Judaism is the Way of Life of a Nation in a Land

 The story goes that there was once a maggid, an itinerant preacher, who travelled from town to town, preaching to various Jewish communities, nourishing their souls. In return, out of appreciation, the communities would give him something to sustain himself and his family.

One time he chanced upon a Jewish community in a small town in northern Germany. This particular community was particularly lax in its practice of Judaism. If practice makes perfect – they were far from perfect, because they didn't practice much. The preacher met with the three smiling, hospitable principal members of the community.

"We are overjoyed that such an esteemed and learned preacher should come to speak to us" the president of the community said.

"Yes indeed, the people will be happy" said the sexton.

"Thrilled!" said the treasurer, who was basically thrilled at how cheap this was going to cost him.

"Just, if you please, what topic exactly were you planning on speaking about? We wouldn't want you to hurt someone's feelings, however unintentionally" the president inquired.

"I plan to speak about the sanctity of the Sabbath, how Friday afternoon we close our shops and businesses and prepare to receive the Queen of serenity and holiness" the preacher answered eagerly. He saw that for some reason the faces of the leaders darkened. The sextant whispered into the preacher's ear: "You mustn't talk about that, the president keeps his store open on the Sabbath!"

The preacher, recovering from partial shock, suggested another topic: "Perhaps it would be better to speak of our unique dietary laws ---". Before even finishing his sentence he saw the three shaking their collective heads in the negative. "Not many keep kosher here" the sextant again whispered.

"Perhaps the purity of the family, the laws and the spirit" the preacher offered.

"No, no" the treasurer said quickly, "We are too small a community to maintain a ritual bath (mikveh)".

The frustrated, bewildered preacher blurted out: "Then what CAN I speak about??"

Smiling sweetly they said simultaneously: "Oh, speak about Yiddishkeit (Judaism)!"

The sad irony should be obvious. The Sabbath teaches that humans aren't machines meant to work and work as if we had no soul. Instead there must be a day when we stop, study and introspect together with our families. The dietary laws (kashrut) teach us to use reason to control our desires so they don't take control of us. The laws of purity teach us the same – and also that the true foundation of the family, of love, is deeper than physical attraction. To thwart the preacher from talking about these subjects is to prevent a discussion of some of the basic tenets of Judaism. They told him to speak about Judaism – without Jewish content. Similarly there are those who would speak of Judaism – without the Jewish nation. Both are an absurdity!

I've found people who try to teach me – an ordained rabbi – that we Jews shouldn't talk about land or a sovereign state, but only about… Yiddishkeit (Judaism)! They erroneously think that Judaism is a religion, without an anchor in a real people who are meant to live as a real independent nation in a real land. It's as if they would think that life outside of our homeland is natural, as if hospitalization is the optimal normal situation in life, and not a temporary stage until health is restored.

The first speech of God to Abraham, then to Isaac, then to Jacob, is a promise to inherit the Holy Land, the land of milk, honey and prophecy – the Land of Israel. How can one really understand Judaism and yet ignore the fact that the Torah, Jewish law and life, were given not to an individual, to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob alone – but to an entire nation. The Torah commands us to live in our land and strive to be a moral, good, righteous and even holy nation. Thank God and through our efforts we have come home and no longer need live in exile. We have yet a long way to go along our path to actually being a fully righteous and holy people – but we're on the path, and Judaism teaches us that the main path is in the Holy Land of Israel.