress called into question the traditional religious view that the Jewish people were chosen by God and given the land for a spiritual and universal mission. These leaders wanted to return to the land in order to become a nation based on nationalism, instead of the Torah. As one of his examples, Dr. Hertzberg cites the following quotes from Jacob Klatzkin, a Zionist leader and editor of the early 20th century:
“Let us be like all the nations... 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.” (pages 66, 319)
Although there were some activists in the World Zionist Organization that did not want to divorce Zionism from Judaism, the view of Klatzkin and his colleagues became the dominant view. This caused many religious Jews to withdraw from the World Zionist Organization, and they joined a new Torah organization, Agudath Israel, which was led by a number of leading Torah sages, including the Chofetz Chaim. In the spirit of the prophets, they viewed the fulfillment of the Torah as the raison d’etre of our people.
Dr. Isaac Breuer, a contemporary of Jacob Klatzkin, was an activist in the  Jerusalem branch of Agudath Israel, and he opposed the view of Klatzkin and his allies. Dr. Breuer called this view “absolute nationalism”; moreover, he argued that nationalism for its own sake is a form of idolatry, and he cited the following Divine warning to the People of Israel:
“What enters your thoughts - it shall not be! That you say: Let us be like all the nations, like the families of the lands, to serve wood and stone.” (Ezekiel 20:32)
Dr. Breuer added: “In the eyes of Judaism, self-idolization in the form of absolute nationalism is also service to wood and stone.” (“Concepts of Judaism,” page 107)
We are facing grave danger in the Promised Land; nevertheless, the attempts to destroy us and eliminate our presence from this land should not cause us to forget the reason why the Redeeming One brought us here in the first place! On the contrary, the current danger should cause us to rededicate ourselves to the sacred mission that we are to fulfill in this sacred land. Let us therefore recall the words of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld, a leading Torah sage of the early 20th Century who lived in Jerusalem and who was involved in the rebuilding of the land. Rabbi Sonnenfeld was recognized as a major leader of the religious Jewish community that dwelled in the land before the rise of the modern Zionist movement, and in a call for peace between Arabs and Jews, he described Zion as, “the Holy Land to which God affords special supervision, from which blessing emanates to the rest of the world, and in which God's prophets foresaw the future happiness of all humanity.” (Guardian of Jerusalem, p. 456)
The “firstborn land” is destined to become a source of universal joy; moreover, her rebuilt Temple will be called “a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). We express our yearning for this new age in the following prayer which we sing at the Shabbos table:
“To Your Sanctuary return and to the Holy of Holies, the place where spirits and souls will rejoice and utter songs and praises - in Jerusalem, city of beauty.” (Kah Ribon)
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
P.S. The book “Guardian of Jerusalem” is an inspiring biography of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, as well as a documented history of Jewish life in the Land of Israel during the 19th and early 20th centuries. One who reads this book will get a deeper understanding of the secular-religious conflict within the land, as well as the Arab-Jewish conflict over the land. This book also offers a deeper understanding of our spiritual and universal role within this sacred land. For further information, visit:   

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