Zeev Schwartz, Executive Director of Torah MiTzion, writes about his memories of Rav Lichtenstein z”l and presents an article penned by Rav Lictenstein z”l about Torah MiTzion
Thirty years ago I was fortunate enough to learn in Yeshivat Har Etzion as part of the South African MTA (Midreshet Torah Va’avoda) program. After a year and a half in Yeshiva, I enlisted in the IDF as part of Machal Hesder.
Years later, my connection with Rav Lichtenstein was renewed as a source of vision, council and support, as we worked to establish Torah MiTzion, and more so through meetings regarding our organization over the years.
I want to share what Rabbi Lichtenstein means to me:
- The person who sat and studied in the Beit Midrash, day in, day out – “Ve’hagita bo yomam va’layla…”
- The person who safeguarded our oral tradition; from Har Sinai to Har Etzion; from the generation of the desert to the generation of redemption
- The person who became the moral compass of Israeli society in general and of Religious Zionism specifically. If Rav Aharon lent his support to a cause or an idea, that was enough for us.
- The person who connected worlds: Torah U’Mada; Torah Va’avoda; Safra and Saifa (the book and the sword); Israel and the Diaspora. A giant in Torah and a giant in Chochma (wisdom). A public figure and an exemplar family man.
- The person who gave his support to establish Torah MiTzion, who influenced many to go on shlichut in Jewish communities worldwide.
- The person who opened his yeshiva to students from around the world, as part of the in-gathering of our exiles and their integration into Israeli society.
- The person who was the pillar of fire (aish ha’Torah) walking before the camp of Israel.
13 years ago Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote an important article regarding our movement, titled “Candles of Zion”. It was published in a book written in memory of Moshe Green z”l (one of the founders of Torah MiTzion).
We are proud to present the article to you here.
B”h we are continuing in the same path, and be”h we will continue to do so for many years to come.
May his memory be blessed.
Originally written in Hebrew, published in a compilation of articles
published by Torah MiTzion (Jerusalem 2002)
(Translation was not edited by Rabbi Lichtenstein)
Candles of Zion
Torah Mitzion is a multifarious organization; as diverse as it is virtuous. As its name indicates, and by the values that it upholds, the world of Torah is at its very core – aspiring to both teach and to learn. On the one hand, these groups (I find the term kollel somewhat pretentious in this context, as the groups generally consist of no more than a handful of people) of yeshiva students, the vast majority of whom are from Israel, find themselves in a Beit Midrash somewhere in the Diaspora, where they immerse themselves in their studies with ongoing guidance and supervision. On the other hand, these students are teachers as well; their roles ranging from individual learning sessions with members of the community, opening doors to the world of Torah, to part-time teaching jobs at local schools and educational programs, and offering lectures and classes for the general public. If their sole aspiration was their personalTorah learning, they would have remained close to home. They leave their thriving centers of Torah study in order to share their learning with others. This approach toTorah learning is referred to as “a Torah of kindness” (Sotah, 49).
A second overtone intertwines with the students’ toil in Torah, namely their social aspirations. To some extent, these social endeavors are achieved by the very presence of a yeshiva, of people who serve as the ten individuals present in the synagogue at all times, referred to as batlanim in the Talmud (Megilla, 2). Their role went far beyond guaranteeing a quorum of men for prayers when needed; they were responsible for the continuity of public Torah learning. There is undoubtedly moral and existential significance in the presence of a spiritual mainstay within the community, though their roles have important practical implications as well. In recent decades, the Jewish Diaspora has become increasingly polarized – suffering mass assimilation and desertion on the one hand, and deep, tightening bonds with tradition, legacy and Jewish identity, which translates into commitment to Jewish law, on the other. This process has invoked a profound renewal of Torah learning from the most fundamental sources among the most devote of Jews. This welcome development has impacted many different Jewish communities, to varying degrees, and has thankfully been embraced by communities who refer to themselves as “modern” or “mainstream” as well. It is precisely these communities that are revitalized and exhilarated by Torah Mitzion. Unfortunately, it is often said that Torah Mitzion was founded to serve as a shield to defend its ideals in a struggle to survive an imagined attack by ultra-orthodox forces. This is not its goal. Its mission is to stimulate, to spur positive invigoration; to heighten the thirst for Torah learning while quenching that thirst at the same time; to promote communal unity based on the religious values with which the members of the community can deeply identify; to instill a sense of devotion and dedication to a shared spiritual goal; to serve as inspiring role models, particularly for the younger generation.
But there is a third aspect to Torah Mitzion and that is Zionism. The link between the land of Israel and the Torah are manifested in these yeshiva students and through them, in the communities that they serve. This does not refer to the mystic concept of “Torah of the Land of Israel” that springs from the “air of the land of Israel” and stems from metaphysical roots planted in the heavens and the earth. This embodiment ofTorah is heavily disputed, its advocates clinging to it with almost mystic passion, while others question its very existence and doubt the significance of its contribution to understanding and spreading Jewish law and tradition in our generation. What it does refer to is the bond with Zion of the past, present and future; and with Zionism per se. It was born partially through deeper study of the bible than in other religious institutions, and partially, and on an entirely different level, by expressing and sharing religious Zionist ideologies which have sadly began to dissipate in recent years as eminent dates and themes are less celebrated, particularly in communities outside of Israel. But these sparks of Zionism are especially ignited by the direct connection with individuals who devote their lives to Torah, emissaries of both the divine and of humanity. Their very presence both cultivates and shares the words of the Torah, as it flourishes in Zion and spreads from there to all ends of the world.
It is entirely unrealistic to place these tremendous responsibilities on the shoulders of a handful of young men and young couples. It is too simplistic to nourish the illusion that a single approach will inspire all. It is, of course, crucial to evaluate the contribution of these groups of yeshiva students to the communities that they serve, based on the defined goals and spiritual, social and educational needs.
However, with the proper balance, the right destinations and adequate guidance, this enterprise can have a genuine impact, which must be commended. We hope and pray that these initiatives will be fruitful and inspire future spiritual prosperity. The candles have been lit. May the communities transform each and every candle into a flame, and each flame into a burning torch.