to Eretz Israel
Booklet published in 1977 by the Jewish Agency
The Call of Rabbi Abraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook, of blessed memory
"Come to Eretz Israel, dear brethren, and save your own souls, as well as those of your generations, and of our entire nation. Deliver our Homeland from waste and desolation, degradation and rot. Save it from every kind of defilement and corruption, sorrow and distress, which threaten them in all their far flung communities, without any exception. So do come to Eretz Israel, beloved brethren, and do all in your power to blazen a trek for the return of those of our people who are hated and baited, tainted and hunted. Lead those who return, showing by your example that the road has now been concluded. It is idle to seek other paths, for there is only one way on which we must tread, that is to Eretz Israel."
Rabbi Avraham Izhak Hacohen Kook
The Reply of Rabbi Shlomo Goren Chief Rabbi of Israel
It pleased me greatly to learn that you are about to publish a booklet, the aim of which will be to explain the importance of the religious imperative of every Jew to take up residence in Israel. One of the basic commands of the Torah is "And you shall possess the land and dwell therein." A command repeated in the Prophets "And ye shall dwell in the land which I have given unto your ancestors, and ye shall be My people and I will be unto you for a G-d." This assurance receives a three-fold confirmation (Ketubim): "For G-d will deliver Zion, and the cities of Judah will be rebuilt, wherein they will dwell and inherit it (the land)."
This precept though not unique nor listed among the 613 Mitzvot catalogued by Maimonides, nevertheless, takes pride of place among all the rest and is the apotheosis of their aim. All the Torah commandments are conditioned by it and it, in turn, depends on them. This fact is gleaned, forceful though it appears at first blush, from the Sifre of the School of Rav (Parshat Re'eh, Piska 80) where it is recorded: "The story is told of R. Judah b. Beter, R. Matya b. Haresh, R. Hanina b. Ahi, R. Joshua and R. Yonatan who were on their way to a place without the boundaries of Eretz Israel. When they arrived at Paltum and they remembered Eretz Israel, they raised their eyes, which were flooded with tears, heavenwards. Rending their garments, they recited the biblical verse: "And ye shall possess it (the land) and dwell therein, and observe to do (the commandments)." They, thereupon, returned to their homes and taught that: "Dwelling in Eretz Israel is equated in all the Torah precepts put together."
This opinion is echoed by the compilers of the Tosefta: "One should opt to dwell in Eretz Israel, even in a place the majority of whose residents are non-Jews rather than elsewhere, despite the fact that he will there be surrounded by a majority consisting of Jews." Does not this tend to prove that residing in Eretz Israel is tantamount to a fulfillment of all Torah precepts?"
The most eminent of our legal interpreters, ancient, medieval and modern, have proved, beyond all doubt, that this supreme, religious imperative operates even in our own times, as the Ramban clearly indicates in his Addenda to the Sefer Ha'Mitzvot (Mitzvah 4) of Maimonides, which posits the affirmation that "we have been commanded to inherit the Land and dwell therein." The Ramban concludes: "Since this Mitzvah (of Aliyah) operates timelessly, each Jew - even the one who has made the Golah his home must, at all times, strive to make this imperative a tangible reality in his own life." This is borne out in statements dotted all over the Talmud. The story, quoted above from the Sifre, which relates how the Rabbis wept when they remembered Israel when far away therefrom and forthwith decided to return to their ancestral moorings and national anchorage, is proof positive that the injunction to dwell in the Holy Land is equivalent to the observance of all the religious imperatives in the Torah. A cautionary note should here be sounded - though it is equated in significance to all the 613 Mitzvot put together, it does not abrogate any of them, nor does its fulfillment exempt the Jew from performing all, or any, of the others. On the contrary, it obligates us with the necessity to fulfill all the other commandments, in that it provides a background for their implementation. Only when all the commandments are performed, can the Torah be said to be complete and claim to be possessed of one spirit.
Our Talmudic sages indulged so much in hyperbole and exaggeration when extolling the meritoriousness of residing in Israel, that they gave the impression that all the other religious imperatives revolve pivot-like around its axis. As an illustration, one may quote the words of the celebrated Ramban who, in his Commentary in the Torah (at the end of Aharei Mot), stipulates: "that the fundamental aim of all the Torah precepts is to see the whole of Israel dwelling in the Land." Being G-d's own chosen people over all other nations carries with it the responsibility of being affiliated to His name. It was for this reason that He gave them the Land, as it is said: "And I said unto you: You will possess their land which I will give you as an inheritance. For I am the L-rd, your G-d, who hath singled you out from all other nations!"
There are two aspects to this Mitzvah, the offshoots of which, though aimed in the same direction, nevertheless, run their separate though parallel courses. Whereas one aspect is directed towards the community, the other constitutes a challenge to the individual. That which is directed at the community has, as its aim, the possession of the land. This receives confirmation from the Rabbinic interpretation of the verse in Joshua: "about 40,000 armed men joined in the battle before the L-rd." The passage continues: "And we will conquer the land before the L-rd and before His people." The question posed by our Sages is: "Do you really think that Israel can conquer the Land before the L-rd?" Certainly not. What the verse wishes to stress is this: "As long as they live in the land, it is tantamount to having been conquered by them, but if they are not settled in it, then it is not in a state of having been conquered by them."
To emphasize the importance of each Jew to make his home in Eretz Israel, the Sages gave this interpretation of the verse in I Samuel (26:19): "For they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave unto the inheritance of the L-rd, saying: "Go, serve other G-ds." Can you, really, imagine that King David will serve idols: Of course not. What David meant to imply was that "he who leaves Eretz Israel in times of peace and goes to reside outside it, is equaled to an idolater, as it is written: "And I have planted them in truth, in this land, with all my heart and soul." In other words, as long as they reside in the land, they are planted before me in truth, and with all my heart and soul, the reverse is the case when they abandon the land.
The sanctity of the land and its spiritual superiority is deathless, for this holiness did not begin when the Israelites conquered it. It was called "G-d's inheritance" and is linked with His name throughout the endless generations. It is ever under direct divine Providence and it exerts a sacrosanct inspiration over all the face of the earth. Is it not written: "The eyes of G-d are ever upon it?" G-d is called "The G-d of Israel," as it is written: "for they knew not the judgment of the G-d of the land." (See Ramban's Commentary on the Torah).
All expressions of alienation from settling in Israel, all slanderous expressions levelled against its inhabitants, constitute an inpardonable sin. Our Sages, of blessed memory, opined that "the decree of distinction issued against our wandering ancestors in the wilderness was solely due to the fact that they spoke evil reports of the Land. Just as the fulfillment of living in Israel is equated to all the other precepts put together, so must the sin of its non-observance be considered tantamount to the sin of commission against all Mitzvot together."
With the establishment of Medinat Israel and the "Law of Return," all must admit that this Mitzvah of Aliyah is imperative in each and every Israelite. This is clearly evident in the Responsa of the Hatam Sofer (XIV 234), as well as from the Responsa of the author of "Avnei Nezer' (No. 454) on the Gaon of Sochotchov, the Kuzari (II.pars. 23-24).
Verily, residing in Israel is not only meritorious, but also imposes duties and responsibilities, such as those of preserving its holy characteristics and supreme sanctity and spiritual inviolability. This holiness can only be attained at the price of the fulfillment of all the Torah precepts, both positive and negative, and as a reward of guarding any infringment of the many meticulous precautions issued by the Rabbis not to break down the fence. Is it not written: "Do not contaminate yourselves with all these things, for it is by these things that the nations whom I will drive out from before you have allowed themselves to be contaminated?"
The Tanna R. Meir long ago maintained that "He who makes his permanent home in Israel, and who eats his ordinary food (Hullin) in purity and who speaks Hebrew and recites the Shema twice daily, in the morning hours and after night has fallen, is assured of the life to come." This is the eternal, threefold cord which sanctifies and unifies Israel: "Israel's Torah, the Jewish nation, and Eretz Israel."
The Rishon LeZion Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Chief Rabbi of Israel
Nahmanides comments thus on Numbers (33.53): "And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein, for unto you have I given the land to possess it." "In my considered opinion, this is a positive command, for since He gave it to us, it would be a transgression not to obey the precept to dwell therein. This being so, it should not be considered as hyperbolic on the part of the talmudic sages to have gone out of their way to emphasize the importance of dwelling in Eretz Israel and the sinfulness implied in departing from it to take up abode elsewhere."
According to him (the Ramban), Maimonides erred in not including this positive command in his "SEPHER HA'MITZVOT." Moreover, to acquire possession of our ancestral Homeland was considered by the Talmud (Sotah 44b) as a "war in which it was necessary (MILHEMET MITZVAH) even for a bridegroom to leave his chamber and a bride her bridal canopy". In addition, the Rabbis in the Talmud (KETUBOT 112a) went so far as to say that "he who departs from Eretz Israel to live elsewhere, is equated to one serving idols". Exaggerated though the praises of living in Eretz Israel may appear at first blush, they are all triggered off from the fact that it is one of the positive commandments of the Torah. Moreover, it is equated to a fulfillment of all the other precepts. Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph quotes Rabbi Issac de-Leon in his book "MEGILLAT ESTHER", that the Mitzvah of dwelling in Eretz Israel only operated during the periods of Moses, Joshua and David and as long as Israel had not been banished from their own land. After the destruction of our Temple and the exile of our ancestors from the Holy Land, this command is held in abeyance until the dawn of the Messianic Age. It was for this reason that Maimonides did not include the Mitzvah of Aliyah in his enumeration of the Taryag (613) precepts.
With this view, the RISHON L'ZION does not concur for two reasons: One: because the Ramban does not include many Mitzvot which did not operate for all times, such as the rebuilding of the temple, a task left for the Messiah. This being so, then why should the precept of Aliyah be omitted since the Messianic Age will also witness the resettlement of Israel in its ancestral Homeland?
Second: from the words of Maimonides (Hilchot Ishut XIII), it is evident that he concurs with the view of the Ramban that even in our times, it is a positive precept to dwell in Eretz Israel. For, writes Maimonides: "Should the husband be willing but the wife not so inclined to make Eretz Israel their domicile, then she may be divorced and even forfeit her Ketubah (marriage document which insures her in the case of divorce or widowhood)".
Many rabbinical authorities were up-in-arms at this decision, on the plea that it would provide an excuse for the unscrupulous husband to divorce his wife minus the Ketubah, on the argument that she refused to accompany him to dwell in Eretz Israel. To this, however, the answer was simple: it was up to the Beth Din, who were asked to grant the divorce to ascertain if this was really a bona-fide case. From this discussion, it is clear that in making the decision quoted above, Maimonides concurs with the view that dwelling in Eretz Israel was a Mitzvah independent of time, operating in our day and age, just as it was in force when Israel lived in its Homeland and the Temple stood in all its pristine glory on Mt. Moriah.
The main reason, however, for it being obligatory to dwell in Israel at all times is because it is only there that the Jew is enabled to observe these precepts and of these, there is a majority that can only be fulfilled on its soil being conditioned by life in Israel (Mitzvot HaTluyot BaAretz). To enforce this opinion, the statement of Rabbi Simlai (Sotah 14a) is quoted: "Why was Moses so desirous of entering the Promised Land? Was it because he was desirous of enjoying its luscious fruits? Of course not. His sole reason was: "Since G-d commanded many precepts, most of which depend on their implementation if one dwells in Eretz Israel, it is only natural that I wish to live there in order to be able to fulfill them." Hearing this plea, the Divine assurance came: "Since it is your desire to obtain reward for the fulfillment of these Mitzvot, then I will wed your desire to the deed." Basing himself on this statement of Rabbi Simlai, Nahmanides and those who decided the Halacha according to his views, maintained that the primary reason for Aliyah was because it was only there that the Taryag Mitzvot could be fulfilled. Other eminent authorities, however, maintained that dwelling in Eretz Israel was a mitzvah per se, entirely independent of the fact that many of the precepts on account of being dependent on the soil of the land and for other cognate reasons, could not be observed elsewhere.
Other proofs are also cited from the Talmud and post-talmudic sources to support the view that Aliyah is binding at all times. Thus from Gittin 8b, we learn that many things forbidden on the Shabbat by the rabbis because operating them would be an infringement of the complete Shabbat rest enjoined in the Torah, are permitted if their intention be to acquire property in Israel. Another talmudic decision deserves quoting: "When one has a house in the Diaspora, he is exempt from affixing a Mezzuzah to its doors for the first thirty days only, but in the case of a house in Israel, a Mezzuzah must be affixed immediately!" For this, the main reason is that when one buys a house in Israel, it should be considered immediately as a permanent home (keva) and not a temporary asylum (Dirat Arai) (Menahot 44a).
The only instance given in the Talmud for permission to leave Eretz Israel is in order to imbibe Jewish learning from the famous academies in the Diaspora, some of which were even more renowned than those which thrived in the Holy Land (vide Erubin 47a). Outstanding examples of those who took advantage of this concession, were Hillel (Pesahim 66a), R. Hiyya (Sukkah 20a), whose main purpose was to see that the "lamp of Jewish studies" not be extinguished in Babylon. It would seem, however, that not all the Rabbis of old took this view, for eminent talmudic authorities like R. Zera and others went from Babylon to Israel and Amoraim, like R. Ami and R. Assi, commuted from Babylon to Eretz Israel and vice versa, in order to discuss the views expressed in the Babylonian and Palestinian academies. The majority of authoritative opinion, it is clear, subscribed to the view forcibly expressed by Nahmanides who listed Aliyah among the Taryag that are binding at all times, on every observant Jew. As we have seen above, the compiler of the Sifre (the Midrashim, Numbers and Deuteronomy) went so far as to assert that the "Mitzvah of dwelling in Eretz Israel is equated to all other precepts in the Torah and that even Maimonides agrees with this, albeit with the reservation that this precept, though a positive one, has only the enforcement of a rabbinical kind. But even if this be so, the Talmud rules that everything which has been prescribed by the Rabbis has the imprimatur (the stamp) of the Torah.
From the cornucoepia of Responsa quoted by the Rishon L'zion on this subject that the concencus of opinion is: "that all those who are deeply concerned with the fulfillment of the Word of G-d and His commandments should make every effort to make their home in Israel, especially in these days when assimilation raises its ugly head in the Diaspora and when there are all the means of obtaining a decent livelihood. Now, it is a paramount duty to make the "land of our fathers" the "land of our descendants". To enforce this obligation the Rabbis (with their love for exaggeration in the interests of emphasis) ruled that "one is forbidden to leave Eretz Israel and to take up domicile elsewhere, even going so far as to say that a "wife is considered as 'rebellious' (moredet) if she does not agree with her husband who is willing to erect a home in Israel!"
One need only cite a few random examples in order to be convinced of the paramount position occupied by Aliyah in our Halacha. Thus: "He who dwells outside the land of Israel is equated to one who is an atheist." (Ketubot 110b), Zohar (Yithro 79b). To live in Israel and then decide to leave it for good, is considered an infringement of the first Two Commandments of the Decalogue in that not only is he considered godless, but also as if he had set up idols of his own outside his ancestral heritage.
To sum up our discussion, for only a digest of the learned Responsa of the Rishon LeZion would be of interest to the average English reader. Since one was allowed to emigrate from Israel to the Diaspora only because the State of talmudic studies was preponderant in the latter place, the converse now obtains. For since, sad to relate, the great seats of learning in Central Europe have been destroyed in the Nazi Holocaust and Yeshivot flourish in Medinat Israel, it is a positive mitzvah to leave the Diaspora and settle in Israel in order to bask not only in the physical sunshine but also in the "Light of the Torah".
Commenting on the words "and the gold of that land is good", our sages said: "There is no Torah comparable to that which is taught in Eretz Israel," and that: "the Holy One said 'A small room in Israel is more beloved in my eyes than the great Sanhedrin in the Diaspora', (Yerushalmi VI 8) Happy are those who come to settle in Israel and help in its upbuilding! They will be "born again" both in the physical and spiritual sense, for say our talmudic sages: "The atmosphere of Eretz Israel makes one wise, as well as healthy", giving him peace of mind and vigour of body.
Raise the Banner: Some reflections on a strengthened Aliyah movement
The Talmud (Yoma 9b) records a brief but instinctive conversation between Resh Lakish, one of the celebrated Amoraim in Eretz Israel, and Rabba bar bar-Hanna, an Amora who came to Eretz Israel from Babylon, whither he returned later to teach the Torah in Pumbeditha. One day, as Resh Lakish was swimming in the Jordan, Rabba bar bar-Hanna held out his hand in greeting. Imagine his surprise, to hear Resh Lakish exclaim:
"G-d, I hate you [Babylonians]!" (It is well-known that there was but little love lost between him and the Babylonians). Explaining his rude outburst, Resh Lakish quoted the verse in "Song of Songs" (8.9): "If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar."
It would thus seem that his interpretation of this verse was the following: "Had our ancestors in the time of Ezra obeyed the call to leave Babylon and go up to Eretz Israel in serried columns (like a fortress-wall), that is in a strong, winding procession, with hearts beating as one out of their sheer love to rebuild and repopulate the wastes of the Holy Land, they would have resembled silver which defies rust. Since, however, their return was but luke-warm and undertaken only by a few of the faithful ones, they were equated to the cedar which is prone to rot and the withering of root and branch.
A further comment on this verse will prove worthwhile and significant. So famous among his generation was Resh Lakish, that it was said of him that "when Resh Lakish taught in his academy, it appeared as if he were uprooting mountains and ground them to dirt against each other" (Sanhedrin 24). His influence was so great that it was decided abroad that that man, with whom he conversed in the open gaze of the public, was considered to be of so trustworthy a character that none had any scruples to do business with him, even in cases where witnesses to the transaction were lacking.
Hence did Resh Lakish feel justified in displaying his contempt of those who lived in Babylon, when he was greeted by Rabba bar bar-Hanna. For were they not culpable of a wilful sin of commission by not responding to the call of Ezra to go up to Eretz Israel as a "solid wall", instead of a mere trickle? The result of their negligence was that the House of Israel was likened to "cedar boards", prone to rot away, on account of the trials and tribulations they had to experience at the hands of a hostile world.
A similar rebuke is to be found in the "Song of Deborah" (Judges 5.16): "Why sattest them among the sheepfolds, to hear the pipings for the flocks?" At the divisions of Reuben, there were great searchings of heart, this being the stern rebuke levelled against the tribe of Reuben for being indisposed to participate in the battle against the army of Sesera, despite the fact that the other tribes who did join forces against the enemy snatched the palm of victory from overwhelming odds. Resh Lakish complained bitterly of all those who preferred to remain in Babylon, not exempting women and children. He was convinced that had they all, without exception, responded to the call to return with alacrity, they would have definitely prevented the destruction of the Temple and the Homeland. This appears to be the interpretation given by Rashi to the passage in Yoma 9b, quoted above. It was because of their retrograde reaction, that they blocked the dwelling of the Shechinah in the second Temple.
It is also significant to note the comments of the Maharsha (R. Samuel Eliezer Edels, 1555-1631). In his principle work "Chiddushe Halachot VeAgadot" wherein he endeavors to clarify in a rational manner, apparent contradictions and difficulties, he makes the following comment on the passage under discussion: "In the days of Ezra, the vital and urgent need was to return in a solid phalanx, as impregnable against the enemy as a fortress. Had they done so, the Shechinah would have once again dwelt in Israel. The bitter fact, however, was that only scant numbers obeyed the call to return and these had to protect the entrances to the city. Any wonder that the result led to the removal of prophecy from Israel, with its ultimate sequel of total destruction?"
It was this thought that brooded in the heart of Resh Lakish. It was blasphemous to complain against divine Providence for not protecting those who had setteled in Eretz Israel during the period of the Second Temple against the armed bands of the Romans, when the entire fault could be laid at the door of our ancestors in Babylon who remained imperious to the call of Zerubabel and Joshua b. Jehozadek, as well as to Ezra the Scribe, and remained, like limpets, glued to their seats. For had they all responded enthusiastically as solid as a wall, the Shechinah would have defended them against all enemies, regardless of the source from which they came. Accordingly, It was out of the bitterness of an aching heart, that Resh Lakish burst out in pained anger, when Rabba bar bar-Hanna greeted him while he was bathing in the Jordan.
Thoughts of this nature occupy the minds of many of our own day and age, when they consider the momentous times in which we now live. On the one hand, they rejoice at the Aliyah of so many of their co-religionists from the world over, thus filling them with the hope that the L-rd has once again, remembered His people, enabling them to return to Zion, thus to rebuild our Homeland on the solid foundations of Torah and Jewish, ethical teachings. But on the other hand, they behold cataclysmic catastrophes gathering momentum in the world at large and looming threateningly over their heads. Should these clouds, Heaven forbid, not be dispersed, those who seek to destroy our nation, root and branch will be encouraged to wipe us off, as they threaten, in and out of season, from the face of the earth.
One cannot help ruminating on the words of Resh Lakish, cited above: "Had you only returned to Eretz Israel, when Ezra so called you to do, like a solid fortress wall, the position would have been radically different." May I slightly alter the text thus: "Had you all returned in solid array at the re-establishment of our State (on Iyar 5th, 5708), you might have succeeded in rehabilitating the Shechinah in our midst, as in the days of yore?" (This is in conformance with the interpretation of Rashi in the passage in Yona 9b). We would then have been fully protected against the various forces banded against us and bent on our annihilation.
It is still yet possible, even at this eleventh hour, to organize a massive Aliyah movement to embrace all our brethren whithersoever they be and to be imbued with faith in divine protection and the presence of the Shechinah in all the work of our hands. Great is the lesson that we can pluck from the episode which took place in the Second Temple period, and it is one which we can only neglect to our own cost. Each Jew, wherever he finds himself at present, must make every endeavor to settle in Israel, thereby fortifying the faithful who are already dwelling there and, at the same time, strengthening the foundations of our State. Moreover, his act will prove of a miraculous nature in spurring members of his family and others to follow his example. The words of rebuke uttered by Resh Lakish should ever resound in our ears, for the conditions are Mutatis Mutandis, almost similar now as they were then. Let us, accordingly, exhort our brethren in the Diaspora to pack their suitcases and join us here in the thrilling adventure of rolling away the desert and convert it into smiling landscapes. A massive aliyah will cause the Shechinah to return to our midst and protect us from all dangers, material and spiritual alike. May it be Heaven's Will to help us re-establish the House of Israel on solid foundations of traditional Judaism so that we all may speedily rejoice in the witnessing the perfect and complete solution. Amen.
An Appeal from the Former Rishon LeZion Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim Chief Rabbi Emeritus of Israel
So well known is the Mitzvah of residing in Eretz Israel that it is totally unnecessary to elaborate thereon. Even when the country was still wrapped in desolation surrounded by marauding bands and bad roads did our ancestors display much self-sacrifice in order to fulfiill this religious imperative.
Though there is a dispute among our codists as to whether this Mitzvah, after the destruction of the Second Temple is to be regarded as a Torah ordinance, or just a rabinical injunction not laden with the same authority as those enjoyed by the former, yet there is none who gainsays that this Mitzvah still operates in our own day. Even the Tosafist Rav Hayim HaCohen agrees that this Mitzvah is only brushed aside in the case of danger lurking on the journey, a view also shared by the Rimat who adds that this exemption is also operative in cases when harsh and cruel rules hold sway over Eretz Israel and life there is in jeopardy.
Despite this fact, our ancestors throughout the generations did their utmost to fulfill this religious commandment, for more that 200 years ago, the Rishon LeZion, Rav Meyuhas Bechar Shmuel, described in his book "Pri HaAdamah" how our co-religionists in Morocco jeopardized their lives in order to immigrate to Jerusalem even when the ruling powers thereof did their work to stop any increase of Jews in the Holy City.
Now that we have merited to witness G-d's return to Zion in mercy and to behold the unification of Jerusalem, as well as to possess Eretz Israel in our hands as a result of the miraculous events which have brought about the defeat of our enemies, this must surely be the time when it is His Will to implement the promises which He made to our ancestors by the mouth of His prophets.
Not only has Medinat Israel opened its gates wide to every Jew who wishes to return, but is generously ready to help every would be immigrant with every means available in its power, both materially as well as spiritually. This being so, each Jew that is still in the Diaspora should search his conscience with the challenge savouring of the nature of a minore, a forbore argument (Kal VaHomer), thus: "Seeing that our ancestors were so keen on settling in Israel even when wicked and cruel men held sway over it, how much more keen should they be in doing so today when the Land is not only in our possession, but its governmental departments even go out of their way to be of practical help to all those who wish to settle therein as permanent residents? Does it not stand to reason that all those who wish to remain steadfast to their faith, to be closely linked with their national antecedents, should pack their bags and make their home in Medinat Israel, and all this, without too many questions and problems?
Let us be logical in this matter as, indeed, in all others. When one is about to fulfill any other of the 613 biblical commandments, is he prone to inflict upon himself a searching, self-examination as to whether he can implement them, lulling his conscience with the sop that there are far too many obstacles impeding their fulfillment? Does he postpone making the deed cousin to the wish by postponing the realization of his intentions to a later stage in his life? Since he does not act so in other cases, then why single out the Mitzvah of Aliyah for procrastination? Since our Talmudic sages ruled that "one must not delay the fulfillment of any Mitzvah that is awaiting the realization thereof, how much more binding is this so in the case of Aliyah, a commandment equated in importance to all tile other religious precepts put together?
Naturally, it is not easy for one to be uprooted from his native country and transplant himself to "fresh fields and pastures new", but all the most important moves in life are sparked off after much spiritual preparation and are cradled in strenuous, physical effort. Did not our sages, of long ago, warn us that: "Eretz Israel can only become ours after much physical discomforts and spiritual vicissitudes?" This truth has been vindicated throughout the winding, colorful cavalcade of the generations and is especially applicable in our own day and age. The only difference now applying is that the obstacles barring the immediate realization of Aliyah have assumed a different pattern. For these are, to a large extent, mainly difficulties attached to uprootal and absorption which, actually, pale into insignificance when compared to the obstacles which impeded our ancestors from realizing their dream of beginning once again where our ancestors left off after the destruction of the Second Temple.
When these thoughts and facts are taken into full consideration, the difficulties hedging around Aliyah at present should be accepted in a spirit of love and pleasure. Far be it from any member of the House of Israel to groan and grumble at the difficulties attending settling in Israel, instead let him be blissfully confident that he who succeeds in the realization of his dreams is assured of a reward to come, both in this world and in the life to come.
The Mitzvah of Aliyah to Eretz Israel (an abridged translation)
After quoting Numbers 33:53, the Ramban cites two precepts which are sparked off from this verse. The first is the Mitzvah of conquering the land from its possession by strangers. This is not a Mitzvah of a temporary nature, applicable only to the generation that witnessed the Egyptian Exodus, but is operative throughout the generations.
Not to reside in Eretz Israel is to worship idols, says the Ramban, basing himself on the verses quoted in the previous articles of this booklet.
In his Torah commentary, the Ramban adds, that a husband or wife that is unwilling to join the other partner in immigrating to Israel is to be treated as a renegade. Moreover, one who has the means to go on Aliyah, but does not do so, transgresses a positive, biblical precept each day he stays in the Diaspora. The only exceptions are where dangers are involved in the journey, such as obtained in former days, but which, happily, do not obtain today.
Another case, also dealt with in other articles in this booklet, is where a parent's objections are based on the fear lest his child in Israel will fall on evil ways. Happily, this fear, too, is almost groundless these days, for despite the "permissiveness" which is slowly seeping into the air of Israel, the fact is that nowhere else in the wide world is it more easy to lead the full Jewish life than in Medinat Israel. Moreover, slowly, but surely, the Yeshivot in Israel are replacing those which were destroyed in Central Europe during the beastly Nazi holocaust.
Another stumbling block which once stood in the way of Aliyah, has also now been removed, that is, that it was so hard to earn a livelihood in Eretz Israel in the days gone by. This was the position when the land resembled a parched malaria ridden wilderness, whose inhabitants eked out a poor livelihood from the charitable contributions made by their co-religionists abroad. Now that the position has been radically changed, where the State is actually short of labourers and skilled workmen and professionals, where nobody need starve owing to the Welfare Ministry and charitable organizations whose number is legion, such objections fall to the ground and cannot block the way before a massive Aliyah.
The opposition of parents to their children's aliyah has already been dealt with by others in this booklet and need not be recapitulated here. All agree that the Mitzvah of Aliyah takes precedence over the Fifth Commandment, except in isolated cases specified above, as are detailed in Rabbi S. Israeli in his book "Amud Ha'Yemini" (XXII).
Those parents who, at first, cannot bear the parting of their children soon find that the latter have paved the way for their own coming to Israel, eventually. Is it not, therefore, better to undergo a little travail for the sake of giving birth to eventual years of happiness? Moreover, by the time the parents reach pensionable age, their children will be rooted in the land and the former will be able to enjoy their pension while living in close proximity to their children, a thought worth pondering. A post-script: Life in the Golah is becoming increasingly harder for the Jew, one of the signs of the approaching Messianic Age. For the greater the hatred towards the Jew in the world, the surer are the steps of salvation. Hence Aliyah today is laying the foundations of Redemption. Happy are those who are now actively participating in it.
The Fifth Commandment and Aliyah (an abridged translation)
So great is the Fifth Commandment that it embraces, in its importance, all the other 613 Torah precepts, so much so, that when surveying all the divine, categorical imperatives, our Talmudic Sages equate respect for one's parents to that of reverence for G-d Himself (Sanhedrin 50b).
The question now arises: this being so, what should the child do when ordered by his parents to transgress a Torah precept? The answer to this query is supplied by the Torah itself (Lev. 19.3): "Each man should revere his mother and father, but you must all observe My Shabbats, for I am the L-rd your G-d." The Shabbat, as well as any other religious observance, cannot be brushed aside on this account, for parents, as well as children, are in duty bound to respect the injunctions, of the Divine, as expressed in His Torah. This is formulated in Koros Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah, 240), as well as in the work of the Gaon of Wilna (Tana DeBe Eliyahu Rabba XXVII). This applies not only in the case where the child is asked to desecrate the Shabbat, but in every other instance as well.
As an illustration, let us quote Maimonides (Hilchot Mamrim, VI): "Should his father ask him to violate any religious command, be it based on Torah, or only on rabbinic ordinance, he is not to obey him" (for the reasons specified above). According to the Ramban, even rabbinic decrees have the validity of Torah authority (see Deut. XIX 9-11). No matter what the religious command is, its fulfillment takes priority over the Fifth Commandment where the two are in conflict, for the simple reason that both parent and child must obey G-d's will. Hence in the case of Aliyah, which according to Maimonides (Hilchot Melachim V) is equated to the fulfillment of the entire Torah and its non-fulfillment ranked with idolatry. Moreover, because of the rabbinic teaching that "he who paces even only four cubits in Israel deserves the life to come, it only stands to reason that where the implementation of this most important precept is opposed by the parents, the Fifth Commandment is eclipsed by the Mitzvah of Aliyah."
A cautionary note should here, too, be sounded. In cases where one of the contributory reasons for the child wishing to go on Aliyah is due to the desire of shaking off the reponsibility of looking after the material needs of his parents and has little, if anything to do with his desire of fulfilling the Mitzvah of Aliyah, but is triggered off mainly by the opposition of two wills, that of the child and that of the parents, in this case, the will of the child must give way to the Fifth Commandment, whose implementation is regarded as tantamount to reverence for G-d Himself.
There is another stipulation, should the objection of the parent against the Aliyah of the child be based on the fear lest the latter's ways become corrupt by evil companions and harmful influences in Eretz Israel, as has been the case in several instances lately, sad to relate, then it is the duty of the child to obey the parent, whose primary duty it is to innoculate his offspring with "the way of the Torah" (see Pesakim 50b). Does not the Book of Proverbs tell us: "Harken my son to the instruction of thy father and do not abandon the law of thy mother?"
To sum up: 1) Aliyah comes before the Fifth Commandment. 2) The exception is in the case where the intention of the Aliyah is born of the desire to rid himself of the duties he owes to parents. 3) Another exception is the one expressed above, namely, the fear of the parent lest the child go astray.
The Mitzvah of Living in Eretz Israel
According to the Yoreh Deah (240:15), one should not harken unto his father when asked to transgress a commandment, though it be only of rabbinical ordination. The Mitzvah of living in Eretz Israel is one of Torah authority and is operative in every age and clime, even in the Diaspora (Ramban in his "Sefer HaMitzvot"). Accordingly, it is a categorical imperative to emigrate from the Golah in order to take up residence in Eretz Israel, even when the exchange is made from a most luxurious home in the Diaspora to one that is largely inferior in Israel. This even applies in a case where the exchange involves leaving a country in which the majority of its inhabitants are Jewish to take up abode in a vicinity in Israel wherein the bulk of residents are not of the Jewish faith (Eben HaEzer, 75). Moreover, even in a place in Israel of which the bulk of its residents is composed of those who are apostates. (See the "Dvar Halacha" of R. Eliyahu Klatzkin).
This is the ruling of practically all the halachic authorities, both of former and present generations (see "Pithei Tshuvah" of Eben HaEzer 75). Though Jerusalem, in our own day, is not deserving of preferential treatment above any other place in Israel, Eretz Israel, nevertheless, takes pride of place over any other place in the Diaspora at all times. This not so much because of the numerous, religious Mitzvot, the implementation of which can only be effected while dwelling on Israeli territory (Mitzvot Hatluyot BaAretz), but because of the eternal sanctity attached to Eretz Israel, a sanctity which encroaches upon time and exhausts Eternity (see Hatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, 234).
How much greater is the Mitzvah when the desire for Aliyah has been triggered off by the urge to study Torah. Have not our Sages assured us that there is no Torah that can equal, let alone excell that obtained in Eretz Israel? The study of Torah exceeds in religious importance even that of the Fifth Commandment, which exhorts us to "Honour your Father and Mother." (See Eben HaEzer ad locum).
This eternal and inviolable sanctity of Eretz Israel, which is at the very root and foundation of the Mitzvah of living in an ancestral Homeland, so important as to deserve ultra-vires determination, is operable also in the case of women who are, otherwise, exempt from the performance of such precepts the implementation of which is conditioned by time and circumstance. Residence in Israel enables men and women alike to fulfill meticulously the traditional observance of Judaism.
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