Friday, July 30, 2010

Practice? You Talking 'bout Practice. A Topic for the Table for Parshat Eikev

When we think of medieval commentators who we would consider Zionist, Ramban comes first to mind. After all, Ramban lists living in Israel as a mitzvah in the Torah, and many of his comments about the Land form the earliest clear direction from which Modern Religious Zionism developed. He probably would argue that he's only quoting from the Midrash, Gemara, etc. (and he'd be right), yet, Ramban is always the Zionists' go-to guy.
And then there's Rashi, considered for centuries the first place to look when we try to understand a piece of the Torah. Was Rashi a Zionist? I would say yes. After all, the very first Rashi in the Torah relates directly to the Land of Israel. It cannot be coincidental that Rashi chose that topic to open his commentary. But that first commentary, pro-Israel as it is, pales in comparison to a comment in Rashi that appears in Parshat Eikev.
Eikev contains the second chapter of Kriat Shema, beginning with the words והיה אם שמוע - "if you listen..." Basically, the chapter outlines a policy of reward and punishment, telling us if we keep God's commandments, everything will be great. But if we don't...then it won't. At the conclusion of the section the Torah tells us,
וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת-דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה, עַל-לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל-נַפְשְׁכֶם; וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל-יֶדְכֶם, וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם.
Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
Commenting on this verse Rashi writes,
אף לאחר שתגלו היו מצויינים במצוות, הניחו תפילין, עשו מזוזות, כדי שלא יהיו לכם חדשים כשתחזרו, וכן הוא אומר, "הציני לך ציונים"
Even after you are exiled remain practiced in [performing the] commandments. Lay tefillin, make mezuzot, in order that when you return they are not new to you. In this manner it is written, "Set thee up waymarks" (Jeremaiah 31, 20)
Rashi's comments, copied almost verbatim from the Midrash are, at the very least troubling. There's really almost no way to avoid them. He explicitly states that performance of the mitzvot outside the Land of Israel is little more than "practice." Do these things outside of Israel, so that you're ready, and they're not strange to you when you come to the Land.
Is that really what Rashi thought? He himself lived in France, and it's a safe bet that he put on Tefillin every day of his life. Did he himself think that he was just "practicing"? How should Jews living in the Golah relate to this Rashi (other than moving to Israel - which is a great idea! Highly recommended!)
I've got my own answer, (or at least the beginning of one) but the question and the subsequent discussion are far more important. If someone asks, I'll post my thoughts next week.
Shabbat Shalom.