The Israel-Diaspora Bridge

PARASHAT VAYISHLACH: How Yaakov Avinu was an example of Religious Zionism

By Daniel Cohen, Programs Director

Last week, Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely was criticized for her comments regarding Diaspora Jewry, specifically in the US. There were rumors that her job was on the line, and that only pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu from party activists enabled her to retain her position in the party and in the government.

Why was this such a big deal?

In this week’s parasha, we read about Yaakov preparing for his reconciliation with his brother Eisav. At night, he takes his family and begins to move towards Eisav’s camp:

וַיָּ֣קָם ׀ בַּלַּ֣יְלָה ה֗וּא וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־שְׁתֵּ֤י נָשָׁיו֙ וְאֶת־שְׁתֵּ֣י שִׁפְחֹתָ֔יו וְאֶת־אַחַ֥ד עָשָׂ֖ר יְלָדָ֑יו וַֽיַּעֲבֹ֔ר אֵ֖ת מַעֲבַ֥ר יַבֹּֽק׃ וַיִּקָּחֵ֔ם וַיַּֽעֲבִרֵ֖ם אֶת־הַנָּ֑חַל וַֽיַּעֲבֵ֖ר אֶת־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ׃

That night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Yabbok River. After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. (Bereishit 32:24-25)

Regarding moving his possessions, Rashi quotes a Midrash which says:

עָשָׂה עַצְמוֹ כְּגַשָּׁר נוֹטֵל מִכַּאן וּמַנִּיחַ כַּאן

He acted like a bridge, taking them from one side of the river and placing them on the other.

We are previously told of Yaakov’s great wealth, so how could it be that he himself took all his possessions from one side to the other?

A beautiful answer is provided by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal in his Eim Habanim Semeichah (pp.342-344). Yaakov was trying to ensure that his possessions didn’t fall into Eisav’s hands – and he succeeded. How?

Because he acted like a bridge:

A bridge has two ‘feet’, one foot on one side of a river and one on the other side. Yaakov Avinu, as well, always stood with one foot on the Eretz-Yisrael side of the river, and one foot on Eisav’s side…

Rabbi Teichtal goes on to say that, like Yaakov, Diaspora Jewry should not have “both feet” in the Diaspora but rather should ensure they always have one “foot” in the Land of Israel.

Yaakov Avinu stood in the Diaspora with only one foot, while his other foot, his eyes, and his heart were in the Holy Land.

He later (p. 428) goes on to say that this is why he was able to transfer all his (numerous) possessions over to Eretz Yisrael:

However, had he stood in Chutz LaAretz with both feet and forgotten about Eretz Yisrael, that would have been the end. All of his efforts would have fallen into Eisav’s hands.

Rabbi Teichtal wrote these words during the turbulent and terrible days of the Holocaust, several years before the State of Israel was established. And while what he says is still correct, in our times, the Diaspora-Israel relationship has matured. In the words of Minister Naftali Bennett:

In Israel, we typically view the world as a source of aliya and a big fat wallet, and that’s got to change.

In fact, a number of initiatives have been put into place by the government to assist our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, as opposed to expecting them – or at least their money – to make aliya. It is now time to place the feet of our bridge on both sides, making them equal with neither subservient to the other.

We at Mizrachi, too, aim to be that bridge between Israel and our communities in the Diaspora by providing resources to enrich Jewish life in Chutz LaAretz in the spirit of Religious Zionism.

I conclude with a famous story told about our illustrious former Chairman, Dr Yosef Burg. Burg was once asked regarding the term “Religious-Zionist” – what is more important, the “religious” part or the “Zionist” part? Realizing if he were to answer either of those he may be subsequently attacked for denying the importance of the other, he responded brilliantly with the reply: “the most important, for me, is the hyphen”. The hyphen is the ‘bridge’ that connects the two worlds in harmony, just like Yaakov was the bridge connecting the Diaspora and Eretz Yisrael.

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