The Greeks attempted to defile all the oils, in other words, to Hellenize the Jews and eradicate the concepts of holiness, but the inner segulah (unique virtue) of the Jewish people remained pure, survived all circumstances, and even illuminated humanity * One of the damages of the defilement: Hellenism caused kedusha (holiness) to be mistakenly regarded as something private, abstaining from physical pleasure, and detached from the world * The segulah of the Jewish Nation was revealed throughout the ages, beginning with our forefathers, in selfless concern and contribution to others * Accordingly, idealistic Jews, even if they are not observant, reveal segulat Yisrael
After the Greeks conquered vast territories including small areas of Judea, for the duration of one hundred and sixty years they ruled the entire area, until everything was Hellenized. Even in Judea, Hellenism spread, to the point where even the Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests) Jason and Menelaus were among the leading supporters of Hellenism – they set up a wrestling stadium near the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), and the priests preferred to watch wrestling matches rather than perform their sacrificial duties in the Temple. It seemed as if the Jews, like all the other nations, would also be completely Hellenized. However, the inner segulah (unique virtue) of Israel remained pure. As a result, when the Greeks arrived in the village of Modi’in, with the intention of forcing Matityahu the son of Yochanan the High Priest to worship idols, Matityahu rose up and killed the Greek officer and his Hellenized Jewish collaborator. By doing so, he and his sons raised the banner of rebellion against the Greeks and Hellenization.
The Miracle of the Flask of Oil
True, the Second Temple was destroyed and all the political achievements of Hasmonean’s were nullified, but thanks to the miracle of the flask of oil, the virtue of the eternal connection between Israel and the Torah was revealed, which illuminates the darkness above and beyond the laws of nature, and thanks to it, we endured the darkness of the long exile. Over the years, it became clear that the miracle was even greater than we originally thought. Not only did we manage to survive the torrent of Hellenism that inundated the world, but Judaism shattered – through a long and complicated process – most of the pagan foundations of Hellenism. The abstract belief in one God, ethical values, the aspiration to fix the world – all fundamental principles of the Torah – increasingly spread among the nations of the world, eventually becoming, through means both direct and indirect (i.e., via Christianity and Islam), the foundations of all the good and beneficial aspects of human culture. The longer our exile lasted, the longer and brighter the light of Israel and its Torah shone. It will continue to illuminate the world until we merit bringing new and pure oil from the olives of Eretz Yisrael, from which we will light the Menora of the Holy Temple, and the world will be filled with the knowledge of God.
What is this Inner Purity?
Maran HaRav Kook explained: “The Gentiles defiled revealed Judaism with their touch; they touched the sacred oils and defiled them, the stones of the Mizbayach Ha’Kodesh were invalidated. But their holiness remains, the inner secrets hidden and sealed from foreign contact. And precisely the most internal. Because the outward expressions of these secrets have already been desecrated by corrupt thieves” (Orot HaTechiya 63). In other words, not only the external sides were defiled, but also the holy oils, the altar stones, and Torah expressions. For example, the concept of kedusha (holiness) in Christianity is perceived as being related to self-denial, death, and celibacy from life. This concept took root to the point where when Jews try to explain or imagine who is a tzadik (a righteous person), due to this impurity, they picture figures far removed from our holy forefathers, who are portrayed in the Bible and Chazal as brave warriors and achievers, who sanctified life.
However, the root of Israel’s soul cannot be changed or defiled; it is the basis by virtue of which the pure oil was found, from which salvation grew, or as Maran HaRav Kook explained: “This inner spirituality, which is the essence of the Supreme Soul, is permanent in Israel’s neshama ha’segulit (unique soul), and cannot be budged, as long as the connection to the nation as a whole and its character is alive within him; as long as he desires the overall good and success of the Israeli nation, even if he does not know how to identify or interpret the secrets of his heart, and even if he errs in his actions and opinions – his inner self is kodesh kodashim (holy of holies).”
The national ambition, which yearns for Israel’s honor and blessing in the ‘Land of Life’, stems from the segulah manifested in the pure oil. All the more so when this national ambition rises to the level of revealing Torat Eretz Yisrael.
What is segulat Yisrael? The deep desire to demand justice and truth, to add goodness and blessing to the world, and continue rising in this endlessly. When Avraham Avinu opened his tent to guests who looked like idol worshippers, he did not do so because he was commanded to, or hoped for a reward, rather, because he loved humanity. Thus, we find Avraham Avinu and his son Yitzchak Avinu engaged in digging wells, an act of blessing, for from the wells water would be drawn to preserve the lives of many. Thus, we find Yaacov Avinu worked diligently and faithfully in the pasture of flocks even when it was not for his own needs and profits, in order to add prosperity to the world. We also find that Yosef HaTzadik (Joseph the Righteous), the son of Yaacov Avinu, though he had every reason to despair and be disgruntled for being sold as a slave, he did not lose his vitality, and no matter where he found himself, endeavored to better the condition of those around him, until he saved the entire Egyptian kingdom from a terrible famine. Even modern-day Jews, scientists and activists working for the tikun (perfection) of society, their main goal being to contribute to the well-being of humanity, in this way, are following in the path of our forefathers.
When Moshe came out of Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian officer striking a Hebrew slave, although he knew that if he protected the slave he would risk his life, nevertheless, he struck the Egyptian and saved the slave. As a result, he lost his position as Prince of Egypt, and was forced to flee to Midian to save his life. Even in Midian, when he saw that the shepherds discriminated against Jethro’s daughters, he could not resist. While risking a melee with the locals, he fought for their right to receive their turn in watering the flock from the well. From that, he continued to rise until he was worthy to lead the People of Israel, and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.
When Ruth the Moabite decided to join her mother-in-law Naomi on her way back to Beit Lechem in the inheritance of Yehudah, it was because she could not leave her forlorn and in terrible grief. Naomi, who was one of the privileged women of Yehudah, was about to return to her homeland defeated, widowed from her wealthy husband, and bereaved of her sons. Ruth felt a moral obligation to accompany her, and stand by her side. Owning to this, her heart opened to faith in God, and she converted and merited to become the mother of the House of David.
Segulat Yisrael Revealed in Idealistic Jews
Rabbi Kook explained that even when a Jew “erred in his actions and opinions, his inner self is kodesh kodeshim“, so long as “the connection to the nation as a whole and its character is alive within him; as long as he desires the overall good and success of the Israeli nation.” Because the best interests of the Israeli nation is to add goodness and blessing, justice and truth.
In a number of letters, Rabbi Kook gave educational advice to Rabbi Dov Milstein, a wealthy lumber merchant from Warsaw, whose sons left ways of Torah and mitzvot. The father debated whether to support them financially in their studies at the university and their businesses, or perhaps, since they were tainted with minut (heresy) for which there is no repentance, he should distance them, and sit shiva (mourned) over them, as was the advice of his Rabbi, the Admore of Parisov. Maran HaRav Kook wrote to him: “Were your children connected to the people of Israel, at least ideologically, and were for instance Chovevei Tzion or Zionists, it would be easier to bring them back to the steadfast way of God… In any case, even now that they have gone far astray, you should not despair of them completely. In the end, the effect of the light of God, which has appeared for thousands of years through our holy Torah, is that today we no longer have, as in early days, that accursed minut, for which there is no repentance. Today, even the most evil opinions are based on a search for righteousness and truth, which is, indeed, itself the way of the Lord, who commanded Avraham Avinu, of blessed memory, his sons, and his household to do what is just and right… For this reason, it is my opinion that, to fallen ones such as these, one must explain to them that, at its foundation, their goal is truly desirable” (Igrot 1:113).
In other words, although they were not Zionists, since they had good ideals, and as far as they were concerned they did not betray Judaism, rather, thought it to be their positive source of inspiration, their inner segulah remained in them.
Rabbi Ari Yitzhak Shvat looked into the story of these boys’ lives. One became chairman of the Polish National Bank, and after his father immigrated to Israel and became impoverished, he financially supported his father and older brother and family, who were religious and lived in Israel. He himself married a Gentile, and was murdered in the Holocaust. The other son worked in the Polish Foreign Ministry. In his second marriage, he got married in a religious ceremony with a Jewish woman from the Rothschild family. He managed to escape to the United States, and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren connected to Judaism. When the State of Israel was founded, Ben Gurion offered him to be Foreign Minister but he refused, claiming that “God did not designate Jews to grow orchards.”
The General Mitzvot
It also seems that the lack of understanding the general mitzvot, such as yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land of Israel), the defense of Israel and military service, stems from the influence of the foreign impurity that clung to the superficial side of religion during exile, until the point where kedusha (holiness) is revealed only in the life of the individual, and in all general, national affairs, there is no kedusha and mitzvah, rather, everything is profane. However, the exact opposite is true: the main aspect of kedusha is revealed in Clal Yisrael, and consequently, is drawn into the life of the individual. Clal Yisrael received the Torah and mitzvot in order to fulfill and live according to them in Eretz Yisrael, and only then is it the obligation every Jew, and even Jews living abroad, to fulfill them, so as they would not be new to them when they returned to Eretz Israel.
Even in recent generations, those who saw only the details opposed the mitzvah of aliyah (immigration) to Israel, and because they refused to see the Clal, spread libels as if the Zionist movement caused the abandoning of Torah and mitzvot. However, the exact opposite is true: Although many kofrim (unbelievers) were active in the Zionist movement, and even sought to secularize the public, in fact, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the mitzvoth of the Clal – yishuv ha’aretz and kibbutz galuyot (Ingathering of the Exiles) – the Jewish nation was saved, both physically and spiritually. Secularism was caused by many reasons, the main one being our difficulty in dealing with the Enlightenment and modern environment. Immigration to Israel was not the cause of the problem, but the solution. Therefore, in all the Diaspora communities, the percentage of assimilated and secular Jews is infinitely greater than in Israel. Those who refuse to see this deny the sanctity of the general mitzvot, and also show a lack of gratitude towards the Jews who worked selflessly within the Zionist movement for the sake of immigration, settlement, and security.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.