One Nation or Many Communities?

“Do you know the song “Am Yisrael Hai”? Of course you do. We have all sung it many times. Nevertheless, it does not describe our true reality. To my chagrin, I still need to be convinced that Am Yisrael truly exists at present. We are, unfortunately, not a normal people and our collective viewpoints tend to see only groups of Sepharadim or Ashkenazim, Haredim or National-Religious. They do not see our past or look to a future where we will be one nation, united in and by the Torah. “
And it’s not because this development isn’t important. On the contrary, in order for the Jewish people to realize its destiny and live up to Hashem’s expectations of His people as delineated in the Torah, we must all cease to see ourselves as American, Hungarian, Moroccan, Polish, Russian, Tunisian, or Yemenite Jews–and begin to see ourselves simply as Jews. Or to be more precise, as Jews living in Erets Yisrael.
What’s the difference, you ask? Why do I stress ‘living in Erets Yisrael’? In the Galuth, there is only one possible path for the Jewish people to follow – the path of the Community. A scattered and fragile people simply does not possess the spiritual ability and strength to think and act as a Nation. The consciousness of Nation was therefore put on hold. The focus of our ancestors–both the masses and their Torah leaders–was necessarily directed towards the lives of the individual Jews in their vicinity, and the functioning of the communities in which they lived. In such a state of affairs, the ideological loss incurred by viewing ourselves as ‘the Jews of this or that community or region’ was offset by the concomitant gain of concentrating our meager resources on the immediate and all-important task of ensuring Jewish survival. As a result, the scope of our Jewish consciousness shrank to include only that which was directly linked to the survival and existence of a given community (or collection of communities). Discussions of issues beyond this purview lacked meaning and relevance.
In addition, in the reality of Galuth, the disparate Jewish communities, geographically and psychologically distant from one other – sometimes literally a world apart – began to drift further and further from one another. They dressed differently as each community adopting the mode of attire common among the gentiles in that area; they followed the Halakhic rulings of their local Torah sages–which sometimes differed greatly from the rulings of Torah sages elsewhere in the world. Even the Holy Tongue, in which they were united, ceased to be a true point of unity as they gradually found themselves pronouncing Hebrew very differently from each other.
From the limited point of view of the Jews of a given community or country, their particular Jewish experience was the totality of Judaism. In this environment, the concept of minhag (local custom) took on major significance. The communities jealously guarded and maintained their minhagim, their traditional allegiance to particular posqim (halakhic authories), their pronunciation of Hebrew etc. Far from being a negative phenomenon, this attitude galvanized the communities in their resolve to ensure the continued existence of their “brand” of Judaism, and served to provide a point around which to rally.
To a large extent, it would be true to say that we lost sight of our true nature as a “kingdom of priests and a Holy Nation” (Shemoth 19:6) and began defining ourselves in terms of what we had become: a collection of qehiloth (communities), floating in the ocean of Exile, stranded and directionless, drifting ever further apart.
Our return to our Land as an independent people, however, marked the beginning of the end of Galuth-mode Judaism. Am Yisrael is being reconstituted before our eyes.
In order for us to do the Will of Hashem as He has revealed His Will to us in the Holy Torah, we must immediately start to view ourselves as we truly are: ‘a Holy Nation’. The very mind-set and behaviour that preserved us in Galuth is today, in our new and long-yearned-for reality, our undoing.
Surely it is plain to see that a motley mix of communities, uprooted (occasionally unwillingly) from their various lands of Exile and flung together into the new experience of the Land of Israel, will never be able to function as a Jewish Nation. For this to occur, the former forms and frameworks – and more importantly, the Jewish consciousness of Galuth – must make way for the greater and more authentic vision of who we really are.
Our challenges are no longer those that our forefathers faced in the depths of Ukrainian or Yemenite Exile. All the many misswoth (commandments) and areas of the Torah that lay dormant during the Galuth, are once again timely and real. The Sanhedrin and the Miqdash are no longer vague concepts lost in the mists of some future time. It is destiny of this present generation, and of those to come, to begin fitting the pieces of the divine puzzle of Torah back into place, until we are to stand back and view the magnificent whole once again. We must begin our preparations for the Geulah today.
It was, after all, for this very goal that we strived during our long and bitter Galuth. Without such a dream and purpose, we would have disappeared and assimilated into oblivion. As Rav Avraham Yishaq Hakohen Kook wrote in his book Orot:
“The existence of Judaism in the Galuth is only possible when it immerses itself totally in the vision of Erets Yisrael…the yearning for Geulah is the force which grants the Judaism of Galuth its lease on life; the Judaism of Erets Yisrael, on the other hand, is the Geulah itself .”