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From the Desert to the Holy Land - Current Events and Kabbalah: Part 2

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

The Jews in Moses' time chose the barren desert over the Holy Land. Jews today are faced with the same fateful decision.

The world stands agape as history inches in the direction of a major war, one that could easily become the final war, perhaps the cataclysmic war of Gog and Magog as described in the biblical prophets.

For each of us, now is the time to decipher the message from God, for all of history is but one long message from God.

From the Torah perspective, this world is about rectification. We seek to rectify mankind's "original transgression" -- when the First Man ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, violating God's command.

In particular, life is about the rectification of individuals and nations -- in our case, that of the Jewish people.

In a practical sense, life in this world is about making choices. Many people view free choice as just a means to an end. Yet from a Torah perspective, free choice is also an end unto itself. As a result, decisions can be rewarded, regardless of the results, which are rarely under our control (Talmud - Brachot 34b).

Some of our choices matter more to God than others. And this is exactly what the Torah comes to teach us: what is important to God, and what He deems not important. Thus Torah study reveals which direction our free choice should flow. And as we implement these Torah ideals, we align our priorities with God's, thereby maximizing our self-development in this world -- and our ultimate reward in the World to Come.

All of life is a stage upon which we activate our Godly power of free choice. History is the platform upon which we bring rectification to the world. In doing so, we bring fulfillment to God's master plan for creation, within which we exist, and from which we derive our spiritual and physical sustenance.

God provides enough clues to lead us through the darkness.

It matters not that people do not believe this to be true, for soon enough this reality will become evident to all. The only question is how much damage we will do to ourselves and the world in reaching that magical moment in history, as we blindly and stubbornly resist what is becoming imminently clear, slowly, day-by-day.

On that day, God will be One and His Name, One. (Zechariah 14:9)

However, we need not grope in the darkness; it is not God's way. First, through His prophets, and later through His righteous teachers, God provides enough clues to lead us through the darkness. Yet, in His way of perfect balance, God does not provide too much information and clues, as not to deny us the chance to use our intellect and free choice to determine what matters most, and what doesn't.


At this volatile period of history, there are many "clues" from which to draw. One crucial piece is the following teaching of the 17th century Kabbalistic master, the Arizal:

Now you can understand what is written, "Behold, you shall die with your fathers, and this people will rise up" (Deut. 31:16), which is considered to be one of the verses that has no [simple] explanation (Yoma 56a). However, it can be explained that the word "rise" refers to what comes before and after it, and both explanations are true. For in the future, Moses himself will reincarnate and return in the last generation, and this is the meaning of, "You will die with your fathers and rise."

As well, in the final generation, the Generation of Desert will also reincarnate with the Mixed Multitude, and this is what the verse refers to, "this people will rise up." ...[As it says]: "One generation goes, and another comes" (Ecclesiastes 1:4), in order to rectify that generation. Thus, the Generation of the Desert, along with the Mixed Multitude will reincarnate in the final generation, "as in the days of leaving Egypt" (Michah 7:15).

As well, Moses will arise among them... This is why it is written after, "to which they go there (shama)" -- which has the letters mem-shin-heh (Moshe), since Moses will reincarnate with them... (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 20, p. 54)

Let us piece this idea together with the Zohar's explanation that Kibbutz Galiot -- the Ingathering of the Exiles -- will last 40 years, the precise amount of time that the Generation of the Desert wandered during Moses' time. This implies that wherever the Dor HaMidbar (Generation of the Desert) failed, the final generation of Dor HaMoshiach (Generation of Moshiach) will have to rectify.

We must understand: Did the Generation of the Desert reject God, Torah and mitzvot? How could they? They saw signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, they walked through the Red Sea, and they were continually enveloped by the Divine Presence in the form of a protective cloud.

According to some commentaries, it was, ironically, their love of Torah learning that made them choose the desert over the Land of Israel. Enemies were kept at bay by the Clouds of Glory, food fell daily from the sky, and clothing never wore out. Could there be a better environment than this to study Torah without pause?

Contrast this to the Land of Israel which would demand physical and spiritual involvement just to earn a living. And settling in Israel was bound to leave the Jewish people vulnerable to attack from surrounding nations, a valid concern of any loving parent.

Yet the Torah speaks harshly of this rejection of the Land of Israel -- even for such "noble" reasons:

...And your children of whom you said they will be taken captive, I shall bring them; they shall know the land that you have despised. But your carcasses shall drop in this wilderness. (Numbers 14:31-32)


"But that was then and this is now," the skeptical Diaspora Jew has often countered. It is questionable whether there is even a mitzvah to live on the land today, and certainly earning a living in Israel is difficult enough to justify life in the Diaspora, many argue.

If Moshiach would come today, would we jump for joy, or come to Israel with great hesitancy?

But should Moshiach come today and "invite" Jews to return to the land, would the skeptics all jump for joy -- or would they "give up" their lands of choice with great hesitancy?

There are no coincidences from a Torah perspective, and the Arizal has helped us to understand just how deeply true this is. New bodies and new lands suggest a new history, which is why so many have abandoned the ways of their ancestors. However, "old" souls suggest that the present is really just the past all over again, albeit acted out in different parts of the world.

At this late stage of history, it is very significant that a plurality of world Jewry finds itself in the United States. Additionally, those who find themselves in other lands still cite America as a primary influence. This is true even in the Holy Land! Make no mistake: A Jew can physically live in America but have his heart in Israel, while another Jew may physically live in Israel but his heart resides in the Western world.

Be assured that God takes all this into account when reckoning the value of a person's free choice decisions.

What makes this so significant is that American democracy, economy and culture has come to represent the dominant worldview today. It is logical, therefore, at this late stage of history -- as America takes center stage on the road to the Final Days -- that so many Jews are happily settled in America after reaching the "golden era" of our time, while the State of Israel struggles to exert its sovereignty amidst American-led coalitions and campaigns.

In other words, could it be that the Jews of America are the reincarnated Jews of the Desert? Before deciding on the validity (or chutzpah) of such a statement, consider the following bit of history:

As the Holocaust ended, the great sage Rabbi Aharon Kotler was poised to leave the refugee haven of Shanghai. He had to decide whether to go to the Land of Israel to begin rebuilding Torah Jewry there, or to go to America, where the great sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was already laying the groundwork in what has long been known in Jewish circles as the "America the Midbar," the spiritual desert.

To help make this historic decision, Rabbi Kotler used the famous "Goral HaGra," the lottery of the sagely Vilna Gaon. Rabbi Kotler "randomly" opened up the Five Books of Moses, and let Divine Providence communicate an answer through whichever relevant verse he "happened" to turn. The random verse was:

God told Aharon, "Go meet Moshe in the midbar (desert)." (Exodus 4:27)

This verse, of course, refers to the original Moshe and Aharon his brother. However, Rabbi Kotler understood it as clear providential directive for the 20th century:

God told Aharon [Kotler], "Go meet Moshe [Feinstein] in the midbar [of America].

That is how Rabbi Kotler came to America, the "desert," so called because at the time it was barren of Torah, a spiritual wasteland. Thus launched Rabbi Kotler's legendary campaign -- together with Rabbi Feinstein -- to lay the foundations upon which Torah Jewry in America was built and thrives. In retrospect, it was a key step for the future of the Jewish people.


However, it is a different America today. It may have once been a desert in the days of Rabbi Kotler, but the desert has bloomed! Today we can enjoy beautiful synagogues across the land, full study houses from state to state, bookstores, Kosher food! You name it! America is no desert today!

Deserts are not permanent places of residence. There comes a time to move on, specifically to the Land of Israel.

Yes, the "desert has bloomed." Though let us not forget. The desert bloomed in Moses' time as well. Mount Sinai, on the day that God descended to give the Torah, bloomed like the Garden of Eden. Yet the Jewish people were not permitted to stay there for more than a short while, and the mount was never given significance as a holy site. Instead, the Jewish nation was sent to its destiny in the Land of Israel -- and the 31 kings who awaited their arrival with sharpened swords.

But deserts are places for Jewish development; they are not permanent places of residence. There comes a time to move on, specifically to the Land of Israel. Though the "desert" is enough for many today, just as it was enough for the spies in Moses' time, it is apparently not enough for God. The Talmud provide a clue:

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: The Holy One, Blessed is He, gave three good gifts to the Jewish people, and all are acquired through suffering: Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come. (Brachot 5a)

To be "sandwiched" between Torah and the World to Come is quite a compliment for the Land of Israel. However, if the Talmud is listing the three according to importance, one might have placed the Land of Israel first, since historically the land was given to Abraham hundreds of years before the Torah was given to his descendants.

The answer is clearly that the Land of Israel is not merely a place for Jews to physically live, but rather it is a mechanism to bring Jews closer to God. As the Torah itself facilitates a relationship between God and His people, the Land of Israel is the most fitting place to apply that knowledge -- specifically because we are so dependent upon God there.

In other words, the Talmud reveals that Torah leads to the Land of Israel, and, the two of them lead to the World to Come.

This is why rejection of the Land of Israel -- even without a rejection of Torah -- is still seen as a rejection of God:

Like the number of days that you spied out the Land -- 40 days -- a day for a year, a day for a year, you shall bear your sins -- 40 years -- and you will understand straying from Me. (Numbers 14:34)


It is clear that the central issue of the Jewish people today is the Land of Israel. It is at the forefront of the news, and even people who would usually not be concerned are suddenly being "dragged" into the discussion. History is forcing the issue and creating concern for the security of the land and its people, whether we like it or not.

However, though exile is imposed against our will, the Land of Israel and redemption are not. They must be chosen, the result of Jewish yearning for closeness to the Almighty. That explains why Israel is not the most attractive country geographically, economically, socially or militarily. If it were, there would be less free choice involved in moving (or at the least wanting to move) there.

#We must choose whether to focus on the physical world, or with the Creator of it.

God makes Israel look unattractive physically, but extremely attractive spiritually, to help clarify a Jew's priorities in life. We must choose whether to focus on the physical world, or with the Creator of it.

Dangerous as life seems in Israel, now after the attack in New York -- in which more Jews were injured and killed than in the entire year in Israel -- it seems less so.

Yes, choosing to live in Israel is a bit easier after the attack. In other words, free choice has been reduced, which means there is less spiritual reward for deciding now to make aliyah. However, the door is still ajar, and enough free choice remains.

Over the past 100 years, historical phenomenon have clouded the issues by associating love of the land as a replacement for acceptance and loyalty to Torah. In the classical Jewish model, love of God, Torah, and the World to Come automatically results in love of the Land of Israel and a sincere and deep yearning to live there -- even if actually moving there seems impractical or impossible.

The stage is set, the curtain is drawn. For millions of Jews living in America and throughout the Western world, this may not only be the test of a lifetime, it may be the ultimate test of human history.

This article has been edited for A longer, more detailed version can be found at, and, is soon to be a booklet available for free.

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