The Mitzvah to Live in Eretz Yisrael
by Ariella Bracha Waldinger
My husband and I had not been exposed to the teachings of our sages relating to Eretz Yisrael when we made ALiyah to live in The Jewish quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, (The holiest place on earth). In truth, I had no idea of the depth of the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. My husband and I had a deep longing to understand more fully our connection to our precious Holy Land, the land given to us by G-d Himself. We felt compelled to seek out sources to learn about the GREATEST MITZVAH OF ALL. “Living in Eretz Israel is the equivalent of all the Mitzvot in the Torah” ( Sifrei, Parashat Ree, Tosefta Avoda Zara 5). Imagine my sublime surprise when I began to learn the truth about our precious inheritance called Eretz Yisrael and why making Aliyah is the greatest Mitzvah of which a Jew can partake.
I hope to share with you on this page what Chazal say about Eretz Yisrael, so that hopefully, Be’H, you will also connect to this Land on a deeper level. Perhaps then, you will choose to personally express your birthright to build up the land of our forefathers and to claim your inheritance.
I can tell you from personal experience that I had no idea of the spiritual pleasures that awaited me upon ascending to the Holy Land. In spite of leaving behind my precious daughters and their families and my beloved twin sister along with other family that I pine for, nothing compares to the soul nourishment and spiritual contentment one experiences living in The Holy Land. The sheer number of Jews living together as a nation–the air, views, biblical and historical sites– all combine to arouse your heart and soul to form an exquisite, deep attachment to the Land of our Forefathers. The privilege to live in Eretz Yisrael is indeed great!
Below are some inspiring excerpts from the sefer, ” The Mitzvah To Live In Eretz Israel”, a compilation of the teachings of our Sages and great Rabbis regarding “The Commandment and Our Great Moral Obligation to Live in Eretz Israel.” This sefer was printed in Beer Sheva in 5765 by the Beit Yosef Institute.
The Land of Israel has a special status of holiness as “The Land which HaShem your G-d cares for. Always, the eyes of G-d are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”(Deut.11;12).
“And remove from your heart this false belief that a man has more blessings outside the land.” (Alshich ha Kaddosh, Ki tavo.”)
“There is no happiness, but only when Israel is settled in the Holy Land.” (Zohar Ha Kaddosh Bamidbar 118a)
“Eretz Yisrael gives wisdom to and purifies the soul.” (Bava Batra 158)
“There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Israel.”( Bereshit Rabba 16, 7)
“There is no greater abrogation of the Torah (Bittul Torah) than when the Jews were exiled from their place.” (Chagigah 5b)
“It is preferable to dwell in the deserts of Eretz Israel than in the palaces of Chutz LaAretz.” (Bereshit Rabba 39:8)
“My Beloved spoke and said to me: “Rise up, my love, my beauty and go to yourself.” (Song of Songs 2:10) With the words: Lech Lecha literally :Go to yourself,” G-d commanded Avraham to leave his birthplace and go to the Land (Genesis 12:1). G-d was telling His faithful servant: Do not think you are the same person abroad as you are in the Land. Abroad you are not complete, for you are not connected to your foot which cleaves to G-d. But when you go to THE LAND, you are going to your roots, to yourself (Alshich). Similarly, in our verse, G-d says to the people of Israel who are in exile, “Rise up, my love, and go to yourself” rise up and leave these impure lands and go to your roots in the Holy Land”. Ben Ish Chai, “Even Sheleima”
From the sefer, “Land Of Our Heritage” by Dovid Rosoff, “What made the Shelah HaKodesh, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz leave the place of his birth in 1622, separate from his children, renounce his position as leader of European Jewry, and even jeopardize his life to live in the Holy Land? The answer taken from the sefer is “Holiness”. He states that in the same way that gravity operates according to certain laws which, though invisible to the naked eye, can, with proper instruments be detected; so it is with holiness. Holiness is an actual, measurable quality that expresses the extent to which G-d is revealed through a person or thing. That Eretz Yisrael is called the HOLY LAND, means that of all places on the planet, G-d’s sovereignty is most apparent in the Land of Israel. Israel is not an arbitrarily designated area of the earth’s crust. Rather it is intrinsically unique and inherently different from all other places. Furthermore, it and no other place, was designated the homeland of the Jewish people. They are wedded to each other and G-d was their matchmaker.
The Shelah HaKodesh, after months of traveling by land and sea, experiencing great dangers, was depleted of finances and weary from hardship, yet his love of Eretz Israel and settling the land urged him on. At last as he set foot in the city of Tzfat, and fell to the ground kissing the stones and earth in fulfillment of the verse (Psalms 102:15, “For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust.” He wrote, “How deeply I thanked G-d for His abundant miracles which enabled us to reach our blessed homeland.”
At the time, the Shelah HaKodesh left Europe, it was flourishing with Torah and wealth and Eretz Yisrael was impoverished. He must have understood the portion that awaited his arrival for we see that he allowed nothing to stand in the way of his returning home to claim his inheritance.
Today however, Israel is flourishing and is the center of Torah in the world. There are beautiful, spacious apartments and villas in prospering towns and cities with land for children to run and play. Everything we could ever want or need is here including practically free schools and healthcare and dental care. We are a booming metropolis with high fashion, fabulous art, modern stores and technological advances in many areas. We have an abundance of gorgeous national parks for recreation and many lovely 5 star resorts. WE HAVE IT ALL.
Settling Eretz Yisrael is a Mitzvah on its own as we found how much our Rabbis insisted on the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael. (Or ha Chaim, Ketubot 111. Devarim 26:1)
“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The beauty, the glory and the greatness of the Mitzvah of strengthening the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, for it is a great mitzvah to awaken the love and desire for the Holy Land and to renew the love as former days, so that the love burns like flames of a fire…”(The Alter Rebbe brought down in the sefer “Mishnat Yoel”)
“For the main place for the observance of the Mitzvot is in the Land of the Living, Eretz Yisrael.” (Chatam Sofer Vayeshev)
The Vilna Gaon taught that the ideal fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. The source of Torah, its dwelling place, and its full revelation is in the Holy Land. With words carved in flames, he advised his students to go on Aliyah to Israel to further the in gathering of the exiles. Furthermore, he encouraged his students to hasten the revealed end, and the fulfillment of Redemption through the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Almost every day, he spoke with trembling and emotion, saying that in Zion and Yerushalayim there would be a refuge, and that we shouldn’t delay the opportunity to go. Who can articulate, or describe the magnitude of his worry because he spoke the words with Ruach HaKodesh, and tears in his eyes. (Kol HaTor,end of chapter 5)
“The side of Keddusha (Holiness) only rests in the heart of the world and this is Yerushalayim.” (Zohar haKaddosh Ki Tisa 193).
“There is no doubt that exile is a departure from the order of things. HaShem arranged that each nation be in its proper place. And Israel in its proper place which is the Holy Land.” (Netzach Israel chapt. 1)
to be continued…
Haftarah for Parashat Parah
The Sanctification of Hashem’s Great Name
[Ashkenazim: Yechezkel 36:16-33
Yemenite Jews/Sefardim: Yechezkel 36:16-36]
“And I will sanctify My great name that was desecrated among the nations, that you desecrated among them. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem” (Yechezkel 36:23).
Our Haftarah is a special one, and is related to the additional Torah reading called “Parah.” This portion deals with the “Parah Adumah” – the Red Heifer that is designated to rid us of all impurity incurred by contact with the dead. Its theme of purification explains why we read this portion in the weeks leading up to Pesach: after all, the holiday itself, and its requirement to visit the Temple, obligate us to purify ourselves. The purification described in this Haftarah, however, does not pertain to the individual, but rather to the entire Nation, at the conclusion of the Exile, when it truly needs it.
“And the word of Hashem came to me, saying: Son of man, the House of Israel, as long as they lived on their own Land, they defiled it by their way and by their misdeeds; like the uncleanness of a woman in the period of her separation was their way before Me” (ibid. 16-17). As is known, the Nation of Israel was mired in the most severe sins: idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and murder – sins that require a radical transformation, i.e. exile. “I poured out My wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the Land and because they had defiled it with their idols. And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the lands. According to their way and their misdeeds did I judge them” (ibid. v. 18-19). Since we were unable to act as a Holy Nation, we were cast out among the nations of the world. But a severe problem, no less hideous than the one which caused the destruction, arose while we were in exile.
“And they entered the nations where they came, and they desecrated My Holy Name” (ibid. v. 20). What type of desecration of Hashem’s Name are we discussing? Didn’t the Nation of Israel reach the ultimate of desecrating Hashem’s Name while performing those horrible sins? This desecration was something else, which the verse specifies: “It was said of them: These are the Nation of Hashem, and they have come out of His Land” (ibid.).
Humanity well knows that the Nation of Israel is the Chosen Nation and that the Land of Israel belongs to them. But things have gone awry: instead of being master of its Land, the Nation of Israel became a wandering and outcast Nation. It is an unbearable national failure. “But I had pity on My Holy Name, which the House of Israel had desecrated among the nations to which they had come” (ibid. v. 21). The entire purpose of Creation is sanctifying Hashem, who brought down his Divine Presence from the supreme worlds to the lower worlds in order to reside in them and illuminate them through the Nation of Israel. And yet this eternal plan directed the Nation of Israel to be temporarily located outside of its Land.
“So says Hashem G-d: Not for your sake do I do this, House of Israel, but for My Holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations to which they have come” (ibid. v. 22). Hashem acts in this way not for Israel’s sake but in order to sanctify His Great Name: “And I will sanctify My Great Name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst, and the nations will know that I am Hashem, so says Hashem G-d, when I will be sanctified through you before their eyes” (ibid. v. 23). It was (and is) incumbent upon us to sanctify Hashem’s name, but we betrayed our mission. So Hashem took the mission upon Himself. But did He repair this terrible affront to His Holy Name? “For I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your Land” (ibid. v. 24). The ingathering of the exiles, the revival of the Nation of Israel in its Land and returning to nationhood is the great sanctification of Hashem’s name. In this way, everything returns to its proper order, according to the Divine plan. But it is not a redemption that occurs because the Nation of Israel merits it.
“And I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you will be purified from all your impurities; and from all your abominations, I will purify you” (ibid. v. 25). A Jew who makes aliyah is not necessarily pure, but he will become pure. This idea is contrary to the view of some Rabbis that the purification of the Nation of Israel must precede their return to Eretz Yisrael. The prophet Yechezkel teaches us, in the Name of Hashem, the exact opposite. The Exile is a desecration of Hashem’s Name and not a place for purification. Purification can only occur in Eretz Yisrael.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (ibid. v. 26). Even some Jews who make aliyah will have a heart of stone, but they will receive a heart of flesh when they root themselves in the Land. The spiritual revival of the Nation will follow the national revival, according to the Divine blueprint. “And I will put My spirit within you and bring it about that you will walk in My statutes and you will keep My ordinances and do [them]” (ibid. v. 27). The performance of the Mitzvot comes at a much later stage in the purification of the Nation of Israel. It is caused by the purifying waters and the heart of flesh.
And in order to make it completely clear that our Redemption is not dependent upon our merits and repentance, Yechezkel emphasized: “And you shall remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own eyes on account of your sins and on account of your abominations. Not for your sake do I do it, says Hashem G-d, may it be known to you, be embarrassed and ashamed for your ways, House of Israel” (ibid. v. 31-32).
Yechezkel transmitted to us a precise plan for the Redemption and the revival of the Nation of Israel. According to this Divine blueprint, the Nation of Israel will first return to its Land, and only then experience, little by little, an ethical, spiritual, and religious purification. The Master of the Universe guides the purification of the Nation of Israel, first removing us from the impurity of Exile, and next renewing our body, heart and spirit. Only then are we ready to fulfill the Torah’s mitzvot.
Just as the first part of Yechezkel’s prophecy is coming true before our eyes, i.e. the return of the Nation of Israel to its Land, so too is a new idealistic, ethical, and spiritual spirit manifesting itself in our time. We must not despair that the process is a slow one. It will be perfected in later stages of our Salvation, and it will lead us to complete and supreme unity with Hashem and His Torah.
A Song of Praise for Israel Independence Day
From Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Three Levels of Holiness of Yom Ha’atzmaut
Q: Is ‘Yom Ha’atzmaut’ (Israel Independence Day) a sacred day, or is it merely a question of nationalism, unrelated to Torah andkedusha (holiness) as the haredim claim? Isn’t the fact that the government and judicial system are not committed to keeping Torah and mitzvot a reason not to be happy on Yom Ha’atzmaut?
A: Yom Ha’atzma’ut is crowned with three sanctities: 1) the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the Land of Israel. 2) The realization of the words of the Prophets, and Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) in the eyes of the nations, and 3) and the act of being saved from the hands of our enemies.
Therefore, despite significant weaknesses and occasional wrongdoings by Ministers and Prime Ministers, all the same, our joy and thanksgiving for Yom Ha’atzma’ut remains the same, for all three sanctities of the day are still relevant.
Settling the Land
When the establishment of the State of Israel was declared, the Jewish Nation once again merited fulfilling the Torah commandment of yishuv ha’aretz, whose fundamental point is Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel, as it is written: “Clear out the Land and live in it, since it is to you that I am giving the Land to occupy” (Numbers 33:53). The Hebrew word used in the verse for ‘clear out’ — ‘horshetem’,is defined as ‘kibush’ (conquering) and ‘ribonut’ (sovereignty). The word ‘v’yeshavtem’ (‘live in it’) means to settle the Land, and not leave it barren.
Additionally, it is written in the Torah: “When you have occupied it and you live there” (Deuteronomy 11:31). This is howNachmanides (Ramban) defined the mitzvah: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and not abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate” (Supplement to Sefer HaMitzvoth of the Rambam, Positive Commandment 4. It is also clarified in Beit Yosef and Bach, O. C. 561,M. A. 1, M. B. 2, that the determination of ‘destruction’ is contingent on sovereignty).
Sanctification of Hashem and the Beginning of Redemption
The establishment of the State removed the disgrace of exile from the Jewish people. Generation after generation, we wandered in exile, suffering dreadful humiliation, pillage, and bloodshed. We were an object of scorn and derision among the nations – regarded as sheep led to the slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. Strangers said to us, “You are hopeless.” That was a terrible situation of ‘Chillul Hashem’ (desecration of God’s name), because we are named after HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and when we are degraded, His name is desecrated among the nations (see, Yechezkel 36).
Furthermore, the Prophets of Israel prophesied in the name of Hashem: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land” (Yechezkel 36:24). “And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them”(Yeshayahu 65:21). “You will yet plant vines upon the mountains of Shomron: the planters will plant, and shall enjoy the fruit” (Yirmeyahu31:4). And there are several similar verses. However, after so many years passed without the word of God coming to fruition, the desecration of Hashem’s name in the world increased, and the enemies of Israel concluded that there was no chance the Jews would ever return to their Land. Even our Sages particularly stressed the absolute miracle of the Ingathering of the Exiles, to the point where they said:“The Ingathering of the Exiles is as great as the day upon which the heaven and earth were created” (Pesachim 88a).
And behold, the miracle occurred – Hashem fulfilled His promise! This was an enormous and awesome Kiddush Hashem, which intensified during the Six Day War when we liberated Jerusalem and the holy cities of Judea and Samaria.
This process of the Ingathering of the Exiles and making the desert bloom, received a tremendous boost with the establishment of the State of Israel – the beginning of the Redemption. As Rabbi Abba said: “There is no clearer sign of the Redemption than this verse: ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come”, upon which Rashi comments: ‘When Eretz Yisrael gives forth its fruit in abundance, the End will be near, and there is no clearer sign of the Redemption.” (Sanhedrin 98a).
Salvation of Israel
On Yom HaAtzma’ut, the Jewish people were delivered from bondage to freedom; from subjugation to the empires of the world – with all that entails, to political independence. This also resulted in a veritable salvation from death to life. Until then, we were unable to defend ourselves against our enemies who pursued us. From that day on, thanks to the kindness of God, we defend ourselves, and win battles. True, all our enemies who rise up to destroy us have yet to be eradicated, but in consequence of the establishment of the State, we have our own army, thank God, and have the strength to fight back, and even win.
And although more than 20,000 holy souls have been killed in wars and terrorist attacks since the creation of the State over sixty years ago, just a few years beforehand, during the horrific Holocaust, more than six million holy Jews were killed in the span of five years – more than three hundred times the amount! This is the difference between living in our own land and being able to defend ourselves, and not having the means to do so.
That day brought about a salvation for Diaspora Jews, as well. They now have a country that is always willing to absorb them, one that even works on their behalf in the international arena. Before the State was established, the complaints of Jewish citizens around the world against the murderous, anti-Semitic persecutions that raged in many countries were usually disregarded. After the founding of the State of Israel, however, even the most evil regimes were forced to take into consideration Israel’s actions on behalf of the Jews living in their midst. Even Communist Russia had to relent and allow the Jews to leave from behind the Iron Curtain, something that was unimaginable before statehood.
Did the Zionist Movement Cause Secularism?
Q: Some people argue against celebrating Yom Ha’atma’ut because, in their opinion, the Zionist movement caused the abandonment of Torah and mitzvot.
A: This claim is libel. The truth is the exact opposite – thanks to the Zionist movement, or specifically, on account of the aliyah toEretz Yisrael that followed as a result of its activities, the Jewish nation was saved – both physically, and spiritually.
Secularism was caused by many reasons – mainly because of the difficulty in dealing with enlightenment and modern society.Aliyah to Israel was not the source of the problem, but rather, the solution. Had we woken up to this fact earlier, we would have been able to save more Jews – both in a physical and spiritual sense.
Let’s compare the situation of the Jews who made aliyah to Israel, as opposed to those who remained in chutz l’aretz (Diaspora): Among those living in Israel, approximately 25% are religiously observant, and in addition, over 30% define themselves as being traditional. Even most secular Jews keep certain mitzvot – such as marriage, circumcision, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Hanukkah. In contrast, amongst the Jews who remained in Europe, the majority were murdered in the Holocaust, while those remaining under Soviet rule were forcibly distanced from keeping Jewish tradition – to the point where most of their descendants eventually married non-Jews.
And from a Jewish perspective, those who emigrated to America and England are no better off. Most of the young people are assimilated, less than 10% are religiously observant, and the connection to religion of those considered ‘traditional’ in America, is on the same level as the secular Jews here in Israel.
Let’s take the Jews of North Africa, for example. The situation of those who immigrated to Israel is immeasurably better off than those who remained in the Diaspora. Amongst those emigrating to France, the assimilation rate has reached over 60%, whereas in Israel, over 70% are religiously observant or traditional.
Demographically, as well, all of the Jewish communities in chutz l’aretz are dwindling due to intermarriage and a low birth rate, while the number of Jews in Eretz Yisrael is constantly growing.
The Mitzvah to Establish Yom Tov on a Day of Salvation
It is a mitzvah to establish a Yom Tov (holiday), to rejoice and praise God, on a day Jews were delivered from distress. This is what prompted the Rabbis to establish Purim and Hanukkah as eternal holidays. Even though it is forbidden to add mitzvot onto those already written in the Torah, nevertheless, on a day in which Jews were delivered from distress, it is a mitzvah to fix a day of joy and thanksgiving.
The Rabbis derived this from a logical inference (a kal va’chomer): When we left Egypt and were delivered from slavery to freedom, God commanded us to celebrate Pesach and sing praise to Him every year; all the more so must we celebrate Purim, when we were saved from death to life (according to Megillah 14a, and also explained by Ritva,ibid).
TheChatam Sofer explains (Y.D. end of 233, O.C. 208) that since this mitzvah is derived from a kal va’chomer, it is considered a Biblical commandment. However, the Torah does not give detailed instructions exactly how to observe the holiday. Therefore, one who does anything whatsoever to commemorate the salvation fulfills his Biblical obligation; it was the Rabbis who determined we read the Megillah, prepare a festive meal, send portions of food to others, and give charity to the poor on Purim, and light the candles on Hanukkah.
Establishing a Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzma’ut
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate – led by two of Israel’s illustrious Torah scholars –Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Uziel, establishedYom Ha’atzmaut as a Yom Tov. This was also the opinion of the majority of Rabbis in Israel.
Similarly, the illustrious Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth, wrote in his Responsa ‘Kol Mevaser’, that it is a mitzvah to establish a Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzmaut, explaining this obligation based on Ramban, Ritva, and other Rishonim and Acharonim. He clarifies that this is not in violation of bal toseef (“You shall not add”), for the prohibition against inventing a holiday refers only to holidays that do not commemorate a salvation. Based on the kal va’chomer, however, we are obligated to institute holidays that commemorate salvations.
The Custom of Israel through the Generations
This is not a new minhag (custom) introduced for Yom Ha’atzmaut, rather, this was the practice of numerous Jewish communities, who instituted days of joy in commemoration of miracles that happened to them. Many of them used the name Purim in reference to these days, such as ‘Frankfurt Purim’,or ‘Tiberias Purim’. Some communities had a custom to partake in festive meals, to send portions of food to one another, and to give charity to the poor (see Maharam Alshakar 49, M.A. and E.R. 686; Chayei Adam155:41; Yaskil Avdi, vol. 7, O.C. 44:12).
Since one is obligated to thank and praise God for the miracles He performed on our behalf, consequently, it is a mitzvah to reciteHallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day we were delivered from the greatest trouble of all –that of exile and subjugation to foreigners, which caused all of the terrible decrees and massacres we suffered for nearly two thousand years.
Similarly, the Talmud states that after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, “the prophets among them enacted that the Jews should recite Hallel for each and every time, and each and every trouble– may it not come upon them! – and when they are redeemed, they should recite it [in thankfulness] for their redemption” (Pesachim 117a). Rashi explains that according to this, the Sages of the Second Temple era enacted the recitation of Hallel on Hanukkah (this is also explained in Yerushalmi Pesachim10:6, Shemot Rabbah 23:12, and Megillah 14a).
The Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth, wrote that it is a mitzvah to recite Hallel with a blessing, and this is our custom. Nevertheless, there are eminent Torah scholars who, owing to various concerns, instructed to recite Hallel without a blessing. Both of these practices are halakhically valid.
However, those who believe that one should not thank God for the establishment of the State of Israel and all the positive things which occurred as a result of it, have no halakhic basis to rely on, deny the goodness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and are liable, God forbid, to distance the Redemption (Sanhedrin 94a).
May it be His will that as a result of our complete acknowledgement of Hashem onYom Ha’atzma’ut, we will merit the entire Ingathering of the Exiles, the building of the Land and Jerusalem, the return of the Divine Presence, the appearance of Mashiach ben David, and the building of the Holy Temple, speedily in our days.
Inspiration for Yom Yerushalayim
|Jerusalem Day: The Kotel Affair|
Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook recalled the tremendous pressure placed upon his father, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, that evening in 1930 in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.
“How intense, how grave, how dire were the warnings and intimidations at that time, with all of their menacing threats. Two nations [the Arabs and the British] were goading us with lies and murderous traps, to sign an agreement and relinquish [Jewish] ownership over the Kotel, the remaining wall of our Holy Temple…” (LeNetivot Yisrael vol. I, p. 65)
The Mufti’s Ambitions
Already in the time of the first British High Commissioner, Hajj Amin al-Husseini was appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, spiritual and national leader of the Arabs. One of the many devices that the infamous mufti employed in his fight against the Jewish national return to Eretz Yisrael was to repudiate all Jewish rights to theKotel HaMa’aravi, the Western Wall.
The Arabs gained a partial victory in 1922, when the British Mandatory Government issued a ban against placing benches near the Kotel. In 1928, British officers interrupted the Yom Kippur service and forcibly dismantled the mechitzah separating men and women during prayer.
A few months later, the Mufti and his cohorts devised a new provocation. They began holding Muslim religious ceremonies opposite the Kotel, precisely when the Jews were praying. To make matters worse, the British authorities granted the Arabs permission to transform the building adjacent to the Kotel into a mosque, complete with a tower for the muezzin, the crier calling Moslems to prayer five times a day. The muezzin’s vociferous trills were certain to disturb the Jewish prayers.
Active Arab turbulence reached its peak during the bloody riots of 1929. On the 10th of Av, some 2,000 Arabs swarmed the Kotel, chasing away the Jews praying there and burning several Torah scrolls. The following week, rioting broke out in Jerusalem and spread throughout the country. Nearly a hundred Jews were slaughtered in the riots, mainly in Hebron and Jerusalem.
Rav Kook and the Kotel Commission
In the summer of 1930, the League of Nations dispatched a committee to Eretz Yisrael to clarify the ownership of the Western Wall. The Arabs claimed to be the rightful owners, not only of the Temple Mount but of the Kotel as well. They rejected any agreement that permitted Jews to pray at the Kotel. It is solely a Muslim site, the Mufti claimed; the Jews may pray at the Kotel only by the good grace of the Arabs.
When Rav Kook appeared before the Commission, he turned to the chairman with deep emotion:
“What do you mean when you say, ‘The Commission will decide to whom the Wall belongs’? Does this commission or the League of Nations own the Wall? Who gave you permission to decide to whom it belongs? The entire world belongs to the Creator, blessed be He; and He transferred ownership of the entire Land of Israel – including the Kotel – to the Jewish people [Rashi on Gen. 1:1]. No power in the world, not the League of Nations, nor this commission, can take this God-given right away from us.”
The chairman retorted that the Jews have not been in control of the Land of Israel or the Wall for close to two thousand years. At this point, Rav Kook decided the members of the commission needed to learn a lesson in Jewish law. Calmly and respectfully, he explained:
“In Jewish law, the concept of yei’ush ba’alim [‘owner’s despair’] applies also to real estate. [That is, the owner of a stolen tract of land forfeits his ownership if he gives up hope of ever retrieving it.] However, if a person’s land is stolen and he continuously protests the theft, the owner retains his ownership for all time.”
Rav Kook’s proud appearance before the commission made a powerful impact on the Jewish community. The Hator newspaper commented:
“We cannot refrain from mentioning once again the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, who sanctified God and Israel with his testimony. The witnesses who preceded him stood meekly, with tottering knees. After the Chief Rabbi’s appearance, we felt a bit relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from our hearts. He raised our heads, straightened our backbones, and restored dignity to the Torah and our nation.”
The Proposal of the Va’ad Leumi
The British Mandatory government suggested a compromise according to which the Jews would recognize Arab ownership of the Kotel, and the Arabs in return would permit Jews to approach the Wall. (The right for Jews to pray at the Kotel was not explicitly mentioned.)
Due to the tense political situation – particularly in light of the murderous Arab rioting the previous year – the Va’ad Leumi (the executive committee of the Jewish National Assembly in pre-state Israel) was prepared to recognize Arab ownership of the Kotel. However, the Va’ad Leumi stipulated that the Arabs must explicitly recognize the right of Jews to pray there.
Because this was a religious matter, the Mandatory government required that the Va’ad Leumi’s proposal be approved by the religious authority of the Jews, namely, the rabbinate. In order to apply greater pressure on the rabbis, the Va’ad Leumi sent delegations simultaneously to the two chief rabbis, Rav Kook and Rabbi Yaakov Meir, as well as to Rabbi Zonnenfeld, representing Agudat Israel.
A delegation from the Va’ad, headed by Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, visited Rav Kook and tried to persuade him to approve the plan. It is a matter of life and death, they argued; only by renouncing Jewish ownership will we assuage the Arabs and bring peace to Israel.
Rav Kook’s Response
Despite intense pressure from the Va’ad Leumi, Rav Kook refused to authorize the proposal.
“We have no authority to do such a thing. The Jewish people did not empower us to surrender the Western Wall on its behalf. Our ownership over the Kotel is Divine in nature, and it is by virtue of this ownership that we come to pray at the Kotel.
“I cannot relinquish that which God gave to the Jewish people. If, Heaven forbid, we surrender the Kotel, God will not wish to return it to us!”
As it turned out, the Arabs refused even to consider granting the right of Jewish prayer at the Kotel, and the proposal died. Indeed, after the War of Independence, although the cease-fire agreement provided for the right of Jews to approach the Kotel, the Arabs ignored this provision. Only nineteen years later, when God restored the Kotel to its rightful owners in the Six-Day War, did the Jewish people merit once again to pray unhindered at the Western Wall.
R. Menachem Porush, chairman of Agudat Israel, contributed the following detail of this incident:
Rav Kook, upon receiving the proposal, stated that he would not agree to relinquish the Jewish claim to the Kotel under any circumstances. He also dispatched a personal messenger to Rabbi Zonnenfeld to inform him of his refusal, and to beg him not to show the British any lack of determination in the matter.
Rabbi Zonnenfeld, when he received notice of the proposal, also refused to agree. Afraid that Rav Kook might not be firm enough in refusing the proposal, Rabbi Zonnenfeld dispatched his own messenger to Rav Kook to inform him of his policy and to request that he not show any willingness to compromise on the matter.
The two messengers, who happened to be personal friends, met in the street and discussed their missions and messages. Both were relieved when they realized that there was no need to deliver their respective messages. Thus, the plan, which would have compromised Jewish rights to the Kotel for generations, died aborning.
(Adapted from Celebration of the Soul, p. 244; An Angel Among Men, pp. 206-207,215-217,219; R. Porush’s letter, quoted by Rabbi Berel Wein.)
Thanks to the Land of Israel, the Entire World Eats
From Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Reprinted from Arutz 7)
Virtues of the Land of Israel
Our Sages said: “The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvoth in the Torah” (Tosefta, Avoda Zara 4:3; Sifrei, Re’eh 53). They also said: “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God” (Ketubot 110b). Also, “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols” (ibid.).
Additionally, from a halakhic aspect, the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel is the only mitzvah for which we are commanded to endanger lives, seeing as on the one hand, we are commanded to conquer the Land, but conversely, the Torah does not instruct us to rely on miracles (Minchat Chinukh 425, 604; Mishpat Kohen 143).
Seemingly, this requires further investigation. Why does the material, physical land occupy such an important place in the Torah?
In truth, the entire aim of the world’s creation and the purpose of the Torah are to reveal the kedusha (holiness) in the physical world, and anyone who denies the virtue of the Land of Israel, contradicts the Torah’s divine plan. This was the sin of idol worshippers, who separated the world into various spheres, believing that matters of kedusha pertain to the spiritual world, whereas the material is detached from kedusha. This is entirely contrary to the Jewish faith in One God. And since in chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel) it is impossible to reveal kedusha in the material, a person who lives there is similar to an idol worshipper, because he is unable to reveal the Divine purpose in all areas of life.
The Sin of the Spies
According to this explanation, the catastrophic severity of the sin of the Spies, which was even graver than the sin of the Golden Calf, is understandable. We can also understand why the punishment of death was decreed on all the generation of the desert – including Moshe, God’s faithful shepherd – and why, as a result of this sin, both Temples were destroyed.
As long as the sin of the Spies is not rectified, its punishment still rests on our shoulders. Therefore, on the Shabbat in which we read the Torah portion Sh’lach, it is especially important to speak about the praises of Eretz Yisrael, as our teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, wrote:
“The foundation of the exile, and the baseness which continues to proliferate in this world, stem from the lack of understanding of Eretz Yisrael, its sublime value and wisdom, and from not rectifying the sin of the Spies who spoke disparagingly about the Land. We are called upon to do the opposite – to speak her praises and herald her magnificence and glory, her holiness and honor. We can only hope that after all our praises, we merit expressing even one iota of the proper transcendental desire due to “the Land of delight,” to the splendor of her illuminating Torah, to the genius of her illuminating wisdom, and to the Divine Inspiration which hovers upon her. (Iggrot HaRa’ayah, Iggeret 96).
Could There be Gedolei Torah who Oppose Yishuv Ha’Aretz?
Q: Rabbi, how is it that there are some gedolei Torah (eminent Torah scholars) who diminish the importance of Eretz Yisrael and the issue of Israeli nationalism, and even assail members of the National-Religious community, alleging they invented a new mitzvah – yishuv Eretz Yisrael, and a new religion – “nationalism”?
A: It is impossible for a gadol b’Torah to deny the supreme status of mitzvat yishuv ha’aretz and the importance of Israeli nationalism, just as it is impossible for a gadol b’Torah to deny the mitzvah of Shabbat. The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is one of the few commandments considered equal to all the other commandments; entire portions of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings deal with it, and in the Oral Torah, our holy Sages praised it immensely. The importance of Am Yisrael, as well, is explained at great length in all of the Torah, the words of Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim, including explicit references to situations where Jews were not religiously observant.
There might possibly be some people who are ba’kee veh’charif (proficient and sharp minded) concerning details of Torah, but if they deny the important status of mitzvat yishuv ha’aretz or the importance of nationalism, this is proof they have not understood the Torah properly. At best, it can be said that they are gedolim in understanding some of the details of Torah, but they are not gedolei Torah. And if they deny this mitzvah completely, they are not Torah scholars at all.
It should be pointed out that even among the most extreme haredim, only a handful reject the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz and the importance of nationalism. On the other hand, many of them diminish the importance of these mitzvoth.
How could they possibly not understand?
Q: How can you say that rabbis who have learned Torah extensively and are proficient and sharp-witted in it, are not gedolim b’Torah? Maybe we should say that if they maintain the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is not important, then this is the Torah truth, or at the very least, an important Torah-based opinion that must be reckoned with?
A: Indeed, it is possible that people who are proficient and sharp-witted in Torah do not understand exceedingly basic concepts in the principles of Torah. This is exactly what distinguishes a great Torah scholar from someone who is not. A great Torah scholar understands the fundamentals of Torah, the roots of the Torah from which the branches sprout, and consequently, he understands all the details correctly. A person who is not a gadol does not understand the fundamentals, and as a result, understands large parts of Torah superficially, without comprehending their significance.
Rabbi Teichtel HY”D
A fascinating example of this can be found in the introductory of the book by Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel, may Hashem avenge his blood. He was considered one of the eminent Torah geniuses of his generation, proficient and sharp minded, and wrote a responsa in Jewish law called ‘Mishneh Sachir’. Nevertheless, he felt it was not a mitzvah to immigrate to Israel, and greatly dismissed the significance of non-religious Jews. Consequently, he strongly rejected cooperating with the Zionist movement, which was led by secular Jews.
During the events of the Holocaust, he reassessed the issues of the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel and found that he had erred, and wrote an entire book about this – “Em Habanim Semeikha”. The book itself testifies to the author having been an indisputable genius, exceptionally knowledgeable, and exceedingly sharp. Even had he sat in a large library, he would have had to have been extremely talented to write such a phenomenal book. However, the majority of the book was written from his remarkable memory, while escaping and hiding from the Hungarian authorities who collaborated with the Nazi’s. It turns out that all the thousands of sources gathered from all fields of Torah cited in his book, he had previously learned and remembered by heart, but had not contemplated them properly.
In the introduction to his book, he wrote: “I must confess the truth and declare my sin. I, too, despised the rebuilding of the Land, because I heard unqualified statements made by many haredim, which became firmly implanted in my heart. I did not concern myself with this matter at all, because I was preoccupied with learning, teaching, and writing volumes on the Talmud and its commentaries, as well as responses to questions regarding the word of HaShem. I only delved into this halachah after we suffered afflictions in this bitter exile. HaShem enlightened me, and I saw that I and all those who opposed this movement were mistaken. I admit and say, “That which I previously told you was mistaken,” just like Rava and other great Talmudic Sages did. When rabbis admit their mistakes, they are praiseworthy. Thank God, I have no qualms about publicly expressing the truth that is in my heart” (Pri Ha’aretz edition, pg. 21).
He also cites eminent Torah scholars of the generation who encouraged immigrating to Israel and, for the sake of the mitzvah, even cooperating with the non-religious – those same Jews he had previously ignored, since that was the acceptable practice in his surroundings.
Rabbi Teichtel’s book, ‘Em Habanim Semeikha’ is one of the most important books written about Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, and highly recommended.
The Value of Work
Out of the recognition of the significance and sanctity of the Land of Israel, the importance of physical labor can also be understood, because by way of work, an individual becomes a partner with God in the betterment of society. True, even in chutz la’aretz work has importance, but since revealing divinity in chutz la’aretz is remote, with the main goals of countries and governments being merely to increase their wealth, honor and power, consequently, a person working in chutz la’aretz unavoidably gives his energies to foreigners, or in the language of the kabbalists – to the sitra achra (the side of impurity).
This was exactly what happened to the nation of Israel throughout its long exile. The contribution Jews made – against their will – helped increase evil in the world. In Spain, for example, the Jews assisted the development and prosperity of the country, but in the end, with all its accumulated wealth and power, the Jews were dreadfully persecuted, until they were condemned to annihilation and expulsion. Their property remained in the hands of the evil Spanish empire, permitting them to continue oiling the wheels of their wicked regime.
This was also the case in modern Germany. Jews participated in the country’s development, elevating it to the status of the most highly developed country in the world in terms of science, cultural, and economics. But when an economic crisis arose amid the two World Wars, the Nazi Party came to power, choosing to solve Germany’s economic problems by confiscating Jewish property. Thus, against their will, the Jews rebuilt the German economy, and indirectly helped erect the gruesome, murderous beast.
In chutz la’aretz, it is understandable that the economic development of a particular country is complex, and although the necessity of earning a living cannot be criticized, it is difficult to define it as being ‘sacred’. But in the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, where everything – whether directly or indirectly, whether knowingly, or unknowingly – is designed to reveal the word of God in the world, working is a mitzvah.
Once the kedusha of working in Eretz Yisrael is revealed, its importance spreads to chutz la’aretz as well. According to the degree of each country’s connection to the Land of Israel and to the Jewish nation, consequently, will their commerce and industry be blessed. These issues are lengthy and incredibly accurate. We pray that the United States and the European countries assist the Jews returning to their Land, as God spoke through His servants the Prophets, thereby meriting the blessing of their efforts.
The Words of the Chatam Sofer
In a similar vein, the Chatam Sofer [Rabbi Moshe Schreiber (1762-1839)] wrote in his chiddushim (novellae), regarding the words of Rabbi Yishmael that a person needs to work, that he was referring specifically to Eretz Yisrael.
“The reason being that, in this case, working the land and producing its holy fruit is itself a mitzvah – the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, settling the Land of Israel. It was in this context that the Torah commands us, “You shall harvest your grain.” And Boaz [who was a leading scholar of his generation] winnowed barley in the threshing floor at night to fulfill this mitzvah. Just as one would not say, ‘I will not wear tefillin because I am currently busy studying Torah,’ so too, one cannot say, ‘I will not harvest my crops because I am busy studying Torah. But when we are scattered among the nations of the world due to our many sins, the more one works in this world, the more he destroys his service of God. In such a case, Rabbi Yishmael would agree with Rashbi (who holds that one should minimize working as much as possible, and study Torah instead). And on this we rely on Rabbi Nehorai (Kiddushin 82a): “Rabbi Nehorai said: I abandon every trade in the world and teach my son only Torah” – namely, in chutz la’aretz” (Sukkah 36a).
(There is an edition of this Gemara, in which the chiddushei of the Chatam Sofer are omitted from page 34 onwards, so the publishers wouldn’t be forced to print these holy words. Apparently, there are certain types of haredim (fearful) who, out of their enormous “fear”, deny the Torah, and despise the words of its Gedolim).
*This article was translated from Hebrew.
“I Recite the Prayer for the State”
by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Chief Rabbi of Beit El
When between Shacharit and Mussaf the chazzan recites the prayer for the State, that’s my happiest moment of the week.
When I hear, “Father in Heaven; Rock and Redeemer of Israel,” I jump up like a spring, and I don’t change a single word.
All the proof in the world won’t change me in the least.
The more they make fun the more I’ll say this prayer.
I’d like to get up and tell the chazzan, “Say it again and again!”
I’d like to get up and kiss him.
Even when the country and the government desecrate the holiness of the Sabbath, I persist in this prayer for their welfare.
Even when they desecrate the holiness of the land,
I persist as well, and I won’t stop.
Because this is my country. I have no other.
And I love it the way it is.
This is my government. Yes! Mine.
And I’ll repeat it a thousand times.
I have harsh criticism for it. I suffer terrible sorrow over it.
But it’s my government.
When it gets replaced by one better, I will be very happy.
But in the meantime, it’s mine,
And I shall continue to pray for it with all my heart.
And when it’s replaced, I’ll pray for the next one.
And I’ll say, “This is my government.”
And I’ll say proudly before the whole world:
“I’m no longer a downtrodden people controlled by a foreign government. I’ve got my own government.
Do you hear, nations of the world?
I’ve got my own government, and I’m proud of it.”
Governments come and governments go, yet the pride forever remains.
And if someone prints a sticker that says:
“I recite the prayer for the State,” I will attach it proudly.
Pride is a loathsome trait, but this pride is pure
Like a newly-opened flower.
And if, G-d forbid, this state and this government
Enact laws against our Torah, I will cry a lot, obviously.
I will tell everyone that these laws are void like the dust
But I will continue to recite the prayer for the State, joyfully!
Some see only the shadows, but some also see the light.
After all, if there are shadows, it’s a sign that there is light.
And that light is so sweet!
So I recite the prayer for the State.