Isn’t it interesting that the very first words that G-d says to Avram, the father of the Jewish People, is to go to the Land of Israel? He didn’t tell Avram to put on Tefillin. He didn’t tell him to keep Shabbos. “Lech lecha,” he told him. If you want to get closer to Me, go to the Holy Land.
What are we supposed to learn from this? Can there be any question at all? One plus one is two, and two plus two is four. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out a simple equation like that.
What was Avram’s reaction? The Torah says that he departed immediately. Even though the Land of Israel was filled with immorality and uncultured heathen.
He didn’t say, “I’m not going to Israel because my children will have to fight in the Israeli army.”
He didn’t say, “I’m not going to Israel because I won’t be able to make a living.”
He didn’t say, “I’m not going because the politicians in the Knesset are corrupt.”
He packed up his belongings and did what G-d commanded. Period.
In reward for Avraham’s obedience and faith, G-d gave him and his Jewish children after him, the eternal inheritance of the Land of Israel, as it says, “And I will give you, and to your seed after you, the Land where you sojourn, all the Land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d” (Bereshit 17:8).
The great Torah commentator, Rashi, explains this verse as follows: “There (in Israel) I will be their G-d, but a Jew who lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no G-d” (Rashi, loc cited).
I think Rashi should apologize for insulting the Jews in the Diaspora! How could he say such a thing?! What chutzpah!
Actually, Rashi isn’t to blame. The Talmud says the very same thing (Ketubot 111A).
Avraham is the father of the Jewish People because he had complete faith in Hashem, as it says: “And he believed in Hashem, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Bereshit, 15:6).
The opposite of this is where people have crises of faith, such as the leaders of the Tribes in the Generation of the Wilderness who refused to obey G-d’s command to make aliyah, as it says: “And when the L-rd sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the Land which I gave you,’ you rebelled against the L-rd your G-d, and you did not have faith in Him and did not listen to His voice” (Devarim, 9:23).
HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, late head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, explained that there are two types of faith (emunah). There is the complete emunah of Avraham Avinu, and the partial emunah of the Spies in the Wilderness and their followers, of whom it is said, “And in this matter, you did not have emunah in the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim, 1:32).
“In this matter, in not making aliyah to Israel, they didn’t have emunah-faith,” Rabbi Kook taught. “In other matters, they did believe. They believed, and yet they didn’t believe. This is a state of half-emunah. Rashi, in the name of Chazal, cites this in regard to Noach, saying, ‘Noach was small in faith. Though he possessed faith, he did not truly believe in the flood’s coming, and did not enter the ark until the water forced him in’ (Rashi, Bereshit, 7:7). Noach believed and he didn’t believe. However, the foundation of our emunah begins with Avraham Avinu. He wasn’t a half-believer. He believed with a complete faith.”
I am not coming to criticize any true religious devotion to be found amongst our beloved brothers in the Diaspora, but rather to point out the tragic shortcoming of the viewpoint that denies the centrality of the Land of Israel to Torah. There are many wonderful G-d fearing Jews throughout the Diaspora, who are serving Hashem and the Jewish People in many true and noble ways, in their charity, good deeds, Torah scholarship, and strict adherence to the fine details of the mitzvot. However, if they fall in love with the Diaspora and try to make a second Jerusalem out of Brooklyn or Lakewood or Los Angeles, then something is very wrong with their Judaism and their understanding of Torah.
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."