What’s the first thing the G-d of Israel (HaShem) said when He spoke to our forefather Abraham for the very first time?
He said, ‘Make aliyah!’
Those weren’t His exact words. But when you look at the text of the Torah, you see that HaShem tells ‘Avram’ to leave his land, the place of his birth, and travel to a place which HaShem says He will identify. That place is Israel. HaShem says, in essence, ‘Go to Israel!’
Then, later, when HaShem first spoke to Isaac, our second forefather, what did He say (after introducing Himself)? He spoke of Israel. He taught Isaac that the land of Israel was special.
Then, later, when HaShem spoke for the first time to Jacob, His first words (after introducing Himself) were, ‘this land’, meaning Israel.
This land—Israel—must be important to the G-d of Israel. Why else would it be the first thing He spoke about when He interacted with each of our Jewish forefathers?
When HaShem first spoke to Moses (after introducing Himself), He declared that He would rescue His people from their Egyptian slavery. He then added what He would do after that rescue.
Did He say he would rescue and then give the Torah? No.
Would He rescue and teach what Faith means? No.
Would He rescue and show how to live a G-dly life carefully and precisely defined by halacha? No.
The G-d of Israel said nothing about faith, Torah or religious deed. He had something else in mind: He would rescue the Jewish people from slavery and then take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He would take the Jews to Israel.
HaShem’s first focus was Israel, not faith or deed.
From that point, the story of our history unfolds. From His very first words to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, HaShem connected what was most fundamental—the land and the Jewish people.
By contrast, many religious Jews today appear to have drawn a line in the proverbial sand to protect a fundamental separation. They separate what G-d suggests is inseparable--Jews and the land. They embrace faith with fervour. They reject Israel with fervour. They appear to replace land with faith.
It is said that, when the second Temple was destroyed—and Jews exiled-- we recognized that our world had been destroyed. The only thing we had left was the four cubits of halacha (Jewish law) that defined our personal space. Our national identification was gone. Our land was gone. Only personal faith remained.
This is how it was for almost 2,000 years. After the Roman Emperor Hadrian ploughed under the Temple, Israel was neither home nor land. It was desolation itself, just as our Tanach (our Jewish Bible) had predicted.
Surviving Jews had nothing except faith and religious performance—their halacha. For almost 2,000 years, Judaism survived because of that faith and halacha.
Then, modern Israel appeared. This fact was a game-changer. It was also a test: do Jews accept this new reality as a step toward an ultimate Redemption, or do Jews reject it as a red-herring, a kind of religious misdirection play that has nothing to do with Redemption?
Some religious Jews seem to have declared that modern Israel has nothing to do with our Redemption. Why? Because, they say, our Tanach says clearly that the Jewish people will repent and then G-d will return them to their land. The Redemption chronology, in other words, is repent, return to land, Redemption.
Anyone with a nose on his face knows that the Jewish people have not repented. Read Haaretz: it’s all there in black and white.
Without repentance, there is no Return to land.
If you are raised in or near a religious environment, this is what you learn. You even see it every year in the weekly Torah portion called Ki Tavo: repent first, then G-d will return you to the land. If our lack of repentance is a black and white reality in Hareetz, the requirement to repent before our return to Israel is also a black-and-white reality in our Torah.
It couldn’t be any simpler, right?
If you are raised in or near a religious environment, one thing you learn about the texts of your religion is this: things are not always what they appear to be. Take this question of repent first-then-return to land. If you argue that this is indeed the paradigm for Redemption, then you may have a problem. It isn’t the only Redemption paradigm. There is a second paradigm in Tanach, in the Book of Yechezkheil. In this alternate Redemption model, the starting point for Redemption is reversed: return to land first, then repentance, then Redemption.
How curious. The religious, who well know all about different opinions on a single subject, see both Redemption models. But some reject one and embrace the other.