Make no mistake, Eretz Yisrael is unique. The differences are not merely that it’s easy to find tasty kosher food, or that Hebrew is the national language or the secular calendar respects the Jewish one, but rather that the potential quality of Judaism in Israel, tied halachically and mystically to the land itself and activated when it (very soon now) passes the tipping point of being home to more than half of the world’s Jews under, albeit imperfect, Jewish sovereignty is unique not merely in place but in history.
Many rabbis and other scholars have noted that Judaism has gone through several distinct phases/paradigms, beginning as a small family clan, emerging from the crucible of Egyptian slavery as a homeless nation. We next became a nation at home, focused on our Holy Temple, not just once, but twice, with a traumatic exile between them. Almost two millennia ago, we transformed once again, armed with our spiritual tradition of the rabbinic Judaism of the Babylonian Talmud and all it was to become, as a nation scattered in world-wide diaspora but, somehow, retaining an identity based on shared values, shared dreams and the shared history of oppression.
Galut/Exile-mode Judaism, as coined by Rabbi David Bar-Hayim, has seen as its mandate, in which it has been spectacularly successful, the two-millennia survival of the Jewish People and the preservation of Jewish traditions and values, all-too-often in unimaginably hostile environments. Designed in the beginning years of the seemingly-unending Roman exile and continuing to develop throughout the lands of our dispersion in the following centuries, it necessarily remains the dominant mode of traditional Jewish observance worldwide.
However, beginning with the קיבוץ גליות (kibbutz galliot) the ingathering of the exiles as Jews, spearheaded by religious leaders inspired both by Chassidut as well as their rivals, the mitnagdim inspired by the Vilna Gaon, from Europe, as well as many Jews from North Africa and the Middle-East, beginning in the late 18th century began returning in ever-growing numbers to Eretz Yisrael, through the Zionist Aliyot, the miracle of Medinat Yisrael, The State of Israel, and beyond. Especially as Israel regained sovereignty of Har HaBayit, The Temple Mount, in 1967 the potential of transformation began to appear to some visionaries, most notably, even before the founding of the modern State, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935).
The full mandate of Judaism goes far beyond mere survival. While that holding pattern has been absolutely necessary to bring us to the present, the real mission has been, from the very beginning, to partner with The Creator in completing and perfecting the universe He created. While refining ourselves, תיקון עולם קטן (Tikkun Olam Katan), repairing/refining the “little universe”, as each individual human is described, has been available to us throughout our history, even in exile, תיקון אדם גדול (Tikkun Adam Gadol) repairing/refining the “large man”, i.e. the universe (these terms point to the parallel efforts and analogous techniques to achieve these twin goals) can really only be achieved in Eretz Yisrael, by means of those special mitzvot (commandments/instructions) which are relevant and activated only in the Holy Land, eventually culminating in the realization, activation and operation of Bayit Shlishi, the Third Temple (whatever that might come to be and however it might manifest).
I often feel torn in two because I now see a few brave rabbis and other leaders in Eretz Yisrael already embarked on discovering and developing this future Torah Eretz Yisrael. I long to join them, but I realize that while I am still living in galut/exile myself, I’m bound to this mode of Judaism. I’m impatient with it, often angry with it (especially as it continues to dominate most Torah-based Judaism in Israel, a phenomenon I describe as גלות בגאולה (Galut b’Geula), still exiled while surrounded with redemption, even as I deeply appreciate what it has done and continues to do for us in the diaspora).
My mind and my heart yearn to engage with that future which holds the possibility of real success, of real significance, of real tikkun. But my reality, like many of my fellow Jews who, like me, honestly and passionately long for Eretz Yisrael even as it persists in eluding our individual efforts, remains anchored in the diaspora.
There is only one path for each of us, and that is to do our best, both in fulfilling our roles in Bavli-based (Babylonian Talmud, developed in and for the diaspora) Torah and in trying to reach our Promised Land, both without and within Eretz Yisrael where, with the help of The Almighty, we can participate in Geula (redemption)-based Judaism.