Parshat Vayishlach [i]
Genesis could be read as the recurring tale of exile and return. Adam and Eve are exiled from Eden, Cain is marked as a wonderer on the earth and the flood removes Noah from the face of the earth and famine causes the temporary migration of both Abraham and Isaac. Sin is usually associated with, or the cause of exile. In the case of Adam and Eve and Cain, the sin is Original Sin or fratricide, respectively. In the case of Noah, the sin is of humankind, and in the case of Abraham and Isaac, it is exile itself that makes them into liars as they both claim their wives are their sisters.
If the purpose of a grim fairy tale is to help the reader master a difficult subject, then the repetition of the exile and return motif may be designed to help the reader internalize a core component of the Jewish pathos.
It is with Jacob that the return to the homeland takes gets some meat on its bones. Maybe because Jacob is exiled as a child, without a wife, without a profession and without any possessions, when he returns with all of the above, it is a true return from exile. In any case, one could argue that Jacob was the first Zionist.
Zionism as a 19th century movement, was not simply a migration ideology or even as some of it’s critics would argue, a movement of physical or cultural imperialism. Rather, Zionism, at it’s core, was a 19th century articulation of an earlier Jewish (Hebraic) belief that Judaism could be practiced only in the historical land of Israel and by extension, that Jews (Hebrews) could only be themselves (normal) in the land of Israel.
This view did not emerge in the 19th century, it actually lies at the heart of the word Zion.
Deuteronomy 11, 18 (the 2nd paragraph of the Shma prayer recited twice a day and containd in both the tephilin and the mezuzah):
And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.
וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל יֶדְכֶם וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם:
Rashi: And you shall set these words of Mine: Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments: Put on tefillin and make mezuzoth , so that these will not be new to you when you return. Similarly, it is said, “Set up markers for yourself” (Jer. 31:20). – [Sifrei]
ושמתם את דברי: אף לאחר שתגלו היו מצויינים במצות, הניחו תפילין, עשו מזוזות כדי שלא יהיו לכם חדשים כשתחזרו. וכן הוא אומר (ירמיה לא, כ) הציבי לך ציונים:
There have always been a category of the commandments which are only practiced in the land of Israel (מצוות התלויות בארץ), but Rashi (based on the Sifrei Deuteronomy 43) is saying something much more radical here…. Namely, that Judaism can only be practiced in the land of Israel!
This is also the position of the Ramban which is that the fulfillment of even personal obligations in the Diaspora is meant to serve as training for fulfilling those same mitzvot in Israel; rituals, rites and commandments fulfilled in exile serve as signposts, leading the way back to living in the Land of Israel according to the Torah. Rabbeinu Bachya similarly holds with regard to all mitzvot for which the essential obligation is in Israel, “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall observe to do in the land” (Devarim 12:1) — for all the mitzvot are the judgments of the God of the land.
It is interesting that none of the commentaries note the play on words of Zion and signposts… markers.
The word Tzion[ii] is usually taken to mean a sunny or parched place… another name for Jerusalem especially in the prophetic books… but as Rashi notes, it can also mean a signpost, monument, market[iii]… some have suggested: migration paths…
Only fro mthis perspective are statements in the Talmud such as:
Whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God. For it is said in Scripture, ‘To give you the Land of Canaan, to be your God’ (Leviticus 25:38). Has he, then, who does not live in the Land, no God? But [this is what the text intended] to tell you, that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols. Similarly it was said in Scripture in [the story of] David, ‘For they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave to the inheritance of the Lord, saying: Go, serve other gods’ (First Samuel 26:19). Now, whoever said to David, ‘Serve other gods’? Rather, [the text intends] to tell you that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols” (Ketubot 110b)
Clearly there are other religions and cultures that have holy sites at which special rituals need be fulfilled. Think of Mecca for the Hajj. The Parsis in India who consider certain geographical locations critical to rights such as burial, do not accept converts and have a healthy diaspora.
One can certainly imagine the original Zionism as the belief of a migrating tribe in the holiness of the land of Canaan, where rituals practiced outside of the land were only previews and rehearsals and were the real show opens and runs only in the Holy Land.
Jewish thinkers, leaders and masses carried these notions through two thousand years of diaspora and nineteenth century secular Zionist thinker simply adopted this primal concept into a modern, but unique ideological movement. Zionism was neither imperialism nor racism.
For those of us who live outside of the land of Israel and consider ourselves Zionists it is humbling to know that Zionism (and Judaism) is not an ideology but rather a zip code but it is also radically exciting. Location specific Judaism confirms what we feel as we drive around this country and meet Israelis of every variation. It is confirmed when we take a hike on the clearly marked Israel trail with a secular Israeli pointing out ancient aqueducts, iconic kibbutzim and modern day borders…and without a hidden agenda or political lesson to be learnt. This is truly the holy land and one of the best ways to feel it, breath it and experience it is to follow the markers and take a hike.