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"Bring Us with Heads Held High to Our Land"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Prepared by Zev Jacobson


            The blessings promised to Bnei Yisrael, if they fulfill God's commandments, are of a dual nature.  This is expressed succinctly in the verses: "...You will have your fill of food and you will live securely in the land.  I will grant peace in the land so that you will sleep without fear" (Vayikra 26:5,6). Not only will we experience a physical, material prosperity, but we will also be allowed to enjoy these blessings in peace, unthreatened by any outside forces.  This psychological state of well-being is important, both as an end within itself and in terms of the behavior that it produces.

            The Ramban explains that a double miracle is guaranteed in the verse (Vayikra 26:8): "Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred, and a hundred of you will defeat ten thousand, as your enemies fall before your sword."  God will give us the courage and strength to give chase even when outnumbered, and then to vanquish the foe and destroy him.  It is the psychological state of well-being that gives rise to such an inordinate amount of courage and chutzpah!

            The blessings are paralleled by the series of curses that will befall the nation, should God's word not be kept:

"If you do not listen to me.... I will bring upon you feelings of anxiety, along with depression and excitement, destroying your outlook and making life hopeless... You will flee even when no one is chasing you... You will exhaust your strength in vain, since your land will not yield its crops and the trees of the land will not produce fruit." (Vayikra 26:14-20) 

            Not only will we be cursed with the decimation of all of our physical assets, but more frightening, we will descend to such a level of fear and insecurity that we will flee even when no one is chasing us.  It is sometimes easier to bear hardship when relief is in sight, but the absence of hope can break even the most resilient spirit.

            The positive frame of mind with which Bnei Yisrael left Egypt is described in our parasha as "komemiyut" - "with heads held high" (Vayikra 26:13). We did not leave exile in a state of weakness, but rather with pride and strength, and it is no wonder that we include the fervent hope in our daily prayers, "ve-tolikheinu komemiyut le-artzeinu - and bring us with heads held high to our land!"  It is this feeling of pride and purpose that has given the Zionist movement much impetus, providing it with the courage to face overwhelming odds time and time again.  So long as it does not degenerate into "ge'on uzkhem - your aggressive pride" (Vayikra 26:19), that denies the omnipotence of God, such a positive attitude can bring forth victory from the brink of disaster.

            Jewish feelings of nationalism that led to the establishment of the State of Israel often led to an unfortunate denigration of the Diaspora and its values.  Nevertheless, the positive value of these nationalistic feelings cannot be underplayed. It is thus disturbing today to see that there are many Jews who do not identify with these feelings of Jewish pride, and who seek to undermine the basis of the State of Israel.  This is especially regrettable now, when the State is experiencing unprecedented problems and threats.

            The Rambam states (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:1-3) that it is incumbent upon the community to cry out and sound the trumpets when they are faced with calamity, in order to arouse them to repent.  Failure to see the Hand of God behind their misfortune by ascribing events to chance will only result in a redoubling of their punishment.

            A society that is not open to criticism is in great danger morally; hence, the religious community must be aware that there are faults and failings in Israel today.  But it must be prepared to tackle these problems, while maintaining a pride and love for Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael nonetheless.  It is this attitude that will overcome the trials that we are currently facing and result in the fulfillment of our prayers.


(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Bechukotai 5755 [1995].)