What was our reaction to the beckoning of the voice of the Beloved, to the munificence of His loving-kindness and miracles? Did we get out of our beds and immediately open the door, or did we continue to rest like the Lover [in the story of the Song of Songs], and were we too lazy to get out of our beds? “I have washed my feet, how shall I soil them?” (Song of Songs 5:3).
All the trembling and fear for the geographical integrity of the State of Israel, all the suggestions of our enemies which are directed at territorial concessions by the State of Israel, and all of the brazen demands of the Arabs for boundary changes are based on only one fact: the Jews have not populated the Negev and established hundreds of settlements there. Had the Negev been settled with hundreds of thousands of Jews, even Nasser would never have dreamed of the possibility of rending it from the State of Israel. Wide and unpopulated expanses constantly and perpetually endanger the tranquility of the State. The Torah has already emphasized this notion when it states, “You shall not be allowed to quickly destroy them, so that the wild animals will not over whelm you” (Exodus 23:29). The fact that the Jews have conquered the Negev is not enough, its settlement is what is important. The great sage Maimonides ruled that the first sanctification of the Land of Israel was not a lasting one because it was the result of a military conquest, which was annulled by the violent attack of an enemy whose army was vast and armaments numerous, who conquered the Land and took it from us. The second sanctification of the land, which was carried out through occupation and settlement by Divine sanction, through toil and sweat, was never annulled.8 The sanctity that is based on the settlement of the Land is, simply stated, for now and for all time! We are terribly guilty for this gross negligence. American Jewry could have certainly accelerated the process of colonization. Yet, why should we examine the faults of others and place the responsibility on the shoulders of nonobservant Jews? Let us admit our own faults and confess to our own derelictions. Among the Jews of America, Orthodox Jews bear the most blame for the slow pace of the conquest of the Land through settlement. It was for us, the loyalists of Judaism, to heed the call of the Beloved more acutely, and to respond to it immediately with extraordinary effort. In commenting on the verse “And I shall lay desolate the land” (Leviticus 26:32), Rashi states in the name of Midrash Torat Kohanim: “This is a boon to Israel, that its enemies will not find tranquility in its land when it shall be bereft of its true inhabitants.” The Land of Israel cannot be built by any other nation or people. Only the Jewish people have it within their power to settle the Land and make its desolation blossom. The Creator’s promise was turned into a wondrous reality in different periods in the annals of the history of the Land of Israel. We cannot forget even for a moment, that the Land of Israel, like a magnet, attracted the nations of the world — both Christians and Muslims. The Crusades in the Middle Ages were undertaken with the purpose of conquering the Land of Israel and populating it with Christians. All the toil of the Crusaders was for naught. They did not strike roots in the Land. Even the indigenous Muslims did not succeed in properly settling the Land. It remained a barren desert, as is said, “And your land shall become a desolation” (Leviticus 26:33). Even in modern times, when European nations, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, settled and populated entire continents, the Land of Israel remained desolate and in a more primitive state than its neighboring Arab lands: Egypt, Syria, and the Lebanon. Had the Land been settled by an industrious, successful, and cultured people, had the Land been properly populated and developed, our attachment to it would have been eroded by the course of events, and no Jewish foot would have trod upon it. Strangers would have eaten its bounty and its fruit, and our rights would have become null and void. However, the Land of Israel did not betray the Jewish people. It was loyal to them, awaiting redemption throughout the years. Logic dictates, then, that when the Jewish community was given the opportunity to return to its Land — which had withheld its treasures from foreigners and stored them for us — Orthodox Jews should have hastened to perform so great a mitzvah, to plunge with joy and enthusiasm into the very midst of this holy work: the building and settling of the Land. However, to our regret, we have not reacted that way. When the “desolate one,” which longingly waited for us from era to era, invited us to come and redeem her from her desolation, and when the Beloved who watched over the desolation for almost nineteen hundred years, and decreed that during this time no tree should grow, and no wells should fructify the Land, beckoned at the door of the Lover, we the Orthodox Jews — the Lover — did not bestir ourselves from our beds to open the door for our Beloved. If we had contiguous settlements throughout the Land from Eilat to Dan, our situation would be very different.
Let us publicly and frankly confess: we complain about certain Israeli leaders and their attitude toward the values of our tradition and religious practice. The complaints are justified. We have serious charges against the secular leadership of the Land of Israel. However, are only they to be blamed, and are we as faultless and pure as the heavenly angels? Such an assumption is without foundation. We could have extended our influence and done something to shape the spiritual character of the Land if we had but hurried to awaken from our slumber and open the door for the Beloved who is knocking. I fear that we Orthodox Jews are still enveloped in sweet slumber. If we were to establish more religious kibbutzim, if we were to build more housing for religious immigrants, if we were to establish an extensive system of schools, our situation would be completely different. Then there would be no need to come forward with complaints against the leaders of other movements. We Orthodox Jews suffer from a unique illness that is not found in nonreligious Jews (with some rare exceptions). We are all miserly. We do not excel when it comes to giving generously, in comparison with the rest of American Jewry. We are satisfied to part with a couple of pennies, and we demand, in recompense for our piddling donation, our reward in this world and a share in the first allocations. Thus, our dignity has reached its nadir, and we do not exercise appropriate influence on Jewish life here in America and on the course of events in Israel. Great and free America is a land of charity. The government itself, in the years 1945 to 1956, disbursed $55 billion, $350 million in foreign aid projects (the numbers are truly beyond our comprehension), and philanthropists are truly respected in this land that knows how to give and help in such proportions. Accordingly, we Orthodox Jews are not entitled to the greatness that others possess. Lately, we have become experts at criticism and fault-finding. (“And the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean” [Leviticus 13:3]). We know well how to criticize, to look for blemishes and to express opinions as self-styled experts. One thing, however, escapes us, and that is that the priest who pronounces defilement must leave the encampment to be with the afflicted sufferer so as to purify him. “And the priest shall leave the encampment ... and the priest shall command” (Leviticus 14:3–4). We must build not just a few small nooks, whose impact is unfelt, but central institutions throughout the length and breadth of America and the Land of Israel. We have an obligation to purify those who are “outside the encampment,” who are situated in the huge camp of ignorance. To this end, there is a need for vast sums; and we, the Orthodox Jews, are far from being generous and charitable. For this reason, our institutions here and in Israel suffer from want. The Religious Zionist movement especially has to content itself with paltry sums. Due to lack of funds, the movement cannot function appropriately. Indeed, the loyal Lover is quite splendid, her eyes are like twin doves and her face radiates a beautiful charm (Song of Songs 1:15, 4:1). She is much fairer than the nonreligious lover. However, beauty is vain and grace is deceptive (Proverbs 31:30) if this Lover is stingy and very lazy. “I have removed my cloak, how shall I put it on again?” (Song of Songs 5:3). When one calls a rich Jew and asks him to give to a just cause, he answers, “I am going to Florida, and this year I have decided to stay in a luxury hotel, and I don’t have the wherewithal to give you what you requested.” What did the scholar tell the King of the Khazars? “You have embarrassed me, King of Khazars! … And our saying ‘worship at His holy hill’ [Psalms 99:9] is but the chirping of a starling” (HaKuzari 2:24). Do we not hear in our trembling over the safety and tranquility of the Land of Israel in our day, the beckoning of the Beloved who begs the Lover to let Him in? He has already been beckoning for eight years, and still He has not been properly responded to. Nonetheless, He continues to beckon. To our good fortune, our inherited Land has become more beautiful. The Beloved has not shown the Lover any favoritism, but He has compassion for her. The Beloved beckoned for only a short moment that night and disappeared, yet with us He has exhibited extraordinary patience. It is eight years that He has continued to beckon. Hopefully, we will not miss the opportunity!!