Dedicated in honor of the soldiers who gave their lives in the defense of their people and Land, especially those “lone soldiers” who have touched the hearts of us all. May their memories serve as a blessing and inspiration for all of the Jewish people.
The verse in this week’s Torah portion states, “You shall possess the Land and you shall settle in it, for to you have I given the Land to possess it.”(Bamidbar 33:53) On this verse, the Ramban (Nahmanides) comments: “According to my view this verse is a Positive Commandment;” in addition, he writes in his addendum to Maimonides’ Book of Mitzvot,“The fourth Mitzvah which was commanded to the Jewish people was to inherit the Land…and not to leave it in the hands of one of the other nations or desolate…and this commandment in one which applies at all times.”(Addendum to Positive Commandments 4) According to the Ramban, this commandment to dwell in the Land of Israel is one which applies at all times and is one of the cornerstones of Jewish belief and practice. In fact, the very first Mitzvah given to the very first Jew, Abraham, was to leave his birthplace and ascend (Aliyah) to settle the Land of Israel. The verse in Genesis states, “And the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.’”(Genesis 12:1) This direct command was followed by another promise:not only was Abraham to ascend to the Land, but so too his children after him would also inherit it.“And the Lord appeared to Abram, and He said, “To your seed I will give this land…”(Genesis 12:7)
Since the re-establishment of the modern day State of Israel in 1948, Jews from all corners of the globe have decided to leave their communities in the Exile and return home; however, as we know, Jewish life and community in the Diaspora continues. I hope that a review of some of the relevant source material regarding the uniqueness of dwelling in the Land of Israel, as well as the religious obligation to do so, will shed some light on this important subject and will strengthen the resolve of Jews the world over to return to their homeland.
In addition to the Biblical command found in this week’s Torah portion to settle the Land of Israel, there are vast sources of literature — spanning the gamut of Talmudic and Rabbinic writings — extolling the virtues of dwelling in the Land and the necessity of taking part in its re-building and re-inhabitation by the Jewish people. The uniqueness of dwelling in the Land is most apparent by the fact that a Jew’s entire spiritual life is elevated by the decision to reside in the Land of Israel. The Sifrei, a compilation of Talmudic teachings, writes that the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel is equal to all of the other commandments in the Torah. (Parshat Re’eh 12:29) The Midrash in Torat Kohanim writes,“Every Jew who lives in the Land of Israel accepts the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and everyone who leaves the Land is akin to one who worships idols.”(Torat Kohanim, Vayikra 25:38) In addition, an individual’s Torah study takes on a loftier dimension while he dwells in the Land, as the Midrash states, “There is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel.”(Genesis Rabbah 16:4). Finally and perhaps most importantly, writes the Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, the Jewish people as individuals and as a nation can only fulfil their true Divine potential and merit Divine Providence from God whilst they dwell in the Land. (Kuzari 2:12.2, 2:14.11)
Maimonides, in his Halachik work Mishna Torah, further extols the value of living in the Land of Israel.He writes, “The Great Sages would kiss the borders of the Land of Israel, kiss its stones, and roll in its dust…’ The Sages commented: ‘Whoever dwells in The Land of Israel will have his sins forgiven…Even one who walks four cubits there will merit the World to Come and one who is buried there receives atonement as if the place in which he is buried is an altar of atonement…”(Laws of Kings 5:10-11) Fascinatingly,the benefits of dwelling in the Land are so great that they apply even in the event that a person dwells in an environment which is not conducive to spiritual growth. As Maimonides writes, “At all times, a person should dwell in the Land of Israel even in a city whose population is primarily idol-worshippers, rather than dwell in the Diaspora even in a city whose population is primarily Jewish.”(Laws of Kings 5:12) With just the small snapshot of sources quoted above, it becomes clear that the spiritual benefits which come from dwelling in the Land of Israel are an unquestionable and fundamental concept in Jewish tradition.
Though there is no doubt as to the importance and uplifting nature of dwelling in the Land of Israel, there still remains a question as to whether or not the positive commandment to settle the Land applies in our days. Furthermore, is there a religious obligation to proactively leave one’s present home in the Exile and make Aliyah?
In answer to the first question, there are a number of sources who agree with the Ramban’s opinion mentioned above and opine that there is a constant positive Mitzvah to settle in the Land of Israel – even in our times. The majority of the Rishonim (early Rabbinic Authorities, 11th -15th Centuries) including The Rambam, Rashi, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, The Rashba, The Ritva, The Rosh, The Ran, and the author of the Shulchan Aruch Rabbi Yosef Caro were all of this belief. Similarly, the vast majority of Achronim(later Rabbinic Authorities, 16th Century-present) are also of this opinion(1).Amongst them are The Alshich, the author of the Shelah Rabbi Isaiah Horovitz, The Vilna Goan, Rabbi Yaakov Emden, The Chatam Sofer, Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector of Kovno, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk ,The Netziv, The Chazon Ish, Rav Shach, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.Though there are a number of dissenting opinions – most notably Rabbanue Chaim, The Megilat Ester, and The Minchat Eliezer — the overall voice of Rabbinic authorities from Talmudic times until today speak with a clear voice and affirm that there is a positive commandment to dwell in the Land of Israel at all times.
Therefore, it becomes necessary to discuss the religious obligation to make Aliyah, to ascend to the Land of Israel in our times. In his excellent work “Land of My Past, Land of My Future” author Michael Kaufman discusses the concept of Aliyah. He quotes the opinions of great Torah scholars and esteemed leaders from contemporary times — such as Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, The Chazon Ish, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef — who declare the importance and necessity of Aliyah to the Land of Israel. (2)(Land of My Past, Land of My Future, pg. 42-47) Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is even stronger in his opinion, stating that this obligation to ascend to the Land outweighs even the important commandment of honoring one’s parents. He writes,“Although respecting one’s parents is a great Mitzvah, considered equivalent to honoring the Holy One… The Mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel supersedes honoring one’s father and mother… and is equivalent to all of the other Mitzvot combined…”(Responsa Yechaveh Da’at 4:49)
Resting on the broad shoulders of eminent Sages throughout the generations, Jewish people centuries over have surmounted great hardship and endured unfathomable suffering in order to fulfill this central mitzvah of making Aliyah. Throughout it all, we as a nation have never stopped yearning for a national and individual return to our homeland. Especially in the days ahead, may we all merit to have the strength and fortitude to fulfill the verse, “You shall possess the Land and you shall settle, in it for to you have I given the Land to possess it.” (Bamidbar 33:53)
(1) A partial list of the opinions of Rishonim and Achronim who believe that the Mitzvah to dwell in the Land of Israel applies at all times: Maimonides d.1204 (Hilchot Ishut 13:20, Hilchot Avadim 8:9) The Tashbetz d.1444 (Responsa3:288), Rabbi Moshe Isserlis d.1572, the Rama (Yoreh Deah Even Haezer 1:3) the Alshich d.1593 (Commentary on Sefer Devarim 1:3-7) the Sefer Chareidim d.1600 (57:15), Rabbi Isaiah Horovitz d.1630 (Shelah Shar HaOtiyot-Kedushat Hamokom) the Maharit d.1639 (2:28) Beit Shmuel d. 1700? (Yoreh Deah Even Haezer 1:3) Responsa Me’il Tzeddakah d.1712 (Sec26) Rabbi Yaakov Emden d.1776 (Mor Uketziah, vol.2, pg.15) The Vilna Goan d.1797( gloss on Yoreh Deah 267:84, subsection 161) Chida d.1806 (Responsa Yosef Ometz 52, Yair Ozen10:5) Chochmat Adam d. 1820 (Shar Mishpatie HaAretz 11:3) the Pe’at Hashulchan d.1839(chapter 1, Beit Yisrael 14) Chatam Sofer d.1839(Yoreh Deah 233), Pitchay Teshuva d.1868(Yoreh Deah Even Haezer 1:3) Rabbi Chayim Palagi d.1869 (Responsa Nishmat Kol Chai, Yoreh Deah 48) Maharam Schick d.1879(Yoreh Deah 225), Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector of Kovno d.1896 (Shivat Tzion, vol. 1 pg. 16) the Netziv d.1893 (Letters of the Netziv, Sefer Shivat Tzion)Rabbi Abraham Bornstein d.1910(Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 454) Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk d.1926(Parshat Lech Lecha 12:5), , The Chazon Ish d.1953 (Kovetz Iggrot, letter 175)Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, Rebbe of Satmar d.1979(Vayoel Moshe, Mamar Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, 55-68) Rav Moshe Feinstein d.1986 (Responsa Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 102) Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach d.1995 (Responsa Minchat Shlomo 2-3 158:22, 100:10) Rav Shach d.2001 (Letters and writings Volume 1, Letter 9 pg 22) Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg d.2006 (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 7:48:12) Rabbi Ovadia Yosef d.2013 (Responsa Yechaveh Da’at 4:49) The works MeAfar Kumi, Ki Et Lechenena, Land of My Past Land of My Future, were invaluable in assembling this list.
(2) Even Rav Moshe Feinstein, who writes that there is no compulsory obligation to ascend to the Land, is of the opinion that if one decides to make Aliyah they are fulfilling a Mitzvah in the same way as one who wears a four-cornered garment with Tzitzit does. (Responsa Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 102)