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Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
In honor of today’s 20th year yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir Kahane, one of the greatest rabbis of our time, may Hashem avenge his murder, we are presenting in three installments, an abridged version of his chapter, “The Mitzvah to Live in Eretz Yisrael,” from his opus work, “The Jewish Idea.” In addition to his path-breaking struggle on behalf of Soviet Jewry, his unparalleled and fearless activism and total self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish Nation and Eretz Yisrael, and his bringing myriads of Jews to Torah Judaism and to a new spirit of Jewish pride, Rabbi Kahane was a Torah scholar par excellance, whose banner was TRUTH, the whole TRUTH and nothing but the TRUTH.
For any reader who may be confused about the obligation to live in the Land of Israel, this sweeping halachic and Talmudic overview of Rabbi Kahane will surely put all uncertainty to rest.
[From “The Jewish Idea,” Volume 2]
LIVING IN ERETZ YISRAEL is a mitzvah de’oraita - a mitzvah commanded by the Torah itself. Not only that, but it carries equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined. In fact, it supersedes them in importance, because all of them are dependent upon it, since we are commanded to perform all the commandments there, in the Land of Israel.
The Torah says, “When the L-rd your G-d cuts off the nations whom you are approaching to inherit, you shall expel them and live in their land” (Deut. 12:29). This verse explicitly states the two mitzvot tied to Eretz Yisrael. The first is expelling the non-Jews. The Hebrew corresponding to, “whom you are approaching to inherit,” is rendered by Onkelos as, “Whom you are approaching to banish.” The second is “You shall live in their land.” It is a mitzvah to live in their land, in Eretz Yisrael.
Regarding this verse our Sages said (Sifri, Re’ei, 80):
“You shall expel them”: R. Yehudah ben Beterah and R. Matia ben Cheresh and R. Chanina ben Achi and R. Yehoshua and R. Yonatan were leaving the Land, and they arrived at Paltum and they remembered Eretz Yisrael. Their eyes brimmed over and their tears poured forth, and they tore their garments and they recited this verse: “You shall inherit it [the Land] and dwell therein, and you shall carefully keep all the laws” (Deut. 11:31-32). They returned to their place and they said, “Living in Eretz Yisrael equals the combined weight of all the mitzvot in the Torah.”
Here our Sages state explicitly that living in Eretz Yisrael is not just a mitzvah but such a great mitzvah that it equals all the others in their combined value. Likewise, it emerges clearly from here that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael does not depend on the existence of the Temple. After all, the anecdote above occurred after the Destruction. All the same, the scholars of the Mishnah established that living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah from the Torah, and so is the prohibition against leaving Eretz Yisrael.
Our Sages said further (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah, 5:2):
“A person should live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and not outside the Land, even in a city that is entirely Jewish. This teaches that living in Eretz Yisrael is of equal weight to all the mitzvot of the Torah combined. If someone is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it is as though he is buried under the altar. One should not leave Eretz Yisrael unless the cost of wheat rises to two se’ah for a sela. Rabbi Shimon said, “This refers to where one lacks the wherewithal to buy it, but if he has the wherewithal, then even if it is one se’ah for a sela, he should not leave.”
Likewise, Rabbi Shimon used to say, “Elimelech was one of the great luminaries of the generation and leaders of the community, and because he left Eretz Yisrael, both he and his sons died of hunger, while all of Israel survived on their land, as it says, ‘All the city was astir concerning them’ (Ruth 1:19). This teaches that the whole city survived, while he and his sons died of hunger.
“Now then, when it says, ‘I shall return safely to my father’s house’ (Gen. 28:21), why should it have to add, ‘Then the L-rd will be for me a G-d’ (Ibid.)? Yet the Torah says, ‘To give you the Land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you’ (Lev. 25:38). As long as you are in Canaan, I shall be for you a G-d. If you are not in Canaan, I am not for you a G-d...”
“Likewise, David said, ‘For they have driven me out this day, that I should not cling to the inheritance of the L-rd [saying, ‘Go serve other gods’]’ (I Sam. 26:19). Would it occur to you that King David was an idolater? Rather, he expounded as follows: ‘Whoever abandons Eretz Yisrael in peacetime and leaves it, it is as though he is worshipping idols, as it says, “I will plant them in this land in truth [with all My heart and with all My soul]” (Jer. 32:41).’ If they are not on this land, they are not truly ‘planted before Me,’ not with all My heart and not with all My soul.”
The Talmud likewise said (Ketuvot 110b):
“The Rabbis learned: One should always live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and he should not live outside Eretz Yisrael, even in a city with a Jewish majority. Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has a G-d, and whoever lives outside of Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has no G-d, as it says, “To give you the Land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you” (Lev. 25:38). And does anyone who does not live in the Land not have a G-d? Rather, the point is that if someone lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idols. King David said, “For they have driven me out this day that I should not cling to the inheritance of the L-rd, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19). Did anyone tell King David to serve other gods? Rather, this teaches that whoever lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idolatry.”
“Everyone can compel moving to Eretz Yisrael.” Our Sages also established that a husband can force his wife to go up to Eretz Yisrael because of the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, and a woman can force her husband, and even a slave can force his master. We learn in the Mishna (Ketuvot 110b):
“The Rabbis learned: If the husband says to go up to Eretz Yisrael and the wife says not to, we compel her to go up. Otherwise, she may be divorced without receiving a ketuvah. If she says to go up and he says not to, we compel him to go up. Otherwise, he must divorce her and give her a ketuvah. If she says to leave Eretz Yisrael and he says not to, we compel her not to leave. Otherwise, she may be divorced without receiving a ketuvah. If he says to leave and she says not to, we compel him not to leave, or to divorce her and give her a ketuvah.”
This Mishnah was codified as the law for all times by the following poskim [legal authorities]: Rambam (Ishut, 13:19-20); Rif (Ketuvot 110b); Rosh (Ibid., Ch. 13, siman 18); S’mag (Negative Precepts, 81); Piskei HaRid (Ketuvot, Ibid.); Ritva, Ran and Nemukei Yosef (Ibid.), and many, many more. This is because the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for all times. Rabbi Yosef Karo ruled the same way (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 75:3-4, see there). Following is Pit’chei Teshuvah (ad loc., se’if katan 6):
“The Ramban counted this mitzvah among the  mitzvot in accordance with, “Inherit it and dwell there” (Deut. 11:31), and it has equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined (Sifri, Re’ei, 80). Also, Terumat HaDeshen in his rulings (siman 88) emphasized the importance of this mitzvah. An exception is Tosafot on Ketuvot in the name of R. Chaim Cohen... Indeed Maharit in his responsa, siman 28, and in his chidushim [original thoughts] on Ketuvot, proved that some errant student had written this idea in the name of Tosafot, and that the quotation was entirely non-authoritative. Maharit is correct, and Netivot Mishpat made the same point. It follows that all times are equal as far as fulfillment of this mitzvah, and such is clear from all the medieval and later Sages who ruled that we compel the wife to go up to Eretz Yisrael with her husband, as in the simple text of the Mishnah.”
We also find in Bava Kamma (80b):
“When one purchases a house in Eretz Yisrael, we may write the deed of purchase even on the Sabbath. May we actually write it on the Sabbath? Rather... one may tell a non-Jew to write it. And even though telling a non-Jew to perform work forbidden on the Sabbath is itself Rabbinically forbidden, the Rabbis did not apply decrees where settling Eretz Yisrael was at stake.”
Rashi comments (Gittin 8b: “I.e., expelling the nations and settling Jews there.” Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 6:11) ruled this way, too, as well as Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:11. If the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael did not apply today, or even if it were only Rabbinic in force, how would we dare permit this Rabbinically forbidden act on the Sabbath? After all, Tosafot wrote (Bava Kamma 80b: “Specifically for this mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, but for another mitzvah, telling a non-Jew to violate a Torah prohibition is not permitted.”
“Our Sages further said (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 8:4) regarding one who returns from the front because he has built a new house and not lived in it: I might think that someone who has built a new house outside the Land should have to return from the front. It therefore says, “And has not begun to live in it” (Deut. 20:5). The verse refers to one for whom living in it is a mitzvah, and excludes all others.
“P’nei Moshe” comments (Ibid.), “One for whom it is a mitzvah: In Eretz Yisrael, due to the mitzvah of living in the Land. This excludes outside the Land, where there is no mitzvah to live there.”
Ramban further wrote (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precepts Not Mentioned by Rambam, Mitzvah 4):
“We were commanded to occupy the land G-d gave our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We must not abandon it to any other nation, or leave it desolate. G-d said, “Clear out the Land and live in it, since it is to you that I am giving the Land to occupy” (Num. 33:53-54). Proof that this is a mitzvah comes from G-d’s saying in the spy episode, “Head north and occupy it, as the L-rd G-d of your fathers has told you. Do not be afraid and do not be concerned” (Deut. 1:21). Furthermore it says, “At Kadesh Barnea, the L-rd sent you forth and said, ‘Head north and occupy the land that I have given you’” (Deut. 9:23). And regarding the spies’ not wishing to go up to the Land, it says, “You rebelled against the L-rd” (Deut. 1:26,43; 9:23), and, “You would not listen” (Deut. 1:43). G-d’s word to Israel had been a command rather than a promise.”
So effusively did our Sages speak of living in Eretz Yisrael that the Talmud states (Ketuvot 110b), “Whoever leaves Eretz Yisrael and dwells outside of it should be viewed as an idolater, as it says, ‘They have driven me out this day that I should not cleave unto the L-rd’s inheritance, saying, “Go serve other gods” ’ (I Sam. 26:19).”
This, and other such expressions in this regard, find their source in our having been commanded to occupy the Land and to dwell in it. It is, thus, a positive precept for all time, and every single Jew is obligated in this, even during the exile, as the Talmud is known to state in many places.
It is, thus, clear that G-d not only gave the Jewish People a special land, but also decreed that they must live in it. Living in the Land is not merely a right, but a duty that cannot be forgone. It is a mitzvah, a Divine decree, that we must live in Eretz Yisrael under G-d’s dominion, sanctifying His name, in order to create a holy state and society which clings to mitzvot completely and properly, uninfluenced by the alien, false culture of the nations.
At the same time, it is an unforgivable, loathsome sin to refuse to live in Eretz Yisrael, and to prefer the depravity of the exile and foreign rule. It is a Chilul Hashem, and Israel are thus exposed to the influence of the nations and their abominations.
The greatest have failed in this important mitzvah. G-d, therefore, was angry at our ancestors in the desert when they refused to go up to Eretz Yisrael, declaring, “Let us appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4). Surely the spies Moses sent out were prominent and righteous, as our Sages said (Tanchuma, Shelach, 4): “Send out men” (Num. 13:2): This is in line with, “He that sends a message by the hand of a fool, severs his own feet and imbibes damage” (Prov. 26:6). Were the spies fools? Surely the Torah said, “Send out men [anashim],” and anashim always refers to righteous persons... Rather, they were called fools only because they slandered the Land... All the same, they were great men who made themselves into fools.”
Thus, they were great and righteous men, yet they sinned in turning their backs on Eretz Yisrael and wishing to settle down in the exile, in Egypt. As King David said, “They scorned the Desirable Land, they believed not His word” (Ps. 106:24).
Here we see that even the great luminaries of the generation made themselves fools in that they wished to return to Egypt and treated the Desirable Land with contempt. This happened only because they feared the strength of the nations there and did not trust in G-d, as it says, “They believed not His word.”
Ostensibly, they had a good argument, “pikuach nefesh,” i.e., they wished to prevent loss of life. The spies said of the Canaanites, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight” (Num. 13:33). They were certain that the war against the Canaanites would be brutal, and it would be hard to defeat the giants. Moreover, even if they defeated them, Israelites would fall. After all, we do not rely on miracles, they argued.
For that reason, these great and righteous men rendered a halachic ruling that “pikuach nefesh” overrides Eretz Yisrael in its entirety. They certainly did not intend to abandon G-d’s Torah, but rather to return to Egypt and keep it there. This, however, was their sin, because G-d had decreed that it was forbidden for them to dwell outside the Land, and that only in Eretz Yisrael could they sanctify His Name and live in the isolation of Torah. For that reason, the excuse of danger to the nation does not override the commandment to dwell there, the only place the Jewish People can keep the Torah completely and properly.
A war over the mitzvah of living in and conquering Eretz Yisrael is a “milchemet mitzvah,” which no danger to life overrides. Quite the contrary, this mitzvah overrides such danger, as Ramban wrote in Sefer HaMitzvot (Ibid., Mitzvah 4):
“This is what our Sages call ‘milchemet mitzvah.’ In the Talmud (Sotah 44b) Rava said, ‘Joshua’s war of conquest was an obligatory duty according to all opinions.’ One should not make the mistake of saying that this mitzvah only applies to the seven nations we were commanded to destroy... That is not so. We were commanded to destroy those nations when they fought against us, and had they wished to make peace we could have done so under specific conditions. Yet, we cannot leave the Land in their control or in the control of any other nations in any generation.”
Fear of the nations is just one dismal reason the Jewish People treat the Desirable Land with contempt (longing for the good life is another). Precisely because of this delusion that the exile is safe but Eretz Yisrael is dangerous, G-d became angry and decreed death in the desert for the generation that left Egypt, adding, “You said your children will be taken captive, but they will be the ones I will bring there, so that they will know the land that you rejected” (Num. 14:31). Those who feared that they and their children would die in Eretz Yisrael, died precisely in the desert, whereas their children entered the Land and lived. This teaches that the only security for the Jewish People is in Eretz Yisrael, whereas the exile is their burial place. Our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 1)): “‘You will live securely in your land’ (Lev. 26:5): In your land you will live securely, but not outside it.” Likewise, Obadiah said (v. 17), “Upon Mount Zion there shall be deliverance.” In other words, in Zion but not in the exile.
G-d, Who knows His people’s mind, knew, as well, that the Jews would always prefer the non-Jewish life of the exile, whose abominable depravity is so sweet to the sinner among us. As King Solomon said, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov. 9:17). G-d, therefore, decreed that Israel would never find safety and security in the exile. Regarding Noach, Bereshit Rabbah, 33:6, teaches:
“He sent out the dove.... It could find no place to rest its feet” (Gen. 8:8-9): Yehuda bar Nachman said in the name of R. Shimon, “Had it found a place to rest, it would not have returned. Just so, it says, ‘She dwells among the nations; she finds no rest’ (Lam. 1:3); and, ‘Among those nations you shall have no repose; there shall be no rest for the soles of your foot’ (Deut. 28:65). If Israel found rest in the exile, they would not return.”
Not in vain did our Sages (Mechilta, Bo, 1) compare the exile to a cemetery, for if Israel refuse to dwell in Eretz Yisrael, if they spurn it for the depravity of the exile, they have no future, but suffering, tragedy and annihilation. As the Prophet Ezekiel said (20:32-34): “That which comes into your mind shall not be at all, your saying, ‘We will be like the nations, to serve wood and stone.’ As I live - says the L-rd G-d - with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with fury poured out, will I be King over you. I will remove you from the nations and gather you in from the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with fury poured out.”
In saying, “to serve wood and stone,” Ezekiel did not mean that Israel actually wished to worship idols. His point was really in line with Onkelos’s translation, quoted above, of the verse, “There you will serve other gods, wood and stone, unknown to you and your fathers” (Deut. 28:64): “There you will serve nations that worship idols.” That is, Israel would not actually worship idols, but would serve the non-Jews who worship idols. This bondage to these nations constitutes terrible Chilul Hashem, for it thereby appears as if their idols have vanquished G-d, Heaven forbid. Likewise, Yonatan rendered the same verse, “You will pay taxes to idol worshippers.” In other words, instead of the nations being subjugated to Israel in Eretz Yisrael with taxes and servitude, Israel will be subject to them the same way. Jeremiah says (5:19), “Just as you have forsaken Me and served strange gods in your land, so shall you serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”
Today’s alien culture has replaced idolatry, one more reason G-d promised not to let Israel dwell among the nations. G-d said, “With fury poured out will I be King over you” (Ezek. 20:33), and He said He would remove Israel from the exile by force - at least those who survive the suffering there and are not killed by G-d like the Jews who, despising Eretz Yisrael, preferred to remain in Egypt. (It is known that the last redemption will be like the first.)
Woe to the stubborn children who think it possible to flee G-d and Eretz Yisrael, and who think that despite their having lost their homeland, Eretz Yisrael, they will be able to settle in the exile in ease. Of them it says, “I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them” (Jer. 9:15).
G-d have mercy!
Everyone thought Ali was finished that hot sweltering African night as he lay back on the ropes absorbing the blows.
Then with one sudden, startling, sensational punch that brought the world to its feet, big bad George crashed to the canvas for the count!
Stayed tuned for more.
[PS - Until further notice, no talkbacks will be allowed on this blog.]
Until you children stop calling each other bad names, this blog is shut down. This is a forum to debate issues, not to chastise others with differing lifestyles and views. As we say at the end of every Amidah prayer: “My G-d, guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking falsehood. May my soul be silent to those who insult me; be my soul lowly to all as the dust.”
Perhaps my piercing insights, controversial use of visuals, and the exaggerated style of my writing are responsible for the locker-room tone of the talkbacks. If so, I apologize. Ratings aren’t everything. You can’t take talkback tallies to Olam Haba. Enough is enough is enough.
Great title, isn’t it? I couldn’t resist borrowing it from DACON9. It says it all. Sometimes a good title can say more than an entire blog. It’s got to be catchy, and at the same time, capture the essence of the essay. This title does both to a tee. Don’t you agree?
The truth is, I like DACON9. He’s a sweetheart. He’s really sincere and well-meaning. I can tell that he likes me too. I’m sure that he secretly laughs at my jokes. Especially the photo of the world champ gefilta-fish eater. Or is he the lead cantor in the Great Reform Synagogue of Tokyo? Just looking at that picture cracks me up.
DACON’s very right. I am unhappy. I am unhappy that millions of Jews are wallowing in the darkness of galut. I am unhappy that so many of my brothers and sisters are so lost, and missing out on the light, trying so hard to be good Frenchmen and Englishmen and Australians and lovers of baseball. I’m miserable about it. My brothers and sisters are sinking in quicksand, and they think they are swimming. After 2000 years of exile amongst the gentiles, the ALL MERCIFUL returned us to our homeland, built up our cities, turned the once impoverished country into a world leader in agriculture, science, technology, computers, medicine, military and space hardware… you name it, as well as being the Torah center of the world, with more yeshivot, ulpanot, and heders than everywhere else combined, and yet, so so many of my dearly loved brothers and sisters haven’t opened their eyes and realized what’s taken place.
It isn’t the same old ghetto Judaism-in-a-jar anymore. There’s been a big change!
Nonetheless, DACON9 is right about another thing too. Aliyah isn’t for everyone. Some people just can’t make it, for whatever reason, whether it’s family problems, health troubles, personal psychosis, genuine difficulties in finding a livelihood. But these are exceptions to the general, all-encompassing Torah obligation to make aliyah that applies to every Jew, in every generation. Certainly, as Rav Shapira noted in our previous blog, even if parents can’t come, all young people in the Diaspora should be educated to make Israel their goal.
Since DACON9 doesn’t like to learn things from the narratives of the Torah, the lives of our Forefathers, and the teachings of our Prophets, let’s have a look at the “Shulchan Aruch,” the universally honored, and most widely-accepted compilation of Jewish Law, which DACON9 is always mentioning. While the derivation of halacha is a long and complicated exploration through mountains of texts and Talmudic opinions, the “Shulchan Aruch,” compiled by the incredible Torah giant, Rabbi Yosef Caro, of blessed memory, is an excellent starting place.
The “Shulchan Aruch” discusses a situation in which a husband wants to make aliyah but the wife doesn’t. What do you do?
The “Shulchan Aruch” states:
“The Beit Din (Jewish Court) compels her to go on aliyah with her husband, even if it means giving up a beautiful house in the Diaspora for a miserable house in Eretz Yisrael; even from a place in the Diaspora where most of the inhabitants are Jews to go to a place in Eretz Yisrael where most of the inhabitants are gentiles” (Shulchan Aruch, Aven HaEzer, 75:3).
Right away we see that living in Eretz Yisrael must be a very important mitzvah, indeed, if the holy bonds of wedlock fall aside in deference to a husband’s desire to make aliyah against his wife’s wishes.
Now, I am not suggesting that any frustrated Jerusalem-stricken husband out there in Internet Village use this as his one-way ticket in dissolving his marriage to go live in Israel. Sensitive marital matters like this must be carefully weighed and discussed thoroughly with the most competent rabbis at hand. Certainly everything must be done to help keep the marriage intact, like a long vacation trial-run in Israel to seriously check things out, to give the wife a chance to experience the great benefits of living in Israel.
The “Shulchan Aruch” continues:
“Similarly, a person isn’t allowed to leave the Land of Israel to go live in the Diaspora, even from a miserable dwelling to go to a good dwelling; or from a place where most of the inhabitants are gentile to go to a place in the Diaspora where most of the inhabitants are Jewish.”
From this we can clearly see that living in Eretz Yisrael is no small matter.
The “Shulchan Aruch” continues:
“If the wife wants to leave the Diaspora to live in Eretz Yisrael, and the husband does not, the court compels him to grant her a divorce and give her the full sum of her Ketubah payment.”
In other words, the mitzvah of living in Israel overrides the holy bond of marriage – by the enactment of the Bein Din itself. So it is clear that going on aliyah is a mitzvah.
The “Shulchan Aruch” adds:
“There is someone who says that we force the marriage partner to make aliyah to Eretz Yisrael when this is possible without encountering danger.”
A little ways down the same page can be found several commentaries to the “Shulchan Aruch.” One of them, the “Pitchei Tshuva,” clarifies matters by presenting the opinions of other major halachic authorities. Regarding the question of danger and its influence on aliyah, the “Pitchei Tshuva” asserts that the mitzvah of going to Eretz Yisrael to live applies nowadays as well. He cites the prominent halachic authority, the “M’il Tzedakah” who mentions a case brought before a Beit Din in which a husband wanted to bring his family on aliyah. The court held up their departure, agreeing with the wife who contested that the long sea journey, and change of environment , would be a burden and strain on their two and three-year-old children. When asked if they should indeed postpone the journey until the children were older, or ignore the Beit Din’s decision, the “M’il Tzedakah” explains why he disagrees with the court’s ruling, saying that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is a commandment from the Torah that applies in all generations, as established by the Ramban, who lists it among the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. He adds that all of the (Rishonim and Achronim) earlier and later Torah authorities agreed on this, and that it is a mitzvah equal in weight to all other commandments in the Torah, as stated in the “Sifre.” He notes that the noted halachic authority, “Terumat HaDeshen,” also stresses the importance of the mitzvah, and says that the opinion of the Tosefot in tractate Ketubah in the name of Rabbi Chaim Cohen that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel no longer applies in our times, because of danger and the inability to keep some of the land-related mitzvot there, was proven to be the words of a mistaken student, as recorded by the respected halachic authority, the “Maharit.” He explains that the claim about putting children in danger via traveling to Israel does not appear anywhere in related halachic discussions, that in fact families regularly take their children on sea voyages, and that children are no more in danger from sea storms or pirates than adults. The opposite is true, he asserts, in that children suffer far less from the disturbances of sea sickness and voyages at sea than adults. He explains that what halachically determines whether a journey is dangerous, or not, is whether or not merchants are accustomed to making the same voyage for business, was indeed the case at that time regarding merchant travel to the Land of Israel. He maintains that if a Beit Din were to say that the sun had set, and a person goes outside and sees that the sun is still high in the sky, the person doesn’t have to accept the court’s faulty ruling. This is similar, he says, to the case of aliyah-bound Rabbi Zera, who avoided conferring with his teacher, Rabbi Yehuda before he departed, because he knew that Rabbi Yehuda would oppose his going.
Therefore, the “Pitchei Tshuva” concludes, the wife’s insistence that going to Israel would endanger the children is not a consideration and she should be forced to go with her husband. However, he adds, if she could prove that there was absolutely no way that they could make a livelihood in Israel, and they would have to live in abject poverty, and depend on charity, something which could indeed cause the children harm, then the Beit Din cannot compel her to make aliyah.
This last consideration of poverty was a very real factor in the time of the “Pitchei Tshuva,” well before the waves of modern aliyah that brought a miraculous rebirth to the Land. Today however, the economy of Israel is booming, jobs are available, and while an immigrant from the West may have to suffer a loss in wages, it doesn’t come close to starvation in any shape or form.
The Gemara states that G-d gave three gifts to the Jewish People and each one is won through suffering; the Torah, the World to Come, and Eretz Yisrael. So, if you have to suffer a drop in your salary (or your pride), it’s not the end of the world.
It’s the beginning.
Among the reasons some people cite for not coming on aliyah is the halachic response of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, one of the most foremost Torah authorities of the last generation. Rabbi Feinstein, who lived in New York, was asked if aliyah to Eretz Yisrael was an obligatory mitzvah of the Torah, as stated by the Ramban, or a mitzvah that isn’t obligatory in our times, as a Tosefot in the name of R. Haim HaCohen implies (Ketubot 110, considered to have been recorded by a mistaken student).
Rabbi Feinstein answered that it indeed it is a mitzvah from the Torah, as the Ramban wrote, and about which most Torah authorities, both Rishonim and Achronim, agreed (See the Pitchei Tshuva to the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, Section 75:6), but that it was, in his opinion, a voluntary mitzvah which wasn’t obligatory (Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer, 102). He compared it to the Torah commandment of tzitzit, which requires putting tzitzit on a garment that you wear if it has four corners. But if you don’t choose to wear such a garment, you don’t have to perform the commandment of tzitzit.
A wonderful translation by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman of Rabbi Tzvi Glatt’s book “Rise From the Dust” (“M’Afar Kumi,”) has just been published.
The book is an in-depth study of the mitzvah of aliyah and living in the Land of Israel. The main topic analyzed is this very question, whether the mitzvah of aliyah is obligatory in our times. Rabbi Glatt, may Hashem revenge his blood, who was murdered by an Arab terrorist in Hevron, clearly demonstrates that aliyah is a Torah mitzvah obligatory in our times, as the Ramban and a long list of eminent Halachic authorities confirm. The translator, Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, has also given us the stunning translation of the classic halachic treatise on the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” written by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, may Hashem revenge his blood, an Ultra-Orthodox Torah authority who was murdered by the Nazis. Rabbi Teichtal was vehemently anti-Zionist at the beginning of the war, but changed his thinking completely as the Nazi horror gained momentum throughout Europe. The book, as I noted in the past, is surely one of the most important Torah treasures of our times, and must reading for all serious Jews.
Included in the book, “Rise From the Dust” is a response written by Israel’s former Chief Rabbi, the revered Rabbi Avraham Shapira, of blessed memory, Head of the High Rabbinical Court, and Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. While holding Rabbi Feinstein in upmost respect, regarding the mitzvah of aliyah, he strongly disagrees with Rabbi Feinstein, questioning the whole notion of a “voluntary” mitzvah.
Here are some excerpts of his halachic essay which appears in translation in “Rise From the Dust” available in bookstores in Israel, or orderable via the translator by writing to Rabbi Lichtman at firstname.lastname@example.org. An INN review of the book appears at http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Books/Book.aspx/134543
Rabbi Shapira writes:
“The implication of this new concept – a ‘voluntary mitzvah’ – is that one is not obligated to fulfill it, but if one does, he has performed a mitzvah. This seems self-contradictory. On a simple level, a Torah commandment, counted as one of the 613, is not dependent on man’s desire – if he wants to fulfill it, he will, and if not, he won’t. After all, this contradicts the whole idea of a mitzvah, which is a command from HaShem Yitbarach. How can one say that God leaves the fulfillment of His decree to man’s discretion? We assume that God did not give us the mitzvot in order to derive pleasure from them. Rashi explains in Rosh HaShanah (28a), ‘Rather, they are a yoke upon man’s neck, to fulfill HaShem’s desire.’ What kind of a yoke is it if one can decide whether to fulfill them or ignore them?
“This (the mitzvah of aliyah) is different from [Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s example of] tzitzit, which is not an obligatory mitzvah, but one that depends on man’s will. Tzitzit depends on a person’s desire to wear a four-cornered garment, and the Torah does not obligate one to wear such a garment. However, once a person wears a four-cornered garment, he is obligated to place tzitzit on its corners, and that is not dependent on his desire at all. Once he wears a garment that the Torah speaks of, he cannot evade the mitzvah. Why, then, would we say that there is a mitzvah to make aliyah, but that it is up to man whether he wants to fulfill it or not? It appears that we do not find another mitzvah like this in the count of the 613….
“All this proves that none of the mitzvot, especially those included in the 613, depend on man’s desire. Rather, we force him to do them. Only those that Scriptures designate as being voluntary depend on a person’s willingness [to perform them], for the verses teach us that these mitzvot are essentially not part of the 613. Rather, they are good practices, fitting to do, and good advice. All this is obvious, for it is illogical to say that the Torah establishes a mitzvah and man is permitted to say, ‘I am not interested….’
“Nevertheless, it is clear that when there is an explicit mitzvah in the Torah – one of the positive commandments included in the 613 – one cannot say that it depends on whether or not a person wants to [fulfill it]. Therefore, according to the Ramban, who holds that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is a positive commandment counted as one of the 613 (whether the Rambam agrees or not), one cannot say that fulfilling it depends on man’s desire. Rather, it is absolutely obligatory.
“The Meiri writes in Bava Kama (80), ‘Every Jew is commanded to establish his dwelling in Eretz Yisrael.’ In addition, the Ramban writes in Bava Batra (24) that the law of [designating open areas for the purpose of] beautifying a city applies only in Eretz Yisrael. Regarding Chutz LaAretz, however, he says, ‘If only [those lands] would be despicable in the eyes of [the Jews] who dwell there!’
“Why, then, did the gedolim of previous generations neglect this mitzvah? 'Teshuvot Maharam' and 'Terumat HaDeshen' explain that [those generations] were under duress and unable to dwell in Eretz Yisrael because of difficult conditions, etc… I would add that this is not a regular case of ōnes (compulsion), in the sense of ‘The All-merciful exempts one who is forced [to sin].’ Rather, the mitzvah itself is suspended when dwelling in the Land entails hardship. Similarly, we find that one who experiences discomfort sitting in a sukkah is exempt from the mitzvah, because of [the rule] “You shall sit [in the sukkah] as you dwell [in your home].” Chazal determined that the definition of “dwelling” is when one is comfortable and has space, not when one is in pain. Dwelling somewhere in pain is not considered dwelling. The same applies to going up to live in Eretz Yisrael. One who finds his [new] accommodations distressful, relative to what he had in Chutz LaAretz, does not [fulfill] the mitzvah of You shall dwell therein (BeMidbar 33:53). Thus, any situation in which one would be exempt from sitting in a sukkah, one would also be exempt from dwelling in Eretz Yisrael….
“Now, if the definition of ‘discomfort’ [with respect to aliyah] is identical to its definition with respect to sukkah, [we can deduce the following]. Obviously, dwelling in a sukkah, a temporary structure, is less comfortable than dwelling in a permanent home. Nonetheless, that certainly does not constitute ‘pain.’ [One is exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah only] when dwelling there is painful, relative to the type of dwelling it is, and this requires serious evaluation. [So too, one is not exempt from dwelling in Eretz Yisrael just because it is easier to live in Chutz LaAretz.] The great Torah scholars of [previous] generations determined that it would be [genuinely] painful for them to dwell in the Land, and they were [therefore] exempt from doing so. Today, however, when the Land of Israel is [governed by] the State of Israel, and, based on [progressive] economic conditions, the level of ‘discomfort’ is very mild – especially for singles who are free from the yoke of family – everyone is undoubtedly assumed to be obligated in the mitzvah. One would require the judgment of great Torah scholars to determine that he is exempt from performing the mitzvah. In any event, it is clear that the concept of a mitzvah being dependent on each person’s discretion – if he wants to do it, he will accept it; but if not, he will reject it – is incomprehensible.”
In other words, the obligation of coming to live in Israel is in full force today, especially with the booming economy and luxury apartments and villas that can be found everywhere around the country. Yes, sometimes you have to wait behind a long line of shopping carts piled high with food at the supermarket, and you may get shoved by a Haredi Jew on a bus on the way to the Kotel, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream can melt pretty fast in the Mediterranean sun, but the hardship and pain of the early pioneer days are over. If you ask me, living in Israel is far less distressing and painful than living as a hated minority in someone else’s land. So come! Don’t waste any more time! It’s the biggest mitzvah there is!