For several decades, I have been writing blogs and op-eds on Arutz Sheva about the mitzvah of Aliyah, emphasizing the fact that, in contrast to the past, we have an independent state today to which to make aliyah. Invariably, in response to every post, I receive comments from readers in America who cite Torah Scholars in the Diaspora who maintain that the mitzvah to live in Israel is not a Torah commandment today. In contrast, if you ask almost every leading Rabbi in Israel, their response is an emphatic – “Of course it is a Torah commandment to live in Israel today. How could you think otherwise?” Let me cite just a few examples:
HaRav Shmuel Eliahu is the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat. In response to my question he told me: “The mitzvah of Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is certainly a supreme mitzvah which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah combined. No mitzvah is mentioned more times in the Torah than the commandment to conquer and dwell in the Land of Israel. This is the Covenant that Hashem made with the Jewish People. All of the Prophets emphasized the eternity of the Covenant and the return of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael. Anyone who does not make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael neglects to fulfill a positive commandment of the Torah. So all-encompassing is this commandment that a person performs it even while he sleeps. What a pity to miss out, every second, the observance of such a vital mitzvah, upon which all of the Torah is founded.”
HaRav Shlomo Aviner heads the Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva in the Old City. When I presented the question to him, he replied: “People don’t make Aliyah because they are in love with the exile and don’t want to give it up. Therefore, it isn’t enough that Rabbis merely call upon people to make Aliyah. Instead, the Rabbis must make the mitzvah of Aliyah a constant and central part of Jewish education. And, it goes without saying that they should make Aliyah themselves. Concurrently, Israel must find practical solutions to the difficulties which new olim encounter, such as finding a livelihood, the education of children, and arranging for klita in communities where the language of the oleh is spoken.”
Rabbi Shalom Gold headed the Young Israel Synagogue of West Hempstead before making aliyah in 1982 . He is the founder of the large Kehillat Zichron Yosef Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. “The window of a great opportunity in America is closing,” he told me. “To my way of thinking, the ruling of HaRav Moshe Feinstein and HaRav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, of blessed memories, that the mitzvah of settling in Israel is an optional mitzvah, rather than an obligation, is a wondrous concept which gives Jews in the Diaspora the chance to serve Hashem, not under the coercion and obligation of a commandment, but out of the idealistic desire to carry out Hashem’s will that the Children of Israel live in the Land of Israel."
"Unfortunately, the opportunity to reach this exalted, free-will level of serving G-d is closing because of sinister changes that are taking place in America, where more and more synagogues have been forced to hire armed guards. America is no longer the great haven of hospitality and kindness that it was in the past. I don’t know how much longer the Jews of America will have the luxury of coming to live in Israel out of their own free choice, the greatest step a person can take in his life, rather than being compelled to flee. This would be a great tragedy. They will be boarding Nefesh B’Nefesh flights because they have to – not because they want to.”
HaRav David Samson, a longtime student at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, heads the YTA Torah high schools in Jerusalem. He replied: “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,’ (Tehillim, 103; Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:10). We learn from this that it is incumbent upon the Torah leaders of the generation to teach the Jewish People to cherish the Land of Israel. Obviously, this cannot be done by kissing the stones in New York or New Jersey.”
HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, the son of Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook and late Rosh Yeshiva at Mercaz HaRav, explained: “Because of our long Exile amidst the impurity of the Gentile nations, we have become accustomed to think that our life of Exile is normal, and we forget that Eretz Yisrael is our natural, healthy, Divinely-intended place. We need to foster the understanding, and the feeling, that we must live in Israel, that this is our normal place, in terms of religion, and in terms of our Nationhood. If we are not here, we are unhealthy. And from time to time, the Gentiles forcibly remind us that we are living in their domain, in an alien land.”
When someone wrote his father Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, asking if it was a mitzvah to settle in Israel, Rabbi Kook answered, "I am amazed at the question. How can one possibly have a doubt about this fundamental principle? We plainly see throughout all of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Oral Torah, the immeasurable devotion to Eretz Yisrael, to its settlement, its acquisition, and its building.” Rabbi Kook continued his lengthy 24-page response by citing hundreds of verses from the Torah, Scriptures, and the Talmud expressing the Jewish People's eternal bond and commitment to Eretz Yisrael (See, "Hazone HaGeula," Pgs. 10-34). During a 1924 fundraising mission in America, on behalf of the yeshivot of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kook tried to convince an influential Jew to immigrate to the Holy Land. The man gave various reasons why he could not yet leave America, but concluded, “God willing, I will soon make Aliyah to Israel.”
Rav Kook responded: “God is certainly willing. After all, dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is one of His commandments. But you must also be willing... Before the Israelites entered the Land of Israel in the time of Moshe, they first needed to kill Sichon, the king of Heshbon. The Hebrew word ‘Heshbon’ means accounting. This teaches us that one should come to the Land of Israel ‘bli heshbon’ — without making calculations. You have to put all family calculations and material considerations aside and come.”
Lest the reader think that I am only quoting the opinion of so-called “Zionist Rabbis,” a young Torah student from Lakewood who made Aliyah told the revered Torah authority of the Haredi community, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, of blessed memory, that in America many people maintain that a Jew should not move to Israel until the Mashiach arrives. The reply of the elderly Sage was filmed. “G-d forbid,” HaRav Kanievski answered. “It is a mitzvah of the Torah to make Aliyah,” (See, https://naavakodesh.org/r-chaim-kanievski-mitzvah-to-move-…/)
The elder posek, Rabbi Shalom Eisen, of blessed memory, a longtime hevruta of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, served on the Beit Din of the Eida HaHaredis in Jerusalem. Ever since his early youth, he davened the early morning vatikin prayer at the Kotel during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Tshuva. My first year in Israel, I had the honor of escorting him home after Kol Nidre prayers in his Mea Shaarim shteibel. The kedushah filling the dark neighborhood was so tangible you could almost reach out and feel it. “It is so holy here, why don’t all the religious Jews in America come to live here?” I asked him, expecting to receive a long lecture on the halakhic points of view of the Rambam and the Ramban. Instead, the elderly sage held out two fingers and rubbed them together. “Dollarim,” he said.