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Gathering the Exiles from the Four Corners of the Globe

By Tzvi Fishman
3/17/2011, 12:00 AM

In all of the images of darkness and destruction coming out of Japan, there is a ray of light. A former reader of this blog, Daniel of Kyota, reports that he is not in danger in Japan, but rather ensconced in the temporarily safer exile of Toronto. We would like to take this opportunity to send him our greetings and bless him by asking G-d, in His compassion and kindness, to bring him, and all of our other endangered brothers and sisters in exile, all the way home to Israel.

Toronto - the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Ever since the quake and tsunami devastated the land of Buddhist shrines and idol worship, Israel radio and TV anchormen have been interviewing Israelis living in Japan to provide eyewitness coverage of the disaster. This morning, one of the radio’s most staunch, leftist, show hosts was startled to hear the expatriate Israeli whom he was interviewing demand that the government of Israel immediately send out a rescue team to remove him from a troubled area.

"Therefore put the fear of You, L-rd our G-d, over all Your works, and the reverence for You over Your creation...that all mankind come to understand that You are the Creator." From our Rosh HaShanah prayers.

“You want the government of Israel to rescue you?” the surprised announcer asked.

“That’s right. What’s taking them so long? Can’t they do anything right?”

“You moved to Japan and you want Israel to rescue you?”

“That’s right. I’m an Israeli. Doesn’t Israel send rescue teams all over the world? It’s their job to get me out of here!”

“Let me get this straight,” the show host said. “You left Israel to live in Japan, where you probably have some high-salaried job, and you expect Israel to send out a rescue team to help you? Wouldn’t you call that chutzpah?”

“Why is it chutzpah? What difference does it make where I live? If a person could make a decent living in Israel and not have to do a month of milluim in the army every year, I’d live in Israel. Off course, it’s their duty to save me.”

With a sigh, the announcer changed subjects and asked a question about the situation in Japan. Given this introduction, I’d like to remind our readers, especially our brothers and sisters in exile, may G-d protect them wherever they may be, that as Jews, we are all commanded to love the Land of Israel. The following is excerpted from the book, which I am currently translating, “The Nation and the Land,” by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed. May its learning be dedicated to the memory of the holy Fogel family, "Horegai Malchut," who sacrificed their lives in their great love for the Land of Israel to atone for our sins. 

The Torah teaches us to appreciate the “good Land” and to thank God for its bounties, as it says: “For the Lord your God brings you into a good Land… a Land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness; you shall not lack anything in it.... you shall bless the Lord your God for the good Land which He has given you” (Devarim, 8:7-10).

Quite often, we don’t pay attention to the simple meaning of these verses from the Torah. Their basic lesson is to love the Land of Israel, and to thank Hashem for giving it to us.

The Talmud relates that when Rabbi Abba would reach the border of Eretz Yisrael, he would kiss its stones, due to his tremendous love for the Land (Ketubot 112A and B). Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda, in his great love for the Land, would roll around in its dust to fulfill the verse: “You will arise and have mercy on Zion: for it is time to favor her; for the set time is come. For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Tehillim, 102:14-15).

Accordingly, the Rambam writes: “The great Torah scholars would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and embrace her stones, and roll in her dust, as the verse says, “For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:10).

We should kiss the Land out of gratitude in order to rectify the sin of the Spies

One could ask: Why did the Rambam relate these stories in the Mishna Torah, his opus of halachah? What law do we learn from the fact that the great Torah scholars of Israel kissed the dust of the Land and hugged its very stones? Seemingly, the proper place for such stories would be in a book on agaddah or mussar, and not halachah. Rather, we learn something very important from this halachah – we have to love the Land of Israel. It is not enough to live in Israel and understand its great worth; we must also enthusiastically cherish our good and Holy Land.

The great sin of the Spies stemmed from their lack of love for the Land, as it is written, “They despised the cherished Land; they did not believe His word” (Tehillim, 106:24).  Consequently, they spoke disparagingly about her, as it says, “And they spread an evil report of the Land which they had spied on for the Children of Israel, saying, The Land which we have gone to spy it out is a Land that eats up its inhabitants” (Bamidbar, 13:32).

Here we see how Eretz Yisrael is distinguished from all other lands. For the prohibition of lashon hara, speaking with an evil tongue, applies solely to people, in order not to cause them grief. There is no prohibition to speak lashon hara about trees or rocks, for they feel no sorrow. However, concerning Eretz Yisrael, it is forbidden to speak lashon hara about it, for one who speaks negatively about it denies the Torah, which praises the Land. He also prevents the revelation of the Name of God in the world, which is revealed only through the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land. The punishment for speaking against the Land is particularly severe. Even the Jews who received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, who were called “the generation of knowledge,” were harshly punished for speaking lashon hara and despising the Land. Death was decreed upon their generation, and the entry of the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel was delayed forty years.

Thus, it is told in the Talmud about the great Amoraim who would make every effort to prevent the Land of Israel from being seen in a negative light (See Ketubot 112A). If Rabbi Chanina, while walking in Eretz Yisrael, saw a stumbling block in the road, he would remove it. Rashi explains that he would clear roadways and repair obstructions because of his love for the Land. He would always seek out things that needed to be corrected, so that no one would speak badly about her roads.

Similarly, when they were conducting a Torah class outside, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi would be careful to seat their students in the most comfortable place. In the morning, when it was a little cool, they would seat them in the sun. Towards the afternoon, when the sun became hot, they would seat them in the shade – so that no one would complain about Eretz Yisrael or about its climate.

Today, it is contingent upon us to rectify the sin of the Spies by praising the Land of Israel, and by thanking God for the wonderful present which He bequeathed to our fathers and to us. This is particularly applicable in our generation when millions of Jews, through the kindness of God, have merited to return to Israel, build families, and settle the Land – something which was denied to generations of righteous and holy Jews in the past. Therefore, we are obligated to constantly praise Eretz Yisrael, to cherish her landscapes, to beautify her open stretches with trees and flowers, to rebuild her highways, and to construct attractive and comfortable homes. We must also constantly repeat the words of Yehoshua and Calev, who stood up against all the evildoers and said, “The Land is very, very good” (Bamidbar 14:7), thus countering and rectifying the deep blemishes left by the sin of the Spies. Consequently, more Jews will be inspired to make aliyah, and fewer will leave her borders, thinking to find a better life elsewhere.

We will finish this topic with the words of  Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (Igrot Riyah, Letter 96):

“The foundation of the exile, and the baseness which continues to proliferate in this world, stem from the lack of understanding of Eretz Yisrael, its sublime value and wisdom, and from not rectifying the sin of the Spies who spoke disparagingly about the Land. We are called upon to do the opposite - to speak her praises and herald her magnificence and glory, her holiness and honor. We can only hope that after all our praises, we merit to express even one iota of the proper transcendental desire due to “the land of delight,” to the splendor of her illuminating Torah, to the genius of her illuminating wisdom, and to the Divine Inspiration which prevails upon her.”