One of my favorite movies is “Field of Dreams”, a 1989 classic starring Kevin Costner. In this movie, Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer named Ray Kinsella. Costner’s character is a huge baseball fan that keeps having dreams, with the line “If you build it, they will come”. He interprets this to mean that if he turns his corn farm into a baseball field, the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox (who were accused of cheating) would play one more game.
As unbelievable as it sounds, he does exactly that! He cuts down his corn, uproots everything that had been planted and plows his field into a real, major-league baseball field. The entire time, with everyone against him, his sole motivation is that one simple line; “If you build it, they will come.” This guides him, motivates him and is at the core of everything he does.
Since the movie is almost 30 years old, I won’t mind ruining the surprise for you. Yes, they come. Ray Kinsella may no longer have a corn field, but he did manage to bring his dream to fruition. Against all odds, he built it and – just like they said – they all came and played that final game.
I think of this movie every year at this time, in the weeks following Tisha B’av. We currently find ourselves in the period called “The 7 Weeks of Comfort” when our Rabbis chose very special sections to read for our weekly Haftorah, which focus on comfort and consolation, after the horrific destruction of the Temples. These are also the days when we celebrated one of the most festive days of the year, known as Tu B’av (the 15th of Av). Many wonderful things happened on that day, which made it so joyful, but I want to focus on just one of those things… because it has a deep connection to Kevin Costner’s movie.
We are all familiar with King David and the successor to his throne, his son, King Shlomo. What very few people understand is what happened next. When King Shlomo died, his kingdom was tragically divided. The tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin were led by Shlomo’s son – and the rightful ruler – Rechav’am. It was known as the Kingdom of Yehuda and was based in Jerusalem. The remaining ten tribes were led by Yeravam ben Nevat and was known as the Kingdom of Yisrael. Yeravam made the center of his kingdom in northern Israel. This happened in the year 2964 (over 2,800 years ago).
For the first three years (2964-2967) the Jews from all over the country continued to make pilgrimages to the Bet Ha’Mikdash in Jersusalem. This angered Yeravam very much as he felt it strengthened Rechav’am. Finally, he did something very drastic. In the year 2967 Yeravam set up border guards to physically prevent the Jews from going to the Bet Ha’Mikdash. As unbelievable as it sounds, this horrific policy continued for 220 years!! Imagine that; Jewish kings preventing fellow Jews from bringing the Korban Pesach, from witnessing the awesome service of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, from bringing personal sacrifices, from dancing on Sukkot in the Temple courtyard… incredible! This lasted for 220 years until the 15 of Av 3187 when the northern king, Hoshea ben Elah, removed the guards and became the first king of Yisrael to allow the ten tribes to go to the Bet Ha’Mikdash! (See Talmud Gittin 88a and also Ta’anit 30b-31a) What a happy day that was… Tu B’av!!
That’s the good news. Fast forward 9 years and you will see that during the reign of this same king Hoshea ben Elah, all ten tribes of Yisrael were exiled! To this day we do not know where they are and they are known as “The Lost Tribes”. How tragic was that?? 10 of Am Yisrael’s 12 tribes lost. How many Jews would there be in the world today if we had all 12 tribes? While many studies have been conducted over the years, and various scholars claim to have discovered some of these lost Jews – such as the B’nei Menashe (from the tribe of Menashe) – these are just a handful when compared to hundreds of millions of lost Jews. That’s the bad news.
Rabbi Nachman Kahana, Talmudic scholar and author of the “Mey Menuchot” commentary of Tosafot, asks a very serious question; Why did the exile of the 10 tribes happen during the days of Hoshea ben Elah? After all, he did a good thing!! As stated above, the Talmud says that his actions – of removing the border guards – resulted in Jews being able to come to the Bet Ha’Mikdash! We dance to this very day on the 15th of Av to celebrate that great event… and yet, during his reign the 10 tribes were expelled, exiled and disappeared?? How can that be??
“If you build it, they will come”, said the voice in Kevin Costner’s dream in the movie. So he built it… and they came.
“If you remove the security guards, they will come (to the Bet Ha’Mikdash)”, said the voice in Hoshea ben Elah’s dream but tragically… they never came.
Rabbi Kahana explains that for 220 years the Jews in northern Israel were not punished because they physically could not come to the Bet Ha’Mikdash! There were guards, walls, fences and the gate was shut. There was literally no way of going from northern Israel to Jerusalem. It was simply impossible. But when Hoshea ben Elah removed those guards and opened the gates, the excuses were gone. Jews could travel freely to Jerusalem yet… they didn’t come. As their leader, Hoshea ben Elah was punished. Yes, he did a wonderful thing by removing the guards but by not making sure that the people actually went to the Bet Ha’Mikdash – even though they could at any moment – both he and the people were punished and sent into oblivion. They disappeared… maybe forever.
The message for our day is crystal clear. For hundreds of years Jews could not travel to Israel. The roads were dangerous, there were horrible diseases in the land and there was little chance of making a living. We all dreamed of the land and said to Hashem; “If You build it, we will come”. We begged, cried and pleaded with Hashem to rebuild the land and make it possible for us to come.
Well, Hashem listened. Thanks to His holy helpers – tens of thousands of hard-working pioneers and brave soldiers – the land has been built. Nothing is lacking. You can fly to Israel in comfort while watching movies and eating glatt kosher food. There are amazing places to live in Israel, incredible educational opportunities, good jobs for men and women and the chance to do what has not been done in close to 2,000 years!
Our job now is to learn from Hoshea ben Elah. Everything is ready and the guards have been removed. We need only one thing: The Jews to come home.
If you build it, they will come… Attention fellow Jews: It has been built. Time to come home.