Who Is a Zionist? by Dr. Elliot Prager


Who is a “Zionist”? Is the term limited to a person who makes Aliyah and commits to living in Eretz Yisrael/Medinat Yisrael? Or is it just as valid and meaningful for the Jew living outside of Israel who cares deeply about Israel and demonstrates his/her identity through Israel-oriented activities and actions, defense of Israel’s raison d’être, and ongoing support of the State of Israel? As unlikely a source as it may seem, this week’s Parashat VaYikra may offer some interesting insights into this question.

In its conclusion of the laws pertaining to the different categories of the Minchah offering, the Torah tells us: “Kol HaMincha Asher Takrivu LaHashem Lo Tei’aseh Chameitz, Ki Chol Se’or VeChol Devash Lo Taktiru Mimenu Isheh LaHashem,” “Every meal offering that you offer to God, do not make it leavened, for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to God” (VaYikra 2:11).

Why are leaven and honey prohibited from being added to the Minchah offering? Alternatively, as Abarbanel asks, why does the prohibition exist at all? Nowhere else in Sefer VaYikra do we find any mention of items prohibited to offer up with the Korbanot. According to the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:37), leaven and “honey” (including date honey and some other fruit juices) constituted important ingredients in offerings to pagan gods and thus are prohibited because of the Mitzvah of staying clear of heathen customs and practices. On a more symbolic level, Sefer HaChinuch points to the important educational message that the restriction on leaven imparts to one who offers a Korban: when it comes to living by Hashem’s Torah, one should not spend time waiting for the leaven to act upon the dough; rather, such a person should internalize the desire to perform Mitzvot with alacrity, diligence and simplicity. Sefer HaChinuch further comments that just as leaven activates the fermentation process and causes dough to swell, so too Jews must always be on guard against the swellings of our arrogance and egos. As for the prohibition on Devash, Rav Kook suggests in Olat Re’iyah that honey conveys a sense of pleasure and material joy that runs counter to the loftier ideals of which we should be conscious when coming before Hashem with our offerings. When serving the Holy One, we shouldn’t need any extra “props” or ingredients to make our Korbanot pleasing. 

But as insightful as these Peirushim may be, they do not explain why our Parashah instructs us that when it comes to “Korban Reishit,” understood by Rashi and many other Mefarshim as the Korban of first fruits and the two loaves of bread brought on Shavuot in the Land of Israel, Korbanot of leaven and honey are completely permissible (VaYikra 2:12)! Why this exception? What changes with the bringing of the Bikkurim?

If the Mefarshim are correct that “Korban Reishit” refers primarily to Bikkurim, we can explain the mandate to add leaven and honey to Korban Reishit based on Parashat Bikkurim. Parashat Bikkurim (Devarim 26:5-10) is a short declaration said by each farmer when he brings his first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash, and it is the quintessential, personal statement of the Jew expressing gratitude to Hashem for having brought him from bondage in Egypt to the Land of Israel and having blessed him with the bounty and goodness. When the peculiar laws of Korban Reishit are viewed through the lens of the Parashat Bikkurim, they begin to make more sense. As Rav Kook explained, honey and leaven are normally restricted from Korbanot because Korbanot represent the simplicity, humility and recognition of incompleteness of the Jew as he stands before God, and should not contain any “frills.” However, when bringing a Korban, Korban Reishit, that symbolizes the bounty of the Land of Israel and our gratitude to Hashem for the blessings He has given us, a measure of joy is appropriate, so Se’or and Devash may be added. Devash is especially suitable for this celebration of the Land of Israel because not only does it symbolize sweetness, joy, celebration and abundance, it is also one of the seven species of Eretz Yisrael.

Another link between Se’or, Devash, and the Land of Israel can be found by answering the following question: why does the word “Chameitz,” essentially a synonym to Se’or, appear in the Pasuk that discusses Korban Minchah (VaYikra 2:11) alongside the word “Se’or”? Why does the Torah need both words? We can answer by establishing that Chameitz, or at least the lack thereof, symbolizes Pesach and our liberation from Egypt, the first stages of our new-born redemption, when we recognize our incompleteness and the tenuousness of our freedom. Seven weeks later, Shavuot and Parashat Bikkurim, the latter of which can only be said in the Land of Israel, enable us to give full voice and thanks for the fruition of that long process of redemption by means of fully leavened loaves of bread and the addition of honey in our Korban Reishit.

While the Torah is unambiguous in its assertion that the fullest life that an observant Jew can--and should--live is in Eretz Yisrael, the symbolic meaning of the Se’or and Devash which can make their appearance only upon entry into the Land can hold great significance for how we define ourselves as “Zionists.” For those of us who have not yet made the commitment of Aliyah, our Zionism is one still lacking the Se’or and Devash that can only be enjoyed in the higher stage of redemption, living in Eretz Yisrael. This is not a “Zionism” that gives lip service to expressions such as “If I could only live in Israel,” or “Maybe someday I’ll make Aliyah,” but rather a Zionist identity that passionately embraces living in Eretz Yisrael. Our Zionism experiences on the deepest emotional levels the longing to realize one’s dreams of tasting the “Se’or” and “Devash,” and it is an identity that moves continually toward that ultimate direction.

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