The Jew and the Promised Land

From: To Be a Jew

By Rabbi Hayim HaLevy Donin

Basic Books A Division of HarperCollins Publishers 1991 (page 14-15)

… In 70 AD The destruction of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans with the downfall of the Second Commonwealth dealt another severe blow to the Jewish people. Several attempts to reestablish independence to and throw of the yoke of foreign rule took place during the next sixty-five years, but all these attempts failed.

While small settlements of Jews remained on the soil, the bulk of the people scattered to countries far and wide, almost literally to the ends of the earth. Wherever they were, Jews dreamed of some day returning and re-establishing their independence, of restoring their national existence. They dreamed of it and prayed for it; never for a day was the Holy Land out of their thoughts.

During the centuries, the land was overrun by a series of invading and conquering Byzantine, Romans, Arabs, European Crusaders, Turks and finally by British forces during World War I.

And while individual Jews throughout the centuries sometimes returned to the Holy Land, if only to finish out their years (My grandparents returned to Israel circa 1930 to be buried in Mount Scopis,  Jerusalem) an organized effort for a mass return and resettlement of the land aiming toward the re-establishment of an independent sovereign Jewish State did not begin to materialize until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Zionism, the name given to this organized effort, was and is a struggle for national liberation and for the crystallization of a national identity on the part of a nation that had been forced to wander from country to country over the centuries.
The early settlers found a land that had been neglected through the centuries, abounding in malarial swamps and diseases. It was a barren land of rock, sand, and desert. The few remaining Jewish communities were concentrated in the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed

While not all Jews were involved in the organized struggle to achieve these aims, every devout, believing Jew was in faith a Zionist since the aspiration to return to Zion is built into the very fabric of traditional Jewish faith. Wherever we find any mention of God’s blessings upon Israel in the religious literature or any vision of “the end of days” which speaks of the coming of the Messiah* and the Messianic period for all the world, it also refers to Israel’s return to the land and to its dwelling safely and securely therein.

The Jew living in any other land was regarded in every religious source as being in a “state of exile” regardless of how comfortable, how secure the Jew may have been in the land of his dispersion and how satisfying his personal life. The return to the land of Israel was not only a nationalistic sentiment harbored by the Jewish people, but a deeply religious sentiment providing the opportunity for a fuller relationship to God than was not possible anywhere else. It would pave the way for the Messianic era which would bring peace not only to Israel but to all mankind.

Such religious sentiments were incorporated into prayers of the daily, Sabbath, and festival services. There is hardly a a ritual where Zion is not recalled, where the return to Zion and the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem is not mentioned.

The word Messiah is derived from the Hebrew word, mashiach which means anointed (with oil). The Messiah in Jewish thought was never conceived of as a Divine Being. As God’s anointed representative, the Messiah would be a person who would bring about the political spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by their ingathering to their ancestral home of Eretz Yisrael and the restoration of Jews and the restoration of Jerusalem to its spiritual glory.

He would bring about an era marked by the moral perfection of all of mankind and the harmonious coexistence of all peoples free of war, fear, hatred and intolerance. (Isiah 2 & 11, Micah 4).


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