The sin of the Spies in the Wilderness is undeniably the most devastating sin recorded in the Torah. In response to their unwillingness to make Aliyah, Hashem called them rebels and non-believers. In contrast to the sin of the Golden Calf, where 3,000 participants were slain in Divine punishment, in response to the sin of the Spies, Hashem punished the entire generation of adult males with death in the wilderness.
Tragically, as the Gaon of Vilna taught his students, the sin of the Spies continues throughout history and even outstanding Torah Scholars are caught in its nefarious web (“Kol HaTor,” Ch. 5).
It is difficult to find a Torah authority in Israel who doesn’t think that that the obligation to make Aliyah is a Torah commandment even today. In contrast, and for whatever reasons, Rabbis in the Diaspora have proposed differing opinions, stating that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is of Rabbinic authority. But lighting Hanukah candles and reading the Megilla on Purim are also Rabbinical precepts and what serious Jew doesn’t perform them with great eagerness and joy?
To help shed light on this question, we will quote from the scholarly book, “Rise from the Dust,” by Tzvi Glatt, a twenty-one-year-old Torah Scholar from America who studied at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
The young Rabbi, may his murder be avenged, was killed by Arab terrorists in Hevron. One of Tzvi’s friends from America, Joseph Grob, recalled the massacre:
“It was Friday Night, May 2, 1980 in Hevron. There was a reunion celebrating friendships old and new - it was a chance to do a mitzvah of giving honor and strength to the brave women and children who were the first to return to rebuild the Jewish Community of Hevron. You were there, dancing from the Me’arat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, to the Beit Hadassah which at one time provided medical care to Arab and Jewish residents of the city. I can hear your voice singing: ‘V’shavu banim L’gvulam’ – ‘And the children shall return to the borders of Israel.’ There were a bunch of your friends with you – other Bnei Akiva members, lovers of Israel and the Jewish people celebrating Shabbat at the Beit Hadassah. Suddenly, from across the street, Tayseer Abu Shneineh (a future Mayor of Hebron) and three other militant terrorists opened fire on the crowd. They hurled grenades and homemade bombs. Your friends Gershon Klein, Ya’akov Zimmerman, Hanan Krauthammer, Eli HaZe’ev, and Shmuel Mermelstein were killed. 20 others were injured… You fell dead in Alon Zimmerman’s arms.”
Rabbi Tzvi Glatt’s treatise on the mitzvah of living in Israel, expertly translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, explores the question of Aliyah from every halakhic angle.
Here, we will only present a small number of excerpts to give the reader a beginning background in the Torah obligation upon all Jews to live in the Land of Israel. In Rabbi Glatt’s compilation of dozens of leading Torah authorities who view “Yishuv Ha’Aretz” (dwelling in the Land) as a Torah commandment, he begins with the Ramban, universally recognized as a giant of Torah and known as the “Father of Israel.” The Ramban elucidates the obligation to dwell in Eretz Yisrael, and the sin of living outside the Land, in his addendum to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot (Positive Commandment 4) he writes:
“I say that the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land – which the Sages extol to such an extent that they say in Ketuvot, ‘Anyone who leaves it and dwells outside the Land should be in your eyes as one who worships foreign gods…’ in addition to the other great praises that they lavish upon it – is all a consequence of the positive commandment we were given to take possession of the Land and dwell therein. Therefore, it is a positive commandment for all generations, obligating every one of us, even during the period of exile.”
Many Rishonim (early Torah authorities) determine that the halakhah follows the Ramban’s opinion. For example: The Tashbetz writes in his Responsa (3:288): “Living in Eretz Yisrael is a great mitzvah, and the Ramban already counted it as one of the 613 mitzvot. The Sifrei states, ‘Dwelling in the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvot, as it says, You shall possess it and you shall dwell therein” (Devarim 11:31).
The Rashbesh writes in his Responsa (no. 1): “Dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah… and the Ramban concurs… for he decided to include it in the final count of the 248 positive commandments. My father and master, the Rashbetz (another appellation for the Tashbetz) sides with him in his book ‘Zohar HaRakia.’” The Ra’avad, quoted by the Ran (Ketuvot 65b, in the pages of the Rif) also agrees, explaining in a detailed analysis that women are also included in the Torah commandment.
Likewise, many of the most prominent Acharonim (later Torah authorities) determine that the halakhah follows the Ramban’s opinion, that aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is an obligatory mitzvah. Here are some excerpts:
Sefer Chareidim (57:15): “There is a positive biblical commandment to dwell in the Land of Israel, as it says, ‘You shall possess it and dwell in it’ (Devarim 26:1). Our Sages claim that this mitzvah is equal to all the mitzvot in the Torah. They also say that one should consider anyone who leaves Eretz Yisrael and dwells outside the Land as an idolater…”
Maharit (2:28): “The main reason a husband can force his wife to make aliyah is based on the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. In addition, the mitzvah of dwelling there applies even nowadays when it is in ruins, as the Ramban writes in his ‘Commentary to Sefer HaMitzvot.’”
Responsa Me’il Tzeddakah (sec. 26): “First, we will explain whether there is a mitzvah to make aliyah in our times. Behold, we find that the Ramban counts this as one of the mitzvot. The Shelah HaKadosh cites his words in Sha’ar HaOtiot, Ot Kedushah, p. 75. The author of Pitchei Teshuvah (Even HaEzer 75:6) accepts his words as halakhah.
The Maharam Schick (Yoreh De’ah 225) adds: ‘It could be that the Tosafists were constrained for some reason (from immigrating to the Land) and our Sages say that one who intends to do a mitzvah but is forced to refrain receives merit as if he did it. Therefore, they too have the merit of the positive commandment of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael, and they will be privileged to partake in the Resurrection.”
Rabbi Yaakov Emden states (“Mor U’Ketziah,” Vol. 2, p. 15): The mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is a biblically ordained positive commandment, as the Ramban writes. It is a Divine decree upon us, and it needs no reason. It is even more significant seeing that its reason is obvious – Eretz Yisrael is Hashem’s inheritance, which He chose for His dwelling and as the place in which to settle His children.”
Chida (“Responsa Yosef Ometz” 52; Yair Ozen, 10:5): “The Sifrei states that dwelling in the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvot, even when the Land is in ruins. See what the Rashbetz writes in his Responsa (3:288)… The Sifrei goes even one step further, indicating that one should not leave the Land even for the sake of Torah study, for Rabbi Eliezer son of R. Shimon and Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar set out to do just that and they returned to the Land because living in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the mitzvot. It is clear that this applies even when the Land is in ruins, as the Ramban states.”
Chochmat Adam (“Sha’ar Mishpatei HaAretz” 11:3): “The Ramban considers the mitzvah of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael a positive commandment even today. The author of (the Gemara commentary) ‘Megillat Esther’ dismisses his words based on Rav Yehudah’s statement: ‘Anyone who ascends from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael violates a positive commandment, as it says, ‘They will be brought to Babylon and there they shall remain’ (Yirmiyah, 27:22. Ketuvot 110b). Even so, this is not a difficult refutation at all. First, we (meaning the Rabbis of the Gemara) do not accept Rav Yehudah’s opinion....”
Pe’at HaShulchan (“Beit Yisrael,” Ch. 14): “The Tosefta states in Avodah Zarah (5:2), ‘A person should dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city inhabited mostly by Gentiles, and not outside the Land, even in a city inhabited mostly by Jews. This teaches that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the mitzvot…’ This refers to the current era of exile, as our master (the compiler of the Tosefta) arranged the matter, calling it a mitzvah equal to all the rest. The only qualification is that we must say that the Rambam (Maimonides) considers this a rabbinic mitzvah. According to the Ramban, however, the simple reading of the statement ‘the mitzvah of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael’ indicates that it is a mitzvah like all other positive commandments in the Torah. After all, it is counterintuitive to say that a rabbinic enactment would be equal to all the positive commandments in the Torah. The Tashbetz and the Rashbesh concur with the Ramban.”
Chatam Sofer (Yoreh De’ah 233) proves that aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is obligatory even today: “Everything I wrote that the sanctity of the site of the Holy Temple has not been nullified, and that those who reside near it are holier and closer to our God, I did not mean in terms of the mitzvot that depend on the Land or on the Temple. On the contrary, my entire purpose was to clarify the Ra’avad’s (questionable) opinion (Hilchot Beit HaBechirah, Ch. 6) that everything is null and void nowadays, due to our numerous sins. My intention was to show that according to this opinion, one has more of an obligation to make aliyah in our times, for one cannot employ the excuse quoted by Rabbeinu Chayim in Tosafot, Ketuvot (110b).”
Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk greatly emphasizes the importance of dwelling in the Land: “Know, my dear friend, that to demonstrate the magnitude and eminence of this mitzvah is entirely unnecessary, for which Jew would ever doubt it? From the day Hashem called out to the rock of our quarry, Avraham, He promised to give him the Desirable Land… There are entire chapters in the Tosefta, the Sifrei DeVei Rav, and both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds that lavish praise upon the Land…” (Rav Meir Simcha sent these words to R. Avraham Slotsky to be printed in his book “Shivat Tzion.” It was also printed in the biography on Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld entitled “Mara DeAra DeYisrael,” pg. 22). Furthermore, in his Torah commentary, “Meshech Chochmah” (Parashat Lech Lecha, 12:5), Rabbi Meir Simcha determines that the halakhah follows the Ramban’s opinion that there is a Torah obligation to ascend to Eretz Yisrael in every generation.
In our next post, God willing, we will discuss the opinions of the Rambam and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory.
The book “Arise from the Dust” is available at: http://toratzion.com/