As part of the memorial tribute to Rabbi Meir Kahane, we are posting the continuation of his chapter, "The Mitzvah to Live In Eretz Yisrael" from his book, "The Jewish Idea."
ERETZ YISRAEL is acquired through suffering and devotion. The deterioration in our values, and the blunting of Israel’s emotional attachment to Eretz Yisrael, emerged because we distorted the halachah, due to the wretched exile which conquered our minds and souls. We are also tempted to flee the difficult challenge and duty of isolating ourselves from the nations, and the hardships of earning a living in rebuilding our homeland. It all goes back to our Sages’ comment in Berachot 5a: “G-d gave Israel three fine gifts and all come only through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and the World-to-Come.”
A person’s whole life is a test to see whether he will accept the yoke of Heaven and of mitzvot. There is nothing precious that does not exact a heavy price. Eretz Yisrael, a precious gift, requires self-sacrifice, as befits a treasure of the Chosen People.
Wherever we go, we are obligated to prove our faith and trust in G-d, and certainly so in Eretz Yisrael, the Chosen Land, symbol of Israel’s isolation and their belief that “The L-rd alone guides them” (Deut. 32:12). Yet time after time we have failed in this. Our Sages learned (Tanchuma, Tazria, 6):
“A kohen who used to observe plague-spots (see Lev. 13) became poor and wished to leave the Land. He summoned his wife, saying... “Let me teach you how to observe plague spots. If you see that the well-spring of a person’s hair has dried up, know that he is smitten, for G-d created a well-spring for every single hair to drink from”... His wife replied, “If G-d created for every hair a well-spring of its own, how much more so will He provide a livelihood for you, who are a human being, with much hair, and have children whom you support!” Therefore, she did not let him leave the Land.
Lack of trust in G-d’s ability to support and defend us was, from time immemorial, the plague that severed us from the great mitzvah of living in the Land, causing us to distort the mitzvah and contrive all sorts of warped excuses to exempt ourselves from it. In the days of the Judges, Micah set up an idol in his house and found one person who agreed to officiate as its priest. According to our Sages, this was the grandson of Moses, the son of his son Gershom. When they asked him how he had agreed to this, he answered (Bava Batra 110a): “Such is the tradition I received from my grandfather’s house: “Better to hire oneself out to idolatry [avodah zarah] than to depend on charity.” He thought “avodah zarah” means actual worship of idols, whereas here it really refers to “strange work,” work [avodah] that one finds alien [zarah].”
Here is a lesson for every Jew who explains his scornful treatment of the Desirable Land in terms of inability to find satisfactory employment there. Such a person, instead of going up to Eretz Yisrael with trust in G-d, taking any work he can find, even if it is alien to him, the main thing being his fulfilling the mitzvah of living in the Land, prefers to worship idols in the exile, for it says (Ketuvot 110b), “If someone lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Let us consider in this light G-d’s command to Israel, immediately upon entering the Land and ascending to Gilgal from the Jordan, to circumcise themselves. At that moment, “all the males who left Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness.... and all those born in the wilderness... had not been circumcised” (Josh. 5:4-5). Yevamot 71b asks why they were not circumcised all forty years, and answers (Ibid., 72a):
“No northerly wind blew upon them [all those years, and without a northerly wind circumcision poses a danger]. Why was this? Possibly as rebuke to them, and possibly so the clouds of glory would not disperse.”
Yet the last explanation is hard to understand. Could it be that for the sake of the clouds of glory not dispersing, G-d nullified the great mitzvah of milah?
Rather, it is clear to me that G-d, despite milah’s grave importance, intentionally postponed its fulfillment so that all Israel would be able to fulfill it concurrently with entering the Land. Milah involves pain and blood, symbolizing the principle of self-sacrifice and faith in G-d. A lesson was thus imparted that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering. Moreover, combining milah with Eretz Yisrael served to set the Jew apart and to separate Israel from the nations and their abominations.
How could we as a nation have failed regarding this mitzvah, fleeing the suffering entailed in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, when ultimately it is the greatest gift G-d gave us? As it says (Jer. 3:19), “I gave you a Desirable Land.” So terribly has the cursed exile warped our nation, that many see no personal duty to leave the exile, and they do not at all consider it a punishment! What a perversion this is! This is a distortion of the Torah — through love of the Exile.
Indeed, the Jewish People do not wish to see the truth, as our Sages said regarding the spies. How can they explain to themselves the words of the Men of the Great Assembly, who ordained in the festival Musaf prayer, “Because of our sins we were banished from our Land,” while they expect to serve out their punishment in wealth and ease? Foolishness!
Woe to us from those who distort the Torah! Such persons quote Pesachim 87b, “G-d performed a charitable act for Israel, for He dispersed them among the nations,” and they derive from it that G-d’s casting us into the exile was a kind, charitable gift! Could there be a more terrible perversion than that? Every child knows that the Torah constantly presents the exile to us as a frightful punishment for our sins. In the second paragraph of the Shema, which we morning and night, it says, “You will rapidly be lost from the good land that the L-rd is giving you” (Deut. 11:17). We likewise find in the terrible Tochachah (chastisement) of Leviticus (26:33,36), “I will scatter you among the nations and keep the sword drawn against you.... I will bring insecurity upon those of you who survive in the lands of your enemies.”
Also, in Deuteronomy (28:64-65): “The L-rd will scatter you among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other.... Among those nations you will feel insecure, and there will be no place for your foot to rest. There the L-rd will make you cowardly, destroying your outlook and making life hopeless.”
Truthfully, the Talmud’s statement above regarding charity is making a simple point: It is not that the exile is something positive — surely it is the worst punishment there can be — but, rather, that it contains “charity.” If G-d has already condemned us to exile, He at least dispersed us. As Rashi explains, “So that the nations could not destroy them all at once.”
This is only partial consolation, for even in this there is a drawback. As our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 6): “I will scatter you among the nations” (Lev. 26:33): This is a hard blow for Israel, for whenever all of a country’s citizens are exiled to one place, they see one another and find comfort. With you it is not so, however, for in the future I shall scatter you among all the nations.”
Thus, exile is an intrinsically calamitous and shocking punishment, yet there is partial consolation in our not having been exiled to one place, where it would be easy for the nations to annihilate almost all of Israel. Clearly, however, those who quote the above exposition to prove the positive side of exile are either ignoramuses or the exile has warped them. Following is Torat Kohanim, Behar, Parsheta 5:
“To give you the Land of Canaan, to be for you a G-d” (Lev. 25:38): Based on this our Sages said, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.” Likewise, regarding King David it says, “Cursed be they before the L-rd, 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). Might we suppose King David would worship idols? Rather, he would expound, saying, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Our Sages also said (Sifri, Ha’azinu, 333), “R. Meir would say, ‘Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael, and recites the Shema morning and evening [which constitutes accepting G-d as King] and speaks the Holy Tongue [Hebrew] is assured a place in the World-to-Come.’”
The rejecters of Eretz Yisrael bring destruction. Israel’s refusal to cling, with faith and trust, to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, a mitzvah of equal weight to all others combined, is what has brought about, and, G-d forbid, will bring about, national calamities. Our Sages said (Yoma 9b):
“Resh Lakish was bathing in the Jordan, and Rabbah bar Channah [who had come up from Babylonia to study Torah] came and extended him his hand. Resh Lakish said to him, “I swear that I hate you! [i.e., the Jews of Babylonia.] Rashi comments, “By their not going up to Eretz Yisrael in Ezra’s day, they prevented the Divine Presence from returning and resting on the Second Temple”. It says, ‘If she be a wall, we will build upon her a silver turret, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with cedar boards’ (Song of Songs 8:9). Had you come up to Eretz Yisrael like a wall [en masse] in Ezra’s day, you would have been compared to silver, which cannot rot. Now that you have come up to Eretz Yisrael like doors, you are like cedar, which can rot.”
This shortsighted refusal to go up out of the exile is the primal sin which blocked the path to final redemption already during the Second Temple period. And the sin of Babylonian Jewry is repeating itself today, as exile Jewry sit tranquilly in a foreign land — Heaven help us — in a blind lack of faith and vision.
It was this that the spiritual giant R. Yehudah HaLevi intended in his great philosophical work the “Kuzari” (II:24, in which the Jewish philosopher responds to the non-Jewish king of Kuzar as follows): “You have shamed me, O King. This sin [the Jews’ refusal to return to Eretz Yisrael] is what has prevented us from completing what G-d ordained as the mission of the Second Temple. As it says (Zechariah 2:14), “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; [for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in your midst, says the L-rd].” The Divine plan was ready to unfold as in the First Temple, had everyone agreed to return willingly. Instead, some returned while the majority, including their great leaders, remained in Babylonia, preferring exile and servitude — just so they not be separated from their homes and business interests.”
Cyrus, king of Persia, had said (II Chron. 36:23), “All the kingdoms of the earth has the L-rd, G-d of heaven, given me; and He has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people - the L-rd his G-d be with him - let him go up.”
Had the whole nation gone up en masse when G-d brought things about that Cyrus gave permission, G-d would not have destroyed the Temple. Rather, the Divine Presence would have rested there forever, and G-d would have brought the Messiah, by virtue of their faith. Yet Israel, who were in Babylonia, settled down there and did not wish to return, and only a minority returned to Eretz Yisrael, as it says (Ezra 2:64): “The whole congregation together was 42,360.” This is the pitiful sum that returned to Eretz Yisrael, when the vast majority of Israel chose to settle down in the depravity of exile and to scorn the Desirable Land. Later, Cyrus decreed that whoever had not yet gone up would remain behind.
We are descended from people who turned their backs on Eretz Yisrael and prefer the defilement of the exile for the sake of tranquil lives. Our generation, as well, has exchanged the glory of the Desirable Land for the worship of gluttony and drunkenness in the exile, and there is no one to take up the insult to Eretz Yisrael. Quite the contrary, the prominent people of the generation express their approval of exile and abomination. As the brilliant Rabbi Ya’akov Emden wrote in the introduction to his Siddur Bet Ya’akov (Sulam Bet El, letter 6):
“Not one in a thousand is aroused to take hold of it and settle there; only one per country and two per generation. No one pays it any heed or seeks to love it. No one seeks to know its welfare or looks forward to seeing it. We imagine that since we live in peace outside the Land, we have already found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem like the first. This is the reason that Israel, dwelling in peace and great honor in Spain, and other countries during the exile, were beset by so much misfortune... and then banished from Spain until no remnant of Israel remained there.”
These words were written by Rabbi Ya’akov Emden in cursed Germany several hundred years ago. Who listened? Who took his words to heart? Rabbi Emden continues, answering those hypocrites who raise empty claims regarding risks and hardships involved in settling in Eretz Yisrael:
“Risks posed by desert and sea crossings surely do not suffice to exempt one from such a great mitzvah... Consider your path through valley and glen. Upon every mountain and hill, rich people and poor run swift as steeds to acquire possessions... What great danger we put ourselves in each day! For a crust of bread you take long strides that dim the luster of your eyesight and shorten your life, yet when it comes to the glory of your Maker and the immortality of your soul, you say, “A lion blocks my way!” (Prov. 26:13). How long, sluggard, will you lie on the bed of laziness? Until the foundations of the earth are laid bare! Why not acquire means of fleeing for your life while you still have the power to do it?”
All of us, great and small, should feel ashamed.
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