The Mitzvah to Live in Eretz Yisrael, Part One
From the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane
[Here, in three installments, we are presenting an abridged version of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s teachings on the “The Mitzvah to Live in Eretz Yisrael,” from his opus work, “The Jewish Idea, Volume Two.” In addition to his path-breaking struggle on behalf of Soviet Jewry and his non-stop activism on behalf of the Jewish Nation and Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kahane was a Torah scholar par excellence as can be seen in this encompassing halachic and Talmudic overview of the mitzvah to live in the Land of Israel.]
LIVING IN ERETZ YISRAEL is a mitzvah de’oraita – a mitzvah commanded by the Torah itself. Not only that, but it carries equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined. In fact, it supersedes them in importance, because all of them are dependent upon it, since we are commanded to perform all the commandments there, in the Land of Israel.
The Torah says, “When the L-rd your G-d cuts off the nations whom you are approaching to inherit, you shall expel them and live in their land” (Deut. 12:29). This verse explicitly states the two mitzvot tied to Eretz Yisrael. The first is expelling the non-Jews. The Hebrew corresponding to, “whom you are approaching to inherit,” is rendered by Onkelos as, “Whom you are approaching to banish.” The second is “You shall live in their land.” It is a mitzvah to live in their land, in Eretz Yisrael.
Regarding this verse our Sages said (Sifri, Re’ei, 80):
“You shall expel them”: R. Yehudah ben Beterah and R. Matia ben Cheresh and R. Chanina ben Achi and R. Yehoshua and R. Yonatan were leaving the Land, and they arrived at Paltum and they remembered Eretz Yisrael. Their eyes brimmed over and their tears poured forth, and they tore their garments and they recited this verse: “You shall inherit it [the Land] and dwell therein, and you shall carefully keep all the laws” (Deut. 11:31-32). They returned to their place and they said, “Living in Eretz Yisrael equals the combined weight of all the mitzvot in the Torah.”
Here our Sages state explicitly that living in Eretz Yisrael is not just a mitzvah but such a great mitzvah that it equals all the others in their combined value. Likewise, it emerges clearly from here that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael does not depend on the existence of the Temple. After all, the anecdote above occurred after the Destruction. All the same, the scholars of the Mishnah established that living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah from the Torah, and so is the prohibition against leaving Eretz Yisrael.
Our Sages said further (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah, 5:2):
“A person should live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and not outside the Land, even in a city that is entirely Jewish. This teaches that living in Eretz Yisrael is of equal weight to all the mitzvot of the Torah combined. If someone is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it is as though he is buried under the altar. One should not leave Eretz Yisrael unless the cost of wheat rises to two se’ah for a sela. Rabbi Shimon said, “This refers to where one lacks the wherewithal to buy it, but if he has the wherewithal, then even if it is one se’ah for a sela, he should not leave.”
Likewise, Rabbi Shimon used to say, “Elimelech was one of the great luminaries of the generation and leaders of the community, and because he left Eretz Yisrael, both he and his sons died of hunger, while all of Israel survived on their land, as it says, ‘All the city was astir concerning them’ (Ruth 1:19). This teaches that the whole city survived, while he and his sons died of hunger.
“Now then, when it says, ‘I shall return safely to my father’s house’ (Gen. 28:21), why should it have to add, ‘Then the L-rd will be for me a G-d’ (Ibid.)? Yet the Torah says, ‘To give you the Land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you’ (Lev. 25:38). As long as you are in Canaan, I shall be for you a G-d. If you are not in Canaan, I am not for you a G-d…”
“Likewise, David said, ‘For they have driven me out this day, that I should not cling to the inheritance of the L-rd [saying, ‘Go serve other gods’]’ (I Sam. 26:19). Would it occur to you that King David was an idolater? Rather, he expounded as follows: ‘Whoever abandons Eretz Yisrael in peacetime and leaves it, it is as though he is worshipping idols, as it says, “I will plant them in this land in truth [with all My heart and with all My soul]” (Jer. 32:41).’ If they are not on this land, they are not truly ‘planted before Me,’ not with all My heart and not with all My soul.”
The Talmud likewise said (Ketuvot 110b):
“The Rabbis learned: One should always live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and he should not live outside Eretz Yisrael, even in a city with a Jewish majority. Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has a G-d, and whoever lives outside of Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has no G-d, as it says, “To give you the Land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you” (Lev. 25:38). And does anyone who does not live in the Land not have a G-d? Rather, the point is that if someone lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idols. King David said, “For they have driven me out this day that I should not cling to the inheritance of the L-rd, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19). Did anyone tell King David to serve other gods? Rather, this teaches that whoever lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idolatry.”
“Everyone can compel moving to Eretz Yisrael.” Our Sages also established that a husband can force his wife to go up to Eretz Yisrael because of the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, and a woman can force her husband, and even a slave can force his master. We learn in the Mishna (Ketuvot 110b):
“The Rabbis learned: If the husband says to go up to Eretz Yisrael and the wife says not to, we compel her to go up. Otherwise, she may be divorced without receiving a ketuvah. If she says to go up and he says not to, we compel him to go up. Otherwise, he must divorce her and give her a ketuvah. If she says to leave Eretz Yisrael and he says not to, we compel her not to leave. Otherwise, she may be divorced without receiving a ketuvah. If he says to leave and she says not to, we compel him not to leave, or to divorce her and give her a ketuvah.”
This Mishnah was codified as the law for all times by the following poskim [legal authorities]: Rambam (Ishut, 13:19-20); Rif (Ketuvot 110b); Rosh (Ibid., Ch. 13, siman 18); S’mag (Negative Precepts, 81); Piskei HaRid (Ketuvot, Ibid.); Ritva, Ran and Nemukei Yosef (Ibid.), and many, many more. This is because the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for all times. Rabbi Yosef Karo ruled the same way (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 75:3-4, see there). Following is Pit’chei Teshuvah (ad loc., se’if katan 6):
“The Ramban counted this mitzvah among the  mitzvot in accordance with, “Inherit it and dwell there” (Deut. 11:31), and it has equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined (Sifri, Re’ei, 80). Also, Terumat HaDeshen in his rulings (siman 88) emphasized the importance of this mitzvah. An exception is Tosafot on Ketuvot in the name of R. Chaim Cohen… Indeed Maharit in his responsa, siman 28, and in his chidushim [original thoughts] on Ketuvot, proved that some errant student had written this idea in the name of Tosafot, and that the quotation was entirely non-authoritative. Maharit is correct, and Netivot Mishpat made the same point. It follows that all times are equal as far as fulfillment of this mitzvah, and such is clear from all the medieval and later Sages who ruled that we compel the wife to go up to Eretz Yisrael with her husband, as in the simple text of the Mishnah.”
We also find in Bava Kamma (80b):
“When one purchases a house in Eretz Yisrael, we may write the deed of purchase even on the Sabbath. May we actually write it on the Sabbath? Rather… one may tell a non-Jew to write it. And even though telling a non-Jew to perform work forbidden on the Sabbath is itself Rabbinically forbidden, the Rabbis did not apply decrees where settling Eretz Yisrael was at stake.”
Rashi comments (Gittin 8b: “I.e., expelling the nations and settling Jews there.” Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 6:11) ruled this way, too, as well as Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:11. If the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael did not apply today, or even if it were only Rabbinic in force, how would we dare permit this Rabbinically forbidden act on the Sabbath? After all, Tosafot wrote (Bava Kamma 80b: “Specifically for this mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, but for another mitzvah, telling a non-Jew to violate a Torah prohibition is not permitted.”
“Our Sages further said (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 8:4) regarding one who returns from the front because he has built a new house and not lived in it: I might think that someone who has built a new house outside the Land should have to return from the front. It therefore says, “And has not begun to live in it” (Deut. 20:5). The verse refers to one for whom living in it is a mitzvah, and excludes all others.
“P’nei Moshe” comments (Ibid.), “One for whom it is a mitzvah: In Eretz Yisrael, due to the mitzvah of living in the Land. This excludes outside the Land, where there is no mitzvah to live there.”
Ramban further wrote (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precepts Not Mentioned by Rambam, Mitzvah 4):
“We were commanded to occupy the land G-d gave our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We must not abandon it to any other nation, or leave it desolate. G-d said, “Clear out the Land and live in it, since it is to you that I am giving the Land to occupy” (Num. 33:53-54). Proof that this is a mitzvah comes from G-d’s saying in the spy episode, “Head north and occupy it, as the L-rd G-d of your fathers has told you. Do not be afraid and do not be concerned” (Deut. 1:21). Furthermore it says, “At Kadesh Barnea, the L-rd sent you forth and said, ‘Head north and occupy the land that I have given you’” (Deut. 9:23). And regarding the spies’ not wishing to go up to the Land, it says, “You rebelled against the L-rd” (Deut. 1:26,43; 9:23), and, “You would not listen” (Deut. 1:43). G-d’s word to Israel had been a command rather than a promise.”
So effusively did our Sages speak of living in Eretz Yisrael that the Talmud states (Ketuvot 110b), “Whoever leaves Eretz Yisrael and dwells outside of it should be viewed as an idolater, as it says, ‘They have driven me out this day that I should not cleave unto the L-rd’s inheritance, saying, “Go serve other gods” ’ (I Sam. 26:19).”
This, and other such expressions in this regard, find their source in our having been commanded to occupy the Land and to dwell in it. It is, thus, a positive precept for all time, and every single Jew is obligated in this, even during the exile, as the Talmud is known to state in many places.
It is, thus, clear that G-d not only gave the Jewish People a special land, but also decreed that they must live in it. Living in the Land is not merely a right, but a duty that cannot be forgone. It is a mitzvah, a Divine decree, that we must live in Eretz Yisrael under G-d’s dominion, sanctifying His name, in order to create a holy state and society which clings to mitzvot completely and properly, uninfluenced by the alien, false culture of the nations.
At the same time, it is an unforgivable, loathsome sin to refuse to live in Eretz Yisrael, and to prefer the depravity of the exile and foreign rule. It is a Chilul Hashem, and Israel are thus exposed to the influence of the nations and their abominations.
The greatest have failed in this important mitzvah. G-d, therefore, was angry at our ancestors in the desert when they refused to go up to Eretz Yisrael, declaring, “Let us appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4). Surely the spies Moses sent out were prominent and righteous, as our Sages said (Tanchuma, Shelach, 4): “Send out men” (Num. 13:2): This is in line with, “He that sends a message by the hand of a fool, severs his own feet and imbibes damage” (Prov. 26:6). Were the spies fools? Surely the Torah said, “Send out men [anashim],” and anashim always refers to righteous persons… Rather, they were called fools only because they slandered the Land… All the same, they were great men who made themselves into fools.”
Thus, they were great and righteous men, yet they sinned in turning their backs on Eretz Yisrael and wishing to settle down in the exile, in Egypt. As King David said, “They scorned the Desirable Land, they believed not His word” (Ps. 106:24).
Here we see that even the great luminaries of the generation made themselves fools in that they wished to return to Egypt and treated the Desirable Land with contempt. This happened only because they feared the strength of the nations there and did not trust in G-d, as it says, “They believed not His word.”
Ostensibly, they had a good argument, “pikuach nefesh,” i.e., they wished to prevent loss of life. The spies said of the Canaanites, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight” (Num. 13:33). They were certain that the war against the Canaanites would be brutal, and it would be hard to defeat the giants. Moreover, even if they defeated them, Israelites would fall. After all, we do not rely on miracles, they argued.
For that reason, these great and righteous men rendered a halachic ruling that “pikuach nefesh” overrides Eretz Yisrael in its entirety. They certainly did not intend to abandon G-d’s Torah, but rather to return to Egypt and keep it there. This, however, was their sin, because G-d had decreed that it was forbidden for them to dwell outside the Land, and that only in Eretz Yisrael could they sanctify His Name and live in the isolation of Torah. For that reason, the excuse of danger to the nation does not override the commandment to dwell there, the only place the Jewish People can keep the Torah completely and properly.
A war over the mitzvah of living in and conquering Eretz Yisrael is a “milchemet mitzvah,” which no danger to life overrides. Quite the contrary, this mitzvah overrides such danger, as Ramban wrote in Sefer HaMitzvot (Ibid., Mitzvah 4):
“This is what our Sages call ‘milchemet mitzvah.’ In the Talmud (Sotah 44b) Rava said, ‘Joshua’s war of conquest was an obligatory duty according to all opinions.’ One should not make the mistake of saying that this mitzvah only applies to the seven nations we were commanded to destroy… That is not so. We were commanded to destroy those nations when they fought against us, and had they wished to make peace we could have done so under specific conditions. Yet, we cannot leave the Land in their control or in the control of any other nations in any generation.”
Fear of the nations is just one dismal reason the Jewish People treat the Desirable Land with contempt (longing for the good life is another). Precisely because of this delusion that the exile is safe but Eretz Yisrael is dangerous, G-d became angry and decreed death in the desert for the generation that left Egypt, adding, “You said your children will be taken captive, but they will be the ones I will bring there, so that they will know the land that you rejected” (Num. 14:31). Those who feared that they and their children would die in Eretz Yisrael, died precisely in the desert, whereas their children entered the Land and lived. This teaches that the only security for the Jewish People is in Eretz Yisrael, whereas the exile is their burial place. Our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 1)): “‘You will live securely in your land’ (Lev. 26:5): In your land you will live securely, but not outside it.” Likewise, Obadiah said (v. 17), “Upon Mount Zion there shall be deliverance.” In other words, in Zion but not in the exile.
G-d, Who knows His people’s mind, knew, as well, that the Jews would always prefer the non-Jewish life of the exile, whose abominable depravity is so sweet to the sinner among us. As King Solomon said, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov. 9:17). G-d, therefore, decreed that Israel would never find safety and security in the exile. Regarding Noach, Bereshit Rabbah, 33:6, teaches:
“He sent out the dove…. It could find no place to rest its feet” (Gen. 8:8-9): Yehuda bar Nachman said in the name of R. Shimon, “Had it found a place to rest, it would not have returned. Just so, it says, ‘She dwells among the nations; she finds no rest’ (Lam. 1:3); and, ‘Among those nations you shall have no repose; there shall be no rest for the soles of your foot’ (Deut. 28:65). If Israel found rest in the exile, they would not return.”
Not in vain did our sages (Mechilta, Bo, 1) compare the exile to a cemetery, for if Israel refuse to dwell in Eretz Yisrael, if they spurn it for the depravity of the exile, they have no future, but suffering, tragedy and annihilation. As the Prophet Ezekiel said (20:32-34): “That which comes into your mind shall not be at all, your saying, ‘We will be like the nations, to serve wood and stone.’ As I live – says the L-rd G-d – with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with fury poured out, will I be King over you. I will remove you from the nations and gather you in from the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with fury poured out.”
In saying, “to serve wood and stone,” Ezekiel did not mean that Israel actually wished to worship idols. His point was really in line with Onkelos’s translation, quoted above, of the verse, “There you will serve other gods, wood and stone, unknown to you and your fathers” (Deut. 28:64): “There you will serve nations that worship idols.” That is, Israel would not actually worship idols, but would serve the non-Jews who worship idols. This bondage to these nations constitutes terrible Chilul Hashem, for it thereby appears as if their idols have vanquished G-d, Heaven forbid. Likewise, Yonatan rendered the same verse, “You will pay taxes to idol worshippers.” In other words, instead of the nations being subjugated to Israel in Eretz Yisrael with taxes and servitude, Israel will be subject to them the same way. Jeremiah says (5:19), “Just as you have forsaken Me and served strange gods in your land, so shall you serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”
Today’s alien culture has replaced idolatry, one more reason G-d promised not to let Israel dwell among the nations. G-d said, “With fury poured out will I be King over you” (Ezek. 20:33), and He said He would remove Israel from the exile by force – at least those who survive the suffering there and are not killed by G-d like the Jews who, despising Eretz Yisrael, preferred to remain in Egypt. (It is known that the last redemption will be like the first.)
Woe to the stubborn children who think it possible to flee G-d and Eretz Yisrael, and who think that despite their having lost their homeland, Eretz Yisrael, they will be able to settle in the exile in ease. Of them it says, “I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them” (Jer. 9:15).
May G-d have mercy!
The Mitzvah of Living in Israel, Part Two
HaRav Kahane continues:
Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering and devotion. The deterioration in our values, and the blunting of Israel’s emotional attachment to Eretz Yisrael, emerged because we distorted the halachah, due to the wretched exile which conquered our minds and souls. We are also tempted to flee the difficult challenge and duty of isolating ourselves from the nations, and the hardships of earning a living in rebuilding our homeland. It all goes back to our Sages’ comment in Berachot 5a: “G-d gave Israel three fine gifts and all come only through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and the World-to-Come.”
A person’s whole life is a test to see whether he will accept the yoke of Heaven and of mitzvot. There is nothing precious that does not exact a heavy price. Eretz Yisrael, a precious gift, requires self-sacrifice, as befits a treasure of the Chosen People.
Wherever we go, we are obligated to prove our faith and trust in G-d, and certainly so in Eretz Yisrael, the Chosen Land, symbol of Israel’s isolation and their belief that “The L-rd alone guides them” (Deut. 32:12). Yet time after time we have failed in this. Our Sages learned (Tanchuma, Tazria, 6):
“A kohen who used to observe plague-spots (see Lev. 13) became poor and wished to leave the Land. He summoned his wife, saying… “Let me teach you how to observe plague spots. If you see that the well-spring of a person’s hair has dried up, know that he is smitten, for G-d created a well-spring for every single hair to drink from”… His wife replied, “If G-d created for every hair a well-spring of its own, how much more so will He provide a livelihood for you, who are a human being, with much hair, and have children whom you support!” Therefore, she did not let him leave the Land.
Lack of trust in G-d’s ability to support and defend us was, from time immemorial, the plague that severed us from the great mitzvah of living in the Land, causing us to distort the mitzvah and contrive all sorts of warped excuses to exempt ourselves from it. In the days of the Judges, Micah set up an idol in his house and found one person who agreed to officiate as its priest. According to our Sages, this was the grandson of Moses, the son of his son Gershom. When they asked him how he had agreed to this, he answered (Bava Batra 110a): “Such is the tradition I received from my grandfather’s house: “Better to hire oneself out to idolatry [avodah zarah] than to depend on charity.” He thought “avodah zarah” means actual worship of idols, whereas here it really refers to “strange work,” work [avodah] that one finds alien [zarah].”
Here is a lesson for every Jew who explains his scornful treatment of the Desirable Land in terms of inability to find satisfactory employment there. Such a person, instead of going up to Eretz Yisrael with trust in G-d, taking any work he can find, even if it is alien to him, the main thing being his fulfilling the mitzvah of living in the Land, prefers to worship idols in the exile, for it says (Ketuvot 110b), “If someone lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Let us consider in this light G-d’s command to Israel, immediately upon entering the Land and ascending to Gilgal from the Jordan, to circumcise themselves. At that moment, “all the males who left Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness…. and all those born in the wilderness… had not been circumcised” (Josh. 5:4-5). Yevamot 71b asks why they were not circumcised all forty years, and answers (Ibid., 72a):
“No northerly wind blew upon them [all those years, and without a northerly wind circumcision poses a danger]. Why was this? Possibly as rebuke to them, and possibly so the clouds of glory would not disperse.”
Yet the last explanation is hard to understand. Could it be that for the sake of the clouds of glory not dispersing, G-d nullified the great mitzvah of milah?
Rather, it is clear to me that G-d, despite milah’s grave importance, intentionally postponed its fulfillment so that all Israel would be able to fulfill it concurrently with entering the Land. Milah involves pain and blood, symbolizing the principle of self-sacrifice and faith in G-d. A lesson was thus imparted that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering. Moreover, combining milah with Eretz Yisrael served to set the Jew apart and to separate Israel from the nations and their abominations.
How could we as a nation have failed regarding this mitzvah, fleeing the suffering entailed in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, when ultimately it is the greatest gift G-d gave us? As it says (Jer. 3:19), “I gave you a Desirable Land.” So terribly has the cursed exile warped our nation, that many see no personal duty to leave the exile, and they do not at all consider it a punishment! What a perversion this is! This is a distortion of the Torah — through love of the Exile.
Indeed, the Jewish People do not wish to see the truth, as our Sages said regarding the spies. How can they explain to themselves the words of the Men of the Great Assembly, who ordained in the festival Musaf prayer, “Because of our sins we were banished from our Land,” while they expect to serve out their punishment in wealth and ease? Foolishness!
Woe to us from those who distort the Torah! Such persons quote Pesachim 87b, “G-d performed a charitable act for Israel, for He dispersed them among the nations,” and they derive from it that G-d’s casting us into the exile was a kind, charitable gift! Could there be a more terrible perversion than that? Every child knows that the Torah constantly presents the exile to us as a frightful punishment for our sins. In the second paragraph of the Shema, which we morning and night, it says, “You will rapidly be lost from the good land that the L-rd is giving you” (Deut. 11:17). We likewise find in the terrible Tochachah (chastisement) of Leviticus (26:33,36), “I will scatter you among the nations and keep the sword drawn against you…. I will bring insecurity upon those of you who survive in the lands of your enemies.”
Also, in Deuteronomy (28:64-65): “The L-rd will scatter you among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other…. Among those nations you will feel insecure, and there will be no place for your foot to rest. There the L-rd will make you cowardly, destroying your outlook and making life hopeless.”
Truthfully, the Talmud’s statement above regarding charity is making a simple point: It is not that the exile is something positive — surely it is the worst punishment there can be — but, rather, that it contains “charity.” If G-d has already condemned us to exile, He at least dispersed us. As Rashi explains, “So that the nations could not destroy them all at once.”
This is only partial consolation, for even in this there is a drawback. As our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 6): “I will scatter you among the nations” (Lev. 26:33): This is a hard blow for Israel, for whenever all of a country’s citizens are exiled to one place, they see one another and find comfort. With you it is not so, however, for in the future I shall scatter you among all the nations.”
Thus, exile is an intrinsically calamitous and shocking punishment, yet there is partial consolation in our not having been exiled to one place, where it would be easy for the nations to annihilate almost all of Israel. Clearly, however, those who quote the above exposition to prove the positive side of exile are either ignoramuses or the exile has warped them. Following is Torat Kohanim, Behar, Parsheta 5:
“To give you the Land of Canaan, to be for you a G-d” (Lev. 25:38): Based on this our Sages said, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.” Likewise, regarding King David it says, “Cursed be they before the L-rd, for they have driven me out this day that I should not cling to the inheritance of the L-rd, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19). Might we suppose King David would worship idols? Rather, he would expound, saying, “Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven; but if someone leaves the Land, it is as though he worships idols.”
Our Sages also said (Sifri, Ha’azinu, 333), “R. Meir would say, ‘Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael, and recites the Shema morning and evening [which constitutes accepting G-d as King] and speaks the Holy Tongue [Hebrew] is assured a place in the World-to-Come.’”
The rejecters of Eretz Yisrael bring destruction. Israel’s refusal to cling, with faith and trust, to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, a mitzvah of equal weight to all others combined, is what has brought about, and, G-d forbid, will bring about, national calamities. Our Sages said (Yoma 9b):
“Resh Lakish was bathing in the Jordan, and Rabbah bar Channah [who had come up from Babylonia to study Torah] came and extended him his hand. Resh Lakish said to him, “I swear that I hate you! [i.e., the Jews of Babylonia.] Rashi comments, “By their not going up to Eretz Yisrael in Ezra’s day, they prevented the Divine Presence from returning and resting on the Second Temple”. It says, ‘If she be a wall, we will build upon her a silver turret, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with cedar boards’ (Song of Songs 8:9). Had you come up to Eretz Yisrael like a wall [en masse] in Ezra’s day, you would have been compared to silver, which cannot rot. Now that you have come up to Eretz Yisrael like doors, you are like cedar, which can rot.”
This shortsighted refusal to go up out of the exile is the primal sin which blocked the path to final redemption already during the Second Temple period. And the sin of Babylonian Jewry is repeating itself today, as exile Jewry sit tranquilly in a foreign land — Heaven help us — in a blind lack of faith and vision.
It was this that the spiritual giant R. Yehudah HaLevi intended in his great philosophical work the “Kuzari” (II:24, in which the Jewish philosopher responds to the non-Jewish king of Kuzar as follows): “You have shamed me, O King. This sin [the Jews’ refusal to return to Eretz Yisrael] is what has prevented us from completing what G-d ordained as the mission of the Second Temple. As it says (Zechariah 2:14), “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; [for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in your midst, says the L-rd].” The Divine plan was ready to unfold as in the First Temple, had everyone agreed to return willingly. Instead, some returned while the majority, including their great leaders, remained in Babylonia, preferring exile and servitude — just so they not be separated from their homes and business interests.”
Cyrus, king of Persia, had said (II Chron. 36:23), “All the kingdoms of the earth has the L-rd, G-d of heaven, given me; and He has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people – the L-rd his G-d be with him – let him go up.”
Had the whole nation gone up en masse when G-d brought things about that Cyrus gave permission, G-d would not have destroyed the Temple. Rather, the Divine Presence would have rested there forever, and G-d would have brought the Messiah, by virtue of their faith. Yet Israel, who were in Babylonia, settled down there and did not wish to return, and only a minority returned to Eretz Yisrael, as it says (Ezra 2:64): “The whole congregation together was 42,360.” This is the pitiful sum that returned to Eretz Yisrael, when the vast majority of Israel chose to settle down in the depravity of exile and to scorn the Desirable Land. Later, Cyrus decreed that whoever had not yet gone up would remain behind.
We are descended from people who turned their backs on Eretz Yisrael and prefer the defilement of the exile for the sake of tranquil lives. Our generation, as well, has exchanged the glory of the Desirable Land for the worship of gluttony and drunkenness in the exile, and there is no one to take up the insult to Eretz Yisrael. Quite the contrary, the prominent people of the generation express their approval of exile and abomination. As the brilliant Rabbi Ya’akov Emden wrote in the introduction to his Siddur Bet Ya’akov (Sulam Bet El, letter 6):
“Not one in a thousand is aroused to take hold of it and settle there; only one per country and two per generation. No one pays it any heed or seeks to love it. No one seeks to know its welfare or looks forward to seeing it. We imagine that since we live in peace outside the Land, we have already found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem like the first. This is the reason that Israel, dwelling in peace and great honor in Spain, and other countries during the exile, were beset by so much misfortune… and then banished from Spain until no remnant of Israel remained there.”
These words were written by Rabbi Ya’akov Emden in cursed Germany several hundred years ago. Who listened? Who took his words to heart? Rabbi Emden continues, answering those hypocrites who raise empty claims regarding risks and hardships involved in settling in Eretz Yisrael:
“Risks posed by desert and sea crossings surely do not suffice to exempt one from such a great mitzvah… Consider your path through valley and glen. Upon every mountain and hill, rich people and poor run swift as steeds to acquire possessions… What great danger we put ourselves in each day! For a crust of bread you take long strides that dim the luster of your eyesight and shorten your life, yet when it comes to the glory of your Maker and the immortality of your soul, you say, “A lion blocks my way!” (Prov. 26:13). How long, sluggard, will you lie on the bed of laziness? Until the foundations of the earth are laid bare! Why not acquire means of fleeing for your life while you still have the power to do it?”
The Mitzvah to Live in Israel, Part Three
Rabbi Kahane continues his treatise in the book, “The Jewish Idea,” focusing his attention of the blight of assimilation, and on the absolute prohibition against relinquishing any inch of the Land of Israel to any other nation. He writes:
How many souls have been lost and destroyed under the steamroller of assimilation in the exile!
“For she has cast down many wounded; yea, a mighty host are all her slain” (Prov. 7:26).
Surely, this, alone, makes every Jew duty-bound to “cry out, and not hold back!” (Isa. 58:1).
As Isaiah proclaimed, “Depart! Depart! Get out of there! Out of her midst! Touch nothing impure! Be you clean, you who bear the L-rd’s vessels” (Isa. 52:11).
Isaiah is calling upon Israel to depart the defilement of the exile. Ibn Ezra comments:
“Get out of there”: Every single Jew from the place of his exile; “Touch no unclean thing”: Separate yourselves from the nations of the world; “Get out of her midst”: Everyone from the country of his exile.
Rashi wrote, “‘Get out of her midst’: The midst of the exile, for the words of comfort that follow [in Isa. 52:12] can only refer to the end of the final exile.”
Likewise, Jeremiah said regarding the Babylonian exile, “Flee the midst of Babylon! Exit the land of the Chaldeans! Be the he-goats before the flock!” (Jer. 50:8). The commentator, Mahari Kra, comments, “Jeremiah told them, ‘I know that in the future, whoever is in Babylonia will die by the spear or sword… so flee first, before calamity comes.’”
Today, when the last redemption looms before us and the Messiah’s traces are visible, and when we have already merited, through G-d’s kindness, to return to Eretz Yisrael and establish a state, G-d’s cry is heard in all its might. Depart! Get out! Depart the defilement of exile, in order to be separated from the nations and protect the purity of G-d’s Torah; in order to save Jewish souls from the blight of assimilation; in order to sanctify Heaven’s Name by fleeing from foreign control.
The very exile is a terrible Chilul Hashem, a desecration of the Name of G-d.
I shall further expand on this most basic principle, yet it would be worthwhile right here to explain that the very exile is a Chilul Hashem, and our return to Eretz Yisrael is the opposite — Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of the Name of G-d. The nations’ having control over a Jew, and Israel’s lowliness in the exile, are called Chilul Hashem in that the non-Jew rules over the People of Israel, and thereby, over the G-d of Israel. I have already made clear that this is Rashi’s intent regarding the verse, “My Holy Name will I make known in the midst of My people Israel. Neither will I suffer My Holy Name to be profaned any more. The nations shall know that I am the L-rd, Holy One of Israel” (Ezek. 39:7).
Rashi said, “Israel’s lowliness is a Chilul Hashem, in that the nations say of them, ‘These are the L-rd’s people, [and they are gone forth out of His land]’ (Ezek. 36:20), yet He is unable to save them.”
The very conquest of Eretz Yisrael by the nations, and Israel’s exile from its land, allow the non-Jew to think that there is no G-d in Israel, Heaven forbid; because if there were, and if He were truly all-powerful, He would not let the nations destroy His Land and Temple and exile His people. Even if Israel do not endure real suffering at the non-Jew’s hand, the very fact that they must live in their lands at their mercy, dependent on their tolerance and benevolence, is a Chilul Hashem. Only when Israel dwell in sovereignty and might in their own land is G-d’s name sanctified. If Israel stubbornly refuse to leave the exile, G-d — “with fury poured out” — will liquidate their exile in order to blot out the Chilul Hashem. Now is surely the time to “flee before calamity comes.”
In a word, the idea of Israel living under the dominion of the nations and their alien culture, is by definition a Chilul Hashem, and clashes with G-d’s will to establish a chosen, treasured people in a chosen, treasured Land. There, in Eretz Yisrael, Israel would be separated and isolated from the nations’ cultures and alien beliefs, fulfill pristine, complete Torah lives, and establish a sovereign, independent state and society under G-d’s rule, and that is a Kiddush Hashem.
Every Jew has a sacred, absolute duty to live in Eretz Yisrael, because living in the exile contradicts and profanes G-d’s will. What mental gymnastics and sophistries are employed to justify loathing the Desirable Land! Just as G-d liquidated the exile in Egypt and allowed no Jew to remain, killing those who refused to leave for Eretz Yisrael, so, too, in this period of final redemption, G-d will liquidate the exile with fury poured out and will annihilate all who refuse to leave it — Heaven help us!
G-d’s Land for G-d’s People
G-d is Creator of the universe and Owner and Master of the earth and all it contains: “The earth is the L-rd’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). He gave Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People as their land, to enable them to fulfill their mission of building a state and society in accordance with the laws and foundations of the Holy Torah: “He gave them the lands of nations; they inherited people’s toils, that they might keep His statutes and observe His laws” (Ps. 105:44-45).
G-d took Eretz Yisrael from the nations who lived there and who conceived it as their home and birthplace, and He did it for one simple reason, the only reason that could justify Israel’s taking the Land: because G-d, Who fashioned and created the universe, is its Owner and Master. He acquired the universe by having created it, and men, who are likewise just G-d’s creations, occupants in G-d’s house, are not entitled to protest. If G-d wishes, He brings a specific people into a specific home, or land, and if He wishes, He removes them, and they have no mastery over a land unless He permits them to live there.
As far as Eretz Yisrael is concerned, no apologies or justifications are necessary. The Jewish People came to the land where the seven nations dwelled and took it from them by decree of the One and Only Owner. G-d uprooted the nations who dwelled there and brought in His chosen people, Israel, because the land is His and does not belong to those who lived there as occupants. As R. Yehoshua of Sachnin explained in the name of R. Levi (Bereshit Rabbah, 1:2):
“He declared to His people the power of His works, in giving them the lands of nations” (Ps. 111:6): Why did G-d reveal to Israel what was created on the first and second days of Creation? [I.e., why did the Torah relate the entire Creation narrative when it should have concentrated first on Torah law? As Rashi wrote (Gen. 1:1), “The Torah should only have begun from ‘This month shall be the head month to you’ (Ex. 12:2), this being the first mitzvah commanded to Israel.”]
It was because of the nations of the world, lest they curse Israel and say, “What a nation of pillagers you are!” Israel can respond, “Are you yourselves not pillagers? Surely it says, ‘The Kaftorim came from Kaftor and annihilated the Avvim, occupying their territories’ (Deut. 2:23).”
[I.e., you and all the nations who claim that we, Israel, are pillagers, are hypocrites. After all, many nations took lands from other nations who lived on them, without any right or pretext for doing so. For example, the Kaftorim annihilated the Avvim and occupied their land. See Deut. 2 for further examples of nations who pillaged other nations and took their lands.]
The world and all it contains is G-d’s. When He so desired, He took it from the gentiles and gave it to us. Thus it says, “He has declared to His people the power of His works in giving them the lands of nations” (Ps., Ibid.).
Before Israel respond to the nations with the main answer, they can advance a side argument, namely: How can you and the Canaanites attempt to pose as innocent? After all, Eretz Yisrael was given to the descendants of Shem, and the Canaanites, descendants of Ham, took it from them. As Rashi wrote regarding the verse, “The Canaanites were then in the Land” (Gen. 12:6): “The Canaanites were gradually conquering Eretz Yisrael from Shem’s descendants, for it had fallen to Shem’s portion when Noah divided up the earth amongst his sons.”
Thus, in response to the nations’ claim that Israel stole the Land, Israel can respond that the Land belonged to the sons of Shem, the Canaanites took it from them, and they are the thieves.
Afterward comes the main argument: The world and all it contains were created by G-d and belong to Him. He is the Owner, and He gives to whomever He wishes and takes from whomever He wishes. He chose Israel to be His chosen people, His supreme, treasured nation, and He gave them the Land to be theirs and not the Canaanites’.
The Torah also says, “He will drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you, so as to bring you to their land, and give it to you as a heritage, as He is doing today” (Deut. 4:38).
Thus, there is no place for apologies and self-justification before the nations, and no need to seek “moral” pretexts for conquering Eretz Yisrael. It belongs to the Creator of the universe, the Owner and Master of the world. He took it away from the evildoers and gave it to us, and there is no higher morality than this, nor any greater acceptance of G-d’s yoke. Neither the nations nor Israel can claim any ownership of the earth. As it says, “All the earth is Mine. You are foreigners and resident aliens as far as I am concerned” (Lev. 25:23).
To G-d belongs all the earth — it and all it contains are His alone. It also says, “Mine is the silver and Mine the gold” (Haggai 2:8); and, “For all things come of You, and of Your Own have we given You” (I Chron. 29:14).
This last verse enables us to understand the words, “Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for Me an offering” (Ex. 25:2). Seemingly it should have said, “Have them give Me an offering.” That, however, would imply that Israel’s possessions really belongs to them, and that now they are giving from their possessions to G-d. The verse therefore says, “Have them take for Me.” That is, they are to take from Him, from G-d, what is really G-d’s property, and return it to Him as an offering. In this life, man has no ownership claim on any property in the world. Everything he has belongs to the Master of the universe, and He gives it to man to use, and even then, only on certain conditions. Our sages said (Berachot 35a):
One may not derive benefit from this world without blessing G-d, and whoever does so commits a trespass… Shmuel said, “To derive benefit from this world without blessing G-d is like deriving [forbidden] benefit from Temple sacrifices, as it says (Ps. 24:1), ‘To the L-rd is the earth and the fullness thereof.’”
- Levi raised a contradiction: It says, “To the L-rd is the earth and the fullness thereof,” and it says, “The heavens belong to the L-rd, but the earth He has given to mankind” (Ps. 115:16). Yet there is no contradiction. The former refers to before one recites a blessing, the latter to after one recites it.
“To the L-rd is the earth and the fullness thereof.” It and all it contains are His. G-d allows man to use His property on condition that man acknowledge G-d’s ownership via a blessing, in the case of deriving benefit, and by returning part of it, in the case of terumah and ma’aser [tithes to kohanim and levi’im], and all other priestly and levitic gifts, and sacrifices. Whoever derives benefit or makes use of his possessions, as if they are his own, without fulfilling G-d’s conditions, is stealing the holy property of Heaven; because all the property on earth belongs to G-d, and only under certain conditions were we permitted to use it.
Also regarding tzedakah [charity], we find that it is a mitzvah and a duty for a person to give up to a fifth of his wealth, as our sages said (Ketuvot 50a):
In Usha it was ordained that one who gives tzedakah to the poor should not give more than a fifth… lest he, too, ends up needing help… What verse supports this? “From whatever You give me, I will give a tenth [aser a’asrenu]” (Gen. 28:22).
Rashi comments, “The double expression for tenth adds up to a fifth.”
In the Jerusalem Talmud (the beginning of Peah) we find, “First one takes from one’s principal, and after that, from one’s earnings.” In other words, in the first year [that one keeps track of charitable giving] one should give a fifth of one’s estate, and henceforth one should take a fifth of one’s earnings.
It seems that G-d made the word עשיר-ashir, rich man, in Hebrew, similar to the word מעשר-ma’aser, tithe, to teach that whoever wishes to become wealthy should give tithes. It says (Deut. 14:22), “Take a tithe [aser ta’aser] of all seed crops.” Our sages comment (Ta’anit 9a), “Take a tithe [aser] so as to become wealthy [tit’asher].” Moreover, the following is codified in Rambam (Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 7:10):
If someone does not wish to give tzedakah, or he gives less than befits him, the courts coerce him and apply Rabbinically ordained lashes until he gives what he was assessed capable of giving. The courts go into his estate in his presence and take whatever is appropriate for him to give. (See Ketuvot 49b.)
From here we derive a major principle: the Torah concept of charity differs from that of the false, alien culture. The nations view tzedakah as a kindhearted act, as if the property belongs to the person, and if he wishes, in his kindheartedness, to squander his wealth on the poor, he deserves praise. Yet, according to the Torah, it is certainly not that way. Tzedakah involves no kindheartedness. It is a mitzvah, a command, based on tzedek, justice, and law. It is a duty that can even entail coercion.
Among the nations and the alien culture, all sorts of outlooks have been formed regarding property, and despite the superficial differences between them, all are based on the perception that the world and property belong to man. In this regard, there is no difference between what the non-Jews call “Capitalism,” “Socialism” or “Communism.” Whether a non-Jew argues that property is a private possession, or argues that it belongs to society, he means that it is the property of man.
Not so, G-d, Whose Torah states that everything belongs to Him, and that property and possessions were given to mankind only for temporary use. Thus, when G-d decrees that we must give tzedakah, it is our duty to do so. Tzedakah does not at all come from the property of the wealthy man. He has no ownership whatsoever over what is given him by Heaven. Hence, we force a man to give what G-d’s tzedek, justice, dictates that he give. Such is our sages’ intent in Avot 3:7, “Give to G-d of His own, for you and yours are His,” as well as in Torat Kohanim, Behar, 4:8:
“The Land is Mine” (Lev. 25:23): Do not scorn it. “For you are foreigners and resident aliens”: Do not attach prime importance to yourselves. Thus it says (I Chron. 29:15), “For we are strangers before You and sojourners, as all our ancestors were.” Also, King David said (Ps. 39:13), “For I am a stranger with you, a sojourner, as all my ancestors were.” “As far as I am concerned”: It is enough for the slave to be like his master. When you are Mine, then it is yours.
In other words, when you are Mine, i.e., when you follow My mitzvot and acknowledge that you and yours are Mine, then the Land and all it contains will be yours.
In any event, it is plain that Eretz Yisrael, G-d’s property, was given to Israel as their resting place and inheritance, their place to be set apart and isolated, to establish and maintain a perfect Torah state and society, a place where they will be immune to the depraved influence of the alien culture.
G-d took the Land from the nations and removed them from it, and He brought Israel into it so that they would keep His Torah and mitzvot. From the moment G-d decided to give the Land to Israel, it became Eretz Yisrael, the Land of the People of Israel — G-d’s land which He gave Israel to use as the Holy Land.
It is a mitzvah and duty upon every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael, and a Chilul Hashem when Israel lives outside of it. Also, once G-d decreed that Israel must be separated from the nations and their alien, dominant culture, it clearly is forbidden to let the non-Jew live in Eretz Yisrael unless he is denied mastery and sovereignty over the Land and willingly accepts this. No non-Jew has the slightest right to ownership over the Land, and any non-Jew who denies G-d’s mastery and the ownership of His people Israel over the whole Land is rebelling against G-d, denying G-d’s sovereignty on earth and profaning G-d’s name. He has one fate — to leave the Land or to die.