One of Judaism’s greatest poets, Yehuda HaLevi, said words that became in time the spiritual underpinning of political, cultural and religious Zionism:
Gu-fi b’ki-tzei ma-arav v’li-bi b’miz’rach!
“My body is in the west, but my heart is in the east!”
Halevi’s central life pre-occupation was fulfilling his longing for oneness with God and doing God’s will. The following poem is particularly beautiful for that spiritual message and touches a central theme during this month of Elul and in the upcoming Days of Awe.
B’chol li-bi k’ra-ti-cha
“I have sought Your nearness,
With all my heart have I called You,
And going out to meet You
I found You coming toward me.”
(From Selected Poems of Yehuda HaLevi, translated by Nina Salaman)
Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141 CE) was born in Spain and traveled to Egypt on his way to Eretz Yisrael ("The Land of Israel"). The Holy Land in those years, however, was a dangerous place for the lone traveler and Halevi’s friends urged him not to go. Rather, they begged him to remain in Egypt and live out his years there. Halevi’s dream, however, of living in Eretz Yisrael could not be denied, and so at last he made aliyah in 1140 at the age of 65. No one knows what were the circumstances surrounding his fate, but he died within that same year.