Rebuke, Consolation, and the Centrality of Eretz Yisrael: Prescient Words of Rav Soloveitchik

Torah is sometimes compared to wine, whose aficionados speak of different sensations at different places on the tongue. When Rav Soloveitchik’s thoughts (below) first hit my mental palate, they answered a question I had pondered about a recent Torah reading. By the time they rolled around a bit longer, they struck me as near-prophetic.

The tochechah, the long section of rebuke and its prediction of disastrous consequences for national disobedience, ends in a message of consolation. Hashem promises that in the worst of times, during the horrible times of exile and persecution, G-d would not revoke his covenant with His People.

Just before the formal consolation passage begins, there are two pesukim[1] that seem to deal with last-ditch efforts to stave off the worst of the Divine punishments. When all other reasons to regard them positively failed, He would remember His promise to the forefathers.

And I will remember my covenant with Yaakov, also my covenant with Yitzchok, and also my covenant with Avraham I will remember – and I will remember the Land.

Why are the avos presented in reverse order? Toras Kohanim, cited by Rashi, took care of that at an early stage of commentary: starting with the most recent one (Yaakov), the Heavenly Tribunal will dip into a reservoir of merit, to try to stave off disaster. If Yaakov’s is exhauseted, they move on to Yitzchok, and then Avraham.

This thought was enhanced by the later observation[2] that the Jewish people would drop their firm grasp of the mitzvos associated with the forefathers in reverse order. First to go would be the Torah study of Yaakov. Even so, Jews would stay loyal to the prayer-devotion of Yitzchok, and remain faithful shul-goers and daveners. Alas, even that would erode. Still, Jews would shine in their philanthropy, carrying on the chesed of Avraham.

I got all that. But what about the verse’s last phrase, the part about remembering the Land? How does that suggest a way out of galus, or a an argument to palliate its symptoms, like the preceding phrases did? Some see it as a pledge that the Land would not respond well to other nations who would lay claim to it in the millennia of our national absence. That’s fine, but it means that invoking the Land has no real connection to what preceded it – the different meritorious activities that would anchor the Jewish people to its mission.

Now look at what Rav Soloveitchik wrote about these words many decades ago, which I came across in the Mesoras HaRav Chumash:

The very fact that Israel is isolated internationally, that the vast majority of Klal Yisrael is sympathetic towards her and ready to suffer all manner of charges against her by Jew-haters; the fact that we identify with the State and see all who oppose it as Jew-haters, is due to the sanctity of the patriarchs. Take away Eretz Yisrael, and the Jews of the diaspora will be engulfed by a tremendous wave of estrangement and assimilation. All the dramatic, tragic experience of the sanctity of the patriarchs, the existential difference of Jewish history, would, far be it, be wiped out.

When you reach the stage of “You will become lost among the nations” (verse 38); when you will be in turmoil, dumbfounded, afraid; when you no longer want to be recognized as Jewish, hiding like Jonah in the bowels of the ship; when you will be frightened by the lot of Abraham the Hebrew, of the patriarchal covenant—it will not avail you, in spite of all, to forget the ancient covenant. I will bring about something new that will always remind you of your Jewishness, that will exemplify the fact that you are different. I, God, will remember the patriarchal covenant so that you will be forced to remember it. The covenant of Abraham will boom forth from the radio, all the newspapers will point out the Jew, his particular problems, his stubbornness as well as his cast-iron determination. The shadow of Abraham our father will pursue you. Do you know how? By Eretz Yisrael—and I will remember the land.[3]

I imagine that when Rav Soloveitchk wrote these lines, he wished to convey that the return to Eretz Yisrael in recent times saved millions of Jews from cultural extinction. After the Holocaust, many Jews would have walked out of their association with the Jewish people, were it not for the miraculous establishment of the Jewish State, and its incredible accomplishments in a few short decades. Those who would have been happy to forget that they were Jewish were reminded of their heritage by the fixation of a hostile world on this fledgling state, moving heartstrings they thought they had long quieted. G-d used the return to Zion to lift the spirits of a broken people, and put them back on their feet again.

Our opening verse, now, is fully explicated. All parts are related. The closing phrase about the Land does indeed describe an instrument that prolongs the functioning of the first three. QED.

Here we are, more than seventy years later. Some of the worst of what Rav Soloveitchik said could have happened, in fact did. A Pew poll a few years ago showed two million American Jews who no longer identified as Jewish, doing so only after prodding by the pollster. Outside of Orthodoxy, intermarriage for American Jews is at the 71% level. Apart from the Orthodox, American Jews, who populate well below ZPG, are disappearing.

We are also seeing greater than minuscule numbers of Jews doing what only individuals did for the past two millennia – act as willing and vocal enemies of their brothers and sisters, compromising their security with impunity. While in previous centuries we had to contend with the occasional Jewish turncoat who tormented the rest of the community (e.g. Pablo Christiani, Jakob Pfefferkorn), today we have a marginal (but much larger) Jewish Voice for Peace. This is doubly tragic. Not only are these people at the last stop of a Jewish journey that lasted thousands of years, but their swan song is pure treachery.

Then there is another, larger group than the detestable JVP. They are decidedly not evil, but well-intentioned. But they have severed their connection with the message of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. To them, the security of the State of Israel – the safety of the largest collection of Jews on the planet – has only secondary or tertiary (or less) significance. Some show no affinity for the Jewish State at all. Others do, but demote it on their list of moral priorities behind more important ones, like the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, and impeaching Donald Trump. Identification with the Jewish State has become the attitudinal touchstone of Jewish continuity into the next generation. Rav Soloveitchik’s words take on new – almost prophetic – meaning in regard to the Jews donning the mantle of progressivism, and forgetting their people and their Land:

It will not avail you, in spite of all, to forget the ancient covenant. I will bring about something new that will always remind you of your Jewishness, that will exemplify the fact that you are different. I, God, will remember the patriarchal covenant so that you will be forced to remember it..The shadow of Abraham our father will pursue you. Do you know how? By Eretz Yisrael—and I will remember the Land.

Something new – not new in Jewish history, but new by the experience of the post-Holocaust generations – is reminding Jews of their Jewishness. Left, right, center – the world is awash in a newly-rediscovered anti-Semitism, proudly lofted into the air by social media and the banner of extremist Islamism. Much of it thrives under the guise of hatred of Israel, rather than Jews. But we, who have been there before, can recognizes contrivances meant to mask hatred of Jews.

And when it gets worse, many of those will save themselves by running to – Eretz Yisrael.

  1. Leviticus 26:42-43

  2. Lubliner Rov, others

  3. The Rav Speaks, pp. 150-151

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34 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The tragedy is that many Jews reminded of their Jewishness in this fashion try to back away further, even while others come closer. One Shabbos derasha by the Klausenburger Rebbe ZY”A pointed out that, before the Final Redemption, we have a generation where our attitudes become more clear-cut. Some of us become “all good” while others become “all bad”. The muddled middle disappears.

    • I think that in chassidus, it is known as the Birur Ha-Acharon.

      Moving words about it in this song:
      כלו כל הקיצים, בירור האחרון, הרכבת כבר נוסעת.
      הלו בן אדם, מה לך נרדם? קום עלה וסע, עשה תשובה.
      המשיח כבר בפתח, הוא נמצא לבטח.
      וכן כתוב בתורתנו הקדושה… עושים תשובה!

  2. Raymond says:

    The group of Jews whom I most find to be simply incomprehensible are those Jews who at least claim to not care about Israel. I say claim, only because I just can’t believe that there exists even a single Jew out there, who does not care about Israel, one way or another. Speaking at least for myself, when I was much younger than I am now, and due to certain circumstances tried my very best to run as far away as possible from anything Jewish, even for a brief time living in a yoga community, one thing I never came even remotely to abandoning is Israel. While there are people who reject, even today, the late, great Rabbi Meir Kahane, I have to say that for me personally, attending his speeches in person and just reflecting on his words, was for a time my only active connection to Judaism. And when I left that yoga community, it was precisely because of the antisemitism that I eventually experienced there. When a Jew tries to forget his Jewishness, the world is sure to remind him of it.

    If there really are Jews out there, though, who dismiss Israel as insignificant, such people are so divorced from reality, that I have to truly question their sanity. Do they not realize that by denying the reality of antisemitism, that they are putting even their own Jewish lives in serious danger? As I said in a recent post on this website, we Jews really have no choice but to be Pro-Israel, even if for no other reason than because it is our only chance of being able to live fully as Jews without being murdered over it. So any Jew who denies the importance of Israel is either spiritually dead, appallingly ignorant, or just completely out of their mind.

    Where things get a bit more complicated is when it involves religious Jews. Many religious Jews continue to reject the Modern Jewish State of Israel. Now, to cut them some slack, I admit to not following in careful detail all that goes on in Israel, and i suspect that if I would carefully follow, for example, the actions of the secular courts in Israel, that I would very likely find myself siding with the religious to a large extent. People point with pride (no pun intended) at the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have full gay rights, yet I have to wonder, have we Jews prayed to G-d for thousands of years to have our Jewish sovereignty restored in Israel, only to find it being filled with gay parades? And the stories I have heard about the early years of the Modern Jewish State of Israel, such as the horrendous way that they treated Yemenite Jews and even Sephardic Jews in general, is appalling, bordering on shocking. But to throw out the baby with the bathwater by rejecting Israel altogether, cannot be the right response to all this. It has to be that such things should motivate religious Jews to participate more, not less, in our modern Jewish State. One should respond to imperfection not by giving up, but by doing something constructive about it.

    Now, some religious Jews will point to the passages in the Torah, where G-d clearly lays out all the terrible ways our Jewish people will be punished, including Israel itself vomiting us out of its land, if we do not follow His Torah. Right off the bat, I have two responses to that. One is, that if one insists on talking that way, that we better do that only among our own Jewish people, for if such ideas get into the hands of the antisemites of this world, then they will have a field day with it, gleefully informing us that they are, after all, only carrying out G-d’s Will. So that is one response. Another one is, who says that the antisemites have any right to carry things out with such enthusiasm, and to the extent that they do? G-d informed Abraham hundreds of years before it actually happened, that we Jews would be slaves for 400 years in a land that is not ours. So then how could G-d then later punish the Egyptians for what seems to be carrying out His Will? Well, because who says that it had to be the Egyptians to carry that out? and who said that they had to be as cruel as they were? They were a little too enthusiastic about being cruel to us Jews. Plus, I have to wonder if we Jews are just so awful, that we somehow deserved it when those five Rabbis innocently davening in that shul in Har Noff, were so brutally slaughtered. Did that 12-year-old girl deserve to be murdered right in her bed, because she had been a dancer? What about that pregnant mother who was taking an innocent drive with her little children? Every time I watch that video, it breaks my heart. For any Jew to find any excuse to give any legitimacy to our enemies at all, strikes me as being the ultimate in sheer cruelty.

    So i guess what I would tell the self-hating Jews of our world is, that if they claim to be carrying out G-d’s Will by opposing our little, beleaguered Modern Jewish State of Israel, that please spare me the false piety, and go take up some other hobby.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    The context was that we’ve been told that the Redemption will come either when all are innocent or when all are guilty. The Rebbe pointed out that each person will be one or the other, but the whole will contain both categories.

    The Chofetz Chaim ZY”A expressed this, too:

  4. DF says:

    It behooves us to recall, when speaking of the “Green New deal, impeach Trump” (etc.) types you mentioned, that a great many of them, almost certainly the majority, are not actually Jewish at all. This little fact – the non-Jewishness of many grandchildren of Reform Jews – is extraordinarily significant, in ways that have not really been explored yet. I mean to say, beyond religious issues like intermarriage, which the orthodox community already does a good job focusing upon. No, I mean things like a love of literature, appreciation of art, or intellectualism generally. Such love of learning has always been a hallmark among in the liberal Jewish world, and THAT TOO IS SLIPPING AWAY. The vaunted Jewish brainpower in that community is disappearing. And the simple reason is – they are not actually Jewish.

    From a tactical perspective, if I wanted to motivate more non-religious Jews to fight intermarriage, it would be the above alarm I would stress to audiences, not God or Torah.

    • Jewish guy says:

      Can you please provide some evidence that many or most of the Jews in Reform/Conserv. Movements are not halachically Jewish? Or the Jews in “IfNotNow” or JVP. Your theory makes sense. But, life does not always ‘make sense.’ Many of us (and I assume you included) hope and daven for the return of all of these Yidden… the question is how can we find out who are really Yidden; how many of them are there and how to help them.

      • DF says:

        If they aren’t Jewish, there’s nothing to return to – they were never there in the first place.
        As for those dwindling numbers of Reform (and by now, also Conservative) who are genuinely Jewish – most such people are elderly and unlikely at this point to make major life changes. Possible, but unlikely. The sad reality is comparable to the ten lost tribes. How wonderful it would be if they were to reunite with their long lost brothers, and there is in fact a minority opinion in the Talmud that suggests such a reunion will eventually occur. But the majority view holds they have vanished, never to return.

  5. mb says:

    There’s far more anti Israel religious Jews (NK, Satmar TA, Eidah Cheredi etc.) than the traitorous JVP, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Voice for Labour, etc, and their acolytes added together. The latter are in their last generation, and good riddance. The former are multiplying, a much more serious concern

  6. mavin says:

    Excellent post and comments too. The reason that there is such a divide within our people now is because we are in the time of birur (choosing good or, c’v, evil-no fence sitting) which means Moshiach is not far away. Many who are called Jews are not Jews, halachally and those who pursue this evil do not have any Jewish souls; in other words, they are the descendants and/or reincarnations of the Erev Rav, the mixed multitude, which attached themselves at the Exodus from ancient Egypt to our people. We have been a suffering people mainly, for over 3000 years, because of these erev rav amaleikim (as the Gaon of Vilna called them because they will be our worst enemies). Their goal from the very start was to stop the coming of Moshiach; they were the ones responsible for the sin of the Golden Calf, the first sin after the Exodus. Moshe Rabbeinu was supposed to be the Moshiach and we would have immediately entered the Land but instead we had to suffer the 40 years in the desert to enter and are still waiting for the coming of Moshiach tzdkeinu. These erev rav are relentless but they will be gone forever when our righteous Moshiach comes because Moshiach will come any which way in its time and H’ will even hasten it, hopefully with great mercy for His people.

  7. lacosta says:

    earlier chassidic rabbis pleaded with the RBSO to save His people while there were yet who to save.
    no one would have expected such a reality to occur – but now 3 infernoes –
    1. the Shoah took out a third
    2. the intermarriage took/is taking out countless [while the mass assimilation has de-judaized millions , those with jewish mothers potentially are salvagable]
    3. half of Jewry is now in the Holy Land , surrounded by potential annihilation at every moment

    while we can’t explain the cause of number 1 [ though revenge for assimilation is certainly a plausible if not most likely reason [[see r avigdor miller ]] , number 2 is man -made.

    And as to number 3 , a major theme of sefer Vayikra is avoiding behaviours that would lead to being disengorged from the Land. It’s not clear whether it is the behaviour of the religious or the secular sectors would enrage the RBSO sufficiently to activate such a third holocaust within 100 years….

    • Jewish guy says:

      Please, leshem shamayim, please do not engage in the horrible, divisive and non-provable generalization that a main reason for the shoah was assimilation. You wrote “plausible/most likely”… no one knows the reason except HKBH. For anyone to assume this,given all the righteous Jews who were killed, is doing a ch’v chilul Hashem. No human can comprehend the shoah and that is as it should be. Most sensible, big ravs would agree and not ‘place blame’ in any way.

      • nt says:

        We do know that Hashem only punishes people if they deserve it because of their actions. We also find that the Neviim and Chazal give explanations for the destruction of the Batei Mikdash, Beitar, etc. The Tosafos Yom Tov explained the Chmielnicki massacres as being the result of talking in shul. The Holocaust is a more touchy subject because it is recent, but it must have been caused by peoples’s actions.
        This in no way reflects poorly on the individual kedoshim who perished and suffered. As Rashi says in this week’s parshah kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh. Chazal say that tzaddikim are often punished to atone for the sins of the generation.
        As to saying the specific sin was assimilation, that is actually the safest bet. No individual sin can be worse than leaving Judaism entirely. If you read the Rashi’s at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai’s tochachos, he basically is describing the process of assimilation. And unfortunately, not only were many Jews passively assimilated, many had signed onto the socialist dream of a worldwide Marxist/atheistic paradise and were actively working to achieve it. The greatest example is Trotsky, who caused many yeshiva bochurim to fall under his influence. The situation was so bad that Rav Shach, then learning in Slabodka, advised a younger R’ Michel Feinstein not to smoke because that way, if he went off the derech, at least he wouldn’t smoke on Shabbos.

      • lacosta says:

        when i write that , i am repeating the thesis of an article originally written in the theologically benchmark Jewish Observer , which published [and then it was republished in an Artscroll canonical work on the Holocaust ] this thesis anonymously . I believe this is the mehalech of the quite mainstream r avigdor miller….

      • lacosta says:

        Please see the prescient thesis of the Meshech Chochmah on this week’s tochacha —- that those who worship the Culture of Berlin as the New Jerusalem , may see their downfall from that decision….
        and didn’t we all have rebeim who taught us that since the jews worshiped nationalism [zionism ] and socialism [communism , bundism etc ], that RBSO combined National-Socialism as the means to counteract that?

      • rkz says:

        Actually, Harav HaNetziv wrote about assimilation as the cause of anti-Semitism decades before the Holocaust (based on the pogroms in Russia)

    • Jewish guy says:

      Also, to suggest ch’v a “third shoah” is the worst in fearmongering. It does no service to our people or our avodat Hashem. I urge you to rethink what you wrote and even delete/re-write it. While we must be very concerned and active re both antisemitism and assimilation; fearmongering about a ch’v ‘third shoah’ is abusive, cruel and absolutely not Torah-dich. I ask the moderator to remove that person’s comment.

      • Raymond says:

        Wait a second here. I am not particularly religious, but the truth is the truth, even when we may not like it, and the truth is that G-d Himself tells us Jews in our Torah that if we do not keep His commandments, that terrible destruction will come to us. When describing all this, G-d pulls no punches in going into a whole lot of detail about what that suffering is that is quite disturbing. Still, it cannot be denied that it is there, and thus there is merit to the idea that our assimilating too much into non-Jewish culture, can indeed bring about even more than one Holocaust against us.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    It’s tricky to assign causes to horrible events, but we’re strong enough not to wilt if someone puts forth an idea we disagree with. Regarding the Shoah , many are inclined to blame their own ideological opponents, whoever these may be, and they find the evidence they look for. While this is natural, we ought to realize how little we can see of the big picture.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Mb-self hating Leftist Jews have far more influence in academia media and secular culture than any Charedim who subscribe to the views of NK etc

    • DF says:

      And what does “influence in media” get you? Nothing. The US President was and is still attacked daily by roughly 97% of the media, and yet he was elected into office and seems a lock to be re-elected for a second term. Its not completely toothless, and it is still a resource that should be harnessed, but its glory days are long gone. Those Jews still worrying its supposed influence are stuck in the last century.

      Secular culture does still matter, but like many people or parties who have attained success after years in the minority, one sometimes underestimates his own strength. Voices on the right command just as much respect if not more than those on the left. (Never be fooled by manufactured “trending” tags. If these are honest at all – and as we’ve seen, they often aren’t – they are driven precisely by people antithetical to the ideas being posted. Same with Twitter followers, which are accelerated by the millions by Asians. And of course, the left employs huge numbers of people, called “influencers”, who do nothing by post comments and drive up statistics for left wing sites. You cant worry about such AstroTurf.)

      • Bob Miller says:

        DF, as long as secular education in the US, from K on up, is under leftist control that bolsters the media message, there is a deep problem you can’t wish away.

      • DF says:

        You’re 100% right – secular education is a problem that needs to be fixed, and we as orthodox Jews should not be sitting on the sidelines with the excuse that our kids go to Jewish schools, so its not our problem. If we believe at all that we have a role to play on the worlds stage, that is. Would that our organizations spend their time focusing on that, rather than on useless bickering with media outlets that few people read anyway.

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt discussed the Holocaust and Tochachah in his book “Exile and Redemption” (I remember hearing him speak about it on Tisha B’av as well). There is a Jewish Action article available online by R. Grunblatt which analyzes Rav Hutner’s Jewish Observer article, among other opinions(“Grappling with Lingering Pain, Lingering Questions”, Jewish Action, Spring, 2001).

  11. mycroft says:

    Interesting title …Centrality of Eretz Yisrael: Prescient Words of Rav Soloveitchik- I haven’t seen one comment referring to RYBS.
    RYBS despite different institutional differences was probably very similar in his views on Israel with R Yaacov Kamenetzky. The Rav was part of the non messianic religious Zionism. Before Iyyar 5727 and Rav Zvi Yehuda Kooks famous speech on Yom Haatzmaut certainly predominant form of religious Zionism.
    Probably worthwhile discussion how different types of religious Zionism really have been influenced basically of either Yehuda Halevi or the Rambam.

    • rkz says:

      This difference (its existence and if indeed true, its significance and magnitude) was and is the main topic of many books and even more articles (in the RZ yeshivot and in the academic world)

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Why should there be any comments ? The position of RYBS is well known as is that of many other Gdolim who did not subscribe to the views of Satmar or the equivalent . I heard that RAK in Mishnas RA was concerned about the future of the Jewish People in the wake of the Shoah if the 1948 Israeli War of Independence hadn’t resulted in an Israeli victory

      • mycroft says:

        The position of RYBS is well known as is that of many other Gdolim who did not subscribe to the views of Satmar or the equivalent

        Equally important RYBS viewpoints are probably not agreed to by most RZ in America. Commentators have quoted Kahane whose ideas were diametrically opposite those of the Rav. Sadly, IMO the Ravs approach in Religious Zionism has very few followers in America.

      • rkz says:

        WADR, his approach does not have so many followers in Eretz Yisrael either.

  12. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, Excellent article; one trivial comment. “I imagine that when Rav Soloveitchk wrote these lines, he wished to convey that the return to Eretz Yisrael in recent times saved millions of Jews from cultural extinction. ” I believe that was included in one of the “knocks” in kol dodi dofek.

    Raymond, Bringing up Kahane in response to an article about the Rav ztl, is IMHO beyond reprehensible. BTW, we now know what likely happened to those lost Yemenite children.

    • Indeed, Dr. Bill,it is. But not all of us feel the need to provide footnotes for absolutely


      we include in popular writing. And, BTW, from what I see in Israeli media, the issue of the Yemenite children is very far from resolved. As in, the Yemenites (and sympathizers) are not convinced at all

      we write in popular

      • dr. bill says:

        I know that the issue of the Yemenite children and many other disturbing incidents throughout our history take on a life of their own. I was referring to the latest (4th) inquiry that finally cracked the vail of secrecy that surrounded the incident. It turns out children were dying of an unknown disease and the doctors received a heter to perform extensive autopsies. The parents were not consulted as they would likely not have allowed the autopsy. The children were then buried. A credible explanation for over 200 missing children, but not the final chapter for many.

        My Rabbi in Florida has 7 beautiful children, all except one with their mother’s dark complexion. The youngest boy is particularly dark and I ask his parents how they ended up with one of the yemenite children after all these years.

    • Raymond says:

      I am only seeing this now. Please explain what is so reprehensible about invoking the name of the late, great Rabbi Meir Kahane. I can see why our enemies would not like such a courageous, proud Jew as he was, but otherwise, I find such a comment to be rather strange.

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    Old and yesterday’s issues See you at the parade where everyone who attends sends their own message to be supporters of BDS and those who mask anti Semitism under the cloak of anti Zionism in academia the media and politics

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