In recent decades, thousands – or rather, tens of thousands – of Jews have been travelling to the city of Uman in the Ukraine in order to pray at the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
This year, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic and fears over mass infections, the State of Israel has banned travel there. After all, preserving life trumps almost every commandment in the Torah.
But since then, some Hasidim have decried the ban, along with some rabbis, MKs, and haredi journalists, who criticize cancelling something related to their faith over a marginal possibility. After all, the state doesn’t ban mass demonstrations on the Left which are aimed at toppling a rightist government.
But let us look at this issue carefully and see whether this tradition of flying abroad to pray by a grave is proper according to the Torah.
In the Gemara (Arachin 32:B) it is asked why Yehoshua Bin Nun’s name is mentioned in a shortened form (Nehemiah 8:17). And the answer is because the Anshei Knesset HaGeolah who moved to Israel early in the Second Temple period prayed to nullify the evil inclination for idolatry – and were successful. But why didn’t Moses himself pray for this? They answer that it was because he wasn’t permitted into the Land of Israel, thus he did not have the merit of the Holy Land, where prayers are more likely to be answered. Thus there is a question against Yehoshua Bin Nun: since he did have the merit to come to the Land, why didn’t he have the will to pray for this? Thus, his name was shortened.
This subject, that prayers are aided by the fact that they’re made in the Holy Land, is emphasized in the tractate of Brachot (30:A). And it is in the Bible written that King Solomon said “and they will pray unto Thee toward their land, which Thou gavest unto their fathers” (Kings I 8:48).
Thus it is very puzzling that on this holy day, Rosh Hashannah, when we ask for mercy and blessing for the people of Israel, people who are already in the Holy Land leave it in order to pray. This is the opposite of what the Sages taught.
On the contrary, the State of Israel has done us a great service, so that at least this year tens of thousands of Jews have been saved from this terrible sin, and it also will help them by having their prayers come from the Land of Israel, making them more likely to be received.
Therefore, the Hasidim, rabbis, journalists, and politicians should rejoice that the hand of God has saved us from this sin.