Sermon for Shabbat T'shuva

Why the Cry for Repentance is Not Answered

In the Torah portion ‘VaYelekh’, God reveals to Moshe Rabbeinu that
after his death the nation would stray after alien gods, violating the
covenant with God. “I will then display anger against them… and
abandon them. I will hide My face from them… and many evils and
troubles shall befall them.” Then, Israel will be aroused to repent,
realizing that all of the troubles were caused due to their leaving
God. “They will say, ‘It is because my God is no longer with me that
these evils have befallen us’. Seemingly, it would be expected that
after Israel is aroused to repent, God, who is merciful and
compassionate, would forgive their sins. However, God says to Moshe
that although Israel understood that all the troubles stemmed from Him
not being with them, nevertheless, He would not forgive them – on the
contrary – He would continue to severely punish them. “On that day I
will utterly hide My face because of all the evil that they have done
in turning to alien gods.” The question which arises is awesome: Is
this the appropriate response to Israel’s recognition of sin?! Indeed,
on numerous occasions Jews in the Diaspora questioned ‘why is God
hiding His face from us’? Why doesn’t He hear our cries?
Even more difficult is that in the Torah portion ‘Nitzavim’ we see
that after “there shall come a time when you shall experience all the
words of blessing and curse that I have presented to you. Here, among
the nations where God will have banished you, you will reflect on the
situation. You will then return to God your Lord, and you will obey
Him, doing everything that I am commanding you today. You and your
children [will repent] with all your heart and with all your soul
(D’varim 30:1-2). Now, from the following verses (6-8), it is
certainly clear that we are not talking about a complete repentance,
for only afterwards is it mentioned that Israel would return to
fulfill all the commandments. Nevertheless, in the merit of this minor
repentance, Israel is rewarded with the beginning of the Redemption:
“God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God
your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where
He scattered you. Even if your diaspora is at the ends of the heavens,
God your Lord will gather you up from there and He will take you back.
God your Lord will then bring you to the land that your ancestors
occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make
you flourish even more than your ancestors (D’varim 30:3-5).

Words Alone are not Enough

The answer is almost as awesome as the question. When we plead to God
to save us from the troubles of the Diaspora without making an effort
to ascend to the Land of Israel and settle it, the troubles increase.
However, when Jews begin to return to the Land – this is the true
beginning of repentance. Then, God answers and assists our actions by
gathering us from the four corners of the world to settle the Land and
merit its goodness and blessing.
For the most important thing is the honor of Heaven and the honor of
Israel, and when we ask that God be with us — without ascending to
the Land of Israel and settling it – all of our petitions to God are
solely for individual needs, (even if they be spiritual), while
disregarding the main goal of the Jewish nation – to sanctify the name
of God in the eyes of the nations, and to rectify the world in the
kingdom of God. This is what is written further on (D’varim 31:19):
“Now write for yourselves this song… make them memorize it, so that
this song will be a witness for the Israelites.” What do we learn from
the song of ‘HaAzinu’? That the most important thing is the honor of
Heaven and the honor of His nation, Israel; that the sin which causes
all the troubles is the desecration of God by forgetting His Heavenly
mission and following after alien gods. Also, the Redemption is
dependent upon honor of Heaven, so the nations do not say that they
are the mighty and that God cannot save His nation (D’varim 32:26-27).
Therefore, even if Israel does not repent properly, in the end the
Redemption will come, in order to reveal the word of God to the world.

Repentance through Settling the Land

When, however, Israel is awakened to ascend to the Land of Israel and
settle it, as is described in the Torah portion ‘Nitzavim’, God begins
to shower them with blessings and they merit the highest level of
repentance. Thus we find that the major punishment and reward revolves
around the issue of the Land of Israel. Before the section concerning
repentance in the portion of ‘Nitzavim’, the Torah describes the
punishment of destruction and wilderness of the Land of Israel; in
amazement, all the nations say: “Why did God do this to the land? What
was the reason for this great display of anger? They shall answer, “It
is because they abandoned the covenant that God, Lord of their
fathers, made with them when He brought them out of Egypt. They went
and served foreign gods, bowing down to them. These were gods alien to
them, something that was not their portion. God displayed anger
against this nation, bringing upon it the entire curse written in this
book. God drove them from their land with anger, rage and great fury,
and He exiled them to another land, where they remain even
today” (D’varim 29:21-27). It is clear then, that afterwards, the
repentance that Israel makes is by returning to the Land, settling it,
and making the wilderness blossom – thereby achieving great blessing.
Afterwards it is written: “God will remove the barriers from your
hearts and from the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love
God your Lord with all your heart and soul… You will repent and obey
God, keeping all His commandments, as I prescribe them to you
today” (D’varim 30:6-8). This is also what our mentor Rav Kook זצ”ל
has explained (Orot HaTeshuva 17:2).

Thus Says the Prophet

Additionally, we have learned from the Prophet Ezekiel (Chap. 36) that
there is no greater desecration of God than Israel being in the
Diaspora. “They profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, These
are the people of the Lord, and they are gone out of his land.” And
this is the main reason for the Redemption – “But I had concern for my
holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations,
into which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says
the Lord God; I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but
for my holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations.”
How is the desecration of God ended? – “For I will take you from among
the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you
into your own land.” First, the in-gathering of the exiles, and only
afterwards, when the settlement of the Land is strong, “Then I will
sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your
impurity” (Ezekiel 36:20-26). Therefore it is clear that the effort to
settle the Land of Israel and end the desecration of God is the key to
true repentance and the closening of the Redemption.

Negligence of Settling the Land – Source of Divine Punishment

Even during the times of the Rishonim, when it was very difficult to
ascend to the Land of Israel and settle it, according to the opinion
of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy, one had to make an effort to move to Israel.
Thus he wrote in his pure and holy book “The Kuzari” (Chap. 2:24-25),
that the king of Kuzar asked the Rabbi: if the Land of Israel is so
holy and praiseworthy, and it’s a great mitzvah to live there, how
come the Jews remain in the Diaspora and don’t ascend to the Land? The
Rabbi responds: “Indeed, you have found my disgrace, king of Kuzar!
For surely it is because of this sin that God’s mission was not
fulfilled in the Second Temple.” Had all Israel answered the call and
ascended to Israel, we would have merited the complete Redemption. But
since only a few Jews made aliyah, with the majority of the important
and respected Jews remaining in the Diaspora, the Heavenly promises
concerning the redemption were only partly fulfilled (see Tractate
Yoma 9:b), until the Second Temple was destroyed and we descended to
an even harsher Diaspora.

The Conclusion of “The Kuzari”

Therefore, in the end of the book “The Kuzari,” the Rabbi parts from
the king in order to ascend to the Land of Israel. Since the parting
is difficult for the king, he attempts to persuade the Rabbi to stay
with him, claiming that he can also get close to God outside of the
Land of Israel, and besides, it is dangerous to move to there. The
Rabbi responds that the Land of Israel is the place of Divine
revelation, it is the God of Israel’s holy place, and only there is
the fulfillment of the commandments complete. As far as dangers of
travel are concerned, one shouldn’t worry so much, for even merchants
sail-off to such places to make money. Once again the king claims: but
God knows your good intentions to come closer to Him, why must you
make such a great effort to ascend to the Land of Israel? The Rabbi
responds that only when one does not have the capability to fulfill
the mitzvah is there value in arousing passion concerning the building
of the Land. But when the mitzvah can be actually fulfilled, it is
forbidden to be satisfied with just intentions. Indeed, this is
exactly what Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy did – he left all his honor and
status in Spain and with great self-sacrifice ascended to the Land of

In Our Times

Today, when we hear many of the world’s leaders deny our rights over
Judea and Samaria, while on the other hand, righteous Gentiles
strongly believe that God gave the Holy Land to His Chosen People, and
that everything stands and is dependent on the foundation of faith in
the God of Israel, we must be very strong in the holy mitzvah of
expanding Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. It’s not by chance
that the question of Judea and Samaria stands at the top of the worlds
agenda, because the foundation of Israel’s redemption, and the
redemption of the entire world, is dependent upon this great mitzvah
of settling the Land of Israel, which the Sages said is equal to all
the mitzvoth (Sifrei, Re’eh 53), and is the main foundation of
sanctification of God in the world.

The Sin of the Nations who Attempt to Steal Israel’s Inheritance

Everything is dependent upon the settling of the Land and the
sanctification of God in the eyes of the nations, as it is written
(Joel 4:1): “For behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall
bring back the captivity of Yehuda and Yerushalayim, I will also
gather all nations, and will bring them down to the valley of
Yehoshafat, and will enter into judgment with them there for my people
and for my heritage Yisrael, whom they have scattered among the
nations, and have divided up my land.” It’s a shame these verses
aren’t mentioned to the President of America and the rest of the
leaders of the world who demand we divide the Land. The Prophet
continues to describe the sin of the nations and the punishment that
will come upon them, their sons, and their lands. Unlike their demands
to freeze building in Judea and Jerusalem, “But Yehuda shall remain
for ever, and Yerushalayim from generation to generation. And though I
have acquitted them, those who shed their blood I have not acquitted;
and the Lord will dwell in Zion.”

Those who Scorn the Mitzvah of Settling the Land

There are those who mistakenly think that the most important thing is
to feel bitter about “Because our God is not among us,” therefore,
“are not these evils come upon us,” while ignoring the honor of Heaven
and Israel. They don’t care about the settlements, nor does their
heart ache over the terrible desecration of God when the nations of
the world claim: “you are robbers and have conquered the land of the
Palestinians”. They don’t care about the words of our Sages which
Rashi brings down in the beginning of the Bible, that the reason the
Torah begins with story of the creation of the world is to teach us
“the power of His actions,” that the entire world belongs to God, and
He inherited the Holy Land of Israel to our fathers and us. If,
however, the government were to hinder the fulfillment of the mitzvah
of keeping kosher or family purity, then all the so-called “righteous”
would rise-up and fight till the end, but over the greatest
desecration of God, which is being perpetrated in front of the entire
world, they completely ignore.

An Awakening for the Settlers

This is the time the righteous settlers must arise. If there is a
decree not to build more houses, then we must build second floors and
turn them into apartments. According to the over-all plans, private
houses are permitted to build for themselves a storeroom measuring 60
meters, and a parking space measuring 50 meters. One can add to it a
bathroom and a kitchen, and house in his ‘storeroom’ and ‘parking
space’ newly-married couples. Then there are some people who merited
building large houses, and with the grace of God, their children grew-
up and got married. They can make-do with less and build in their
houses an additional apartment or two for young couples. In this way,
thousands of apartments can be added to the community settlements.
This will be our test: just how truly important is the mitzvah of
settling the Land to us.

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