In this week’s Torah portion, our Forefather Yaakov Avinu commands his sons to bury him in the Land of Israel in order to teach them that Eretz Yisrael is the eternal Homeland of the Jewish People and not Mitzrayim or any of the modern Egypts of today.
Similarly, when the time comes for Yosef to leave this world, he instructs his sons to take him out of Egypt and bury him in the Land of Israel for the very same reason.
Generations later, the Rambam followed their example declaring that he wanted to be buried in the Promised Land, even though the Jewish community was small and struggling, to teach the generations of Jews who would come after him that Eretz Yisrael was the true national home for the Jewish People. His tomb in Tiberius is visited by myriads of people each year.
But tragically, he must be rolling over in his grave when he sees that Jews in the Diaspora use him as an excuse for not making Aliyah to the Jewish Homeland.
Let me explain. If you ask a so-called “Ultra-Orthodox” Jew in the Diaspora why he doesn’t come on Aliyah, chances are that he will tell you that the Rambam did not consider living in Israel to be an obligatory mitzvah in the time of Galut. This simply isn’t true. It is a distortion of his words and his writings.
Year after year, in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook would explain this misconception to his students.
“People often ask why the Rambam did not include the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel in his list of Torah commandments while the RambaN, who was known as ‘The Father of Israel’ for his greatness in Torah, does include it on his list, (Supplement of the RambaN to the ‘Sefer HaMitzvot’ of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4). Firstly, these lists have no Halachic ramifications. Halakha is drawn from the legal codes which find expression in works like the ‘Shulchan Aruch’ and the ‘Mishna Torah,’ but not from the differing lists. A Jew seeking to conduct his life according to the commandments of the Torah naturally looks for Halakhic guidance on all aspects of his life, including the all-important mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel.
“In his classic work of Halakha, the ‘Mishna Torah,’ the Rambam makes the obligation of living in the Land of Israel quite clear. In the ‘Laws of Kings and Their Wars,’ Chapter Five, he details the prohibition against leaving Eretz Yisrael to dwell outside of the Land. He describes the great love of the Sages for Eretz Yisrael, and he quotes the Gemara in Ketubot 110B which states: ‘In all generations, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of the residents are idol worshippers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews.’
“Also, in the ‘Laws of Marriage,’ the Rambam rules that in a case where the husband wants to go on Aliyah to Israel and his wife does not, the Beit Din forces her to go or else she must accept a divorce without receiving her Ketubah dowry, (‘Laws of Marriage,’ 13:19). This decision is also stated in the ‘Shulchan Aruch,’ (Even HaEzer, 75:3). There, the ‘Pitchei T’shuva,’ a compilation of all of the Poskim who decide Torah Law, quotes the RambaN’s ruling that the commandment to live in Eretz Yisrael applies in all generations, emphasizing that ALL of the Poskim, both Rishonim and Achronim (early and later Halachic authorities) agree, (Pitchei T’shuva, there, sub-section 6).
“The reason the Rambam does not list living in Israel in his list of commandments is not because he thinks it is less than a mitzvah – he thinks the opposite! It is more than a mitzvah!
“The Rambam established fourteen rules by which certain commandments are not included in the list, such as precepts of Rabbinic decree which are categorized differently than precepts from the Torah. According to the underlying foundations of his ‘Sefer HaMitzvot,’ precepts which encompass all of the Torah aren’t included in the list, (‘Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam,’ Rule 4).
Dwelling in the Land of Israel is an encompassing commandment, which our Sages have stated is equal in weight to all of the commandments in the Torah, (‘Sifre,’ Reah, 12:29). Because of this the Ohr HaChaim HaKodosh wrote: ‘For living in Israel is a mitzvah encompassing all of the Torah.’ Living in Israel is a mitzvah that all of the Torah depends on! Not only did the Rambam think that living in Israel is a Torah commandment, he believed it to be a major foundation of Jewish Faith and a pillar of all of the Torah,” (See the book, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Ch. 8).
Not long ago I met with Knesset Member Meir Porush of the haredi Agudat Yisrael Party. I explained how haredi communities in America misused the Rambam as an excuse not to come on Aliyah. He replied that even if they could be convinced that Aliyah was a mitzvah of the Torah, that isn’t the reason they don’t come. He said that on a material level Israel couldn’t compete with America. When I insisted that the Haredi parties in Israel had to push the government to do more to increase Haredi Aliyah, and that he had to use his influence to encourage the Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora to come and experience how readily a Jew could live a much more fulfilling Torah life in Israel, he refused to speak with me further.
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."