At the time of Ezra, all Jews had the ability and opportunity to make aliyah.  The majority, however, willingly chose not to, mainly because they became too complacent in exile. 

by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman

Excerpted from his book, “Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah.” Other books by Rabbi Lichtman can be found at his website: https://toratzion.com/


Last we in the Torah reading of Mishpatim we encountered the mitzvah of Shemittah whose fulfillment depends on a majority of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, this week’s parashah also contains such a mitzvah.  The Torah states, “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary (מקדש), that I may dwell among them” (25:8).  Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 95) writes that this is the source for the positive commandment “to build a house for the sake of HaShem… where we can offer our sacrifices to Him…”  After a lengthy discussion on the purpose of the Beit HaMikdash and sacrifices, the author writes, “This mitzvah applies when the majority of Jews [dwell] in their Land, and it is one of those mitzvot which are not incumbent upon the individual, rather the community.”

  1. Yehoshua of Kutno, author of “Responsa Yeshu’ot Malko,” points out a formidable contradiction to this determination. It is well known that relatively few Jews returned to Zion at the end of the seventy-year Babylonian exile.  The book of Ezra (2:64-65) states that only 42,360 Jews returned; the rest chose to remain in exile.  Even at the peak of Jewish settlement, it is estimated that only about two million Jews lived in Eretz Yisrael, while seven million lived in Asia Minor (R. Shalom Gold, “Man, Woman or Child;” Viewpoint; Summer 1998).  In fact, Chazal state in many places that this is why the Second Temple did not last.  For example, the Talmud (Yoma 9b) relates this story:

Reish Lakish was swimming in the Jordan River.  Rabba bar Bar-Chanah came along and gave him his hand [to help him out of the river].  [Reish Lakish] said, “By God, I hate you [Rashi: I hate all residents of Babylonia, who did not ascend (to Eretz Yisrael) at the time of Ezra, thus preventing the Shechinah from returning and resting upon the Second Temple.], as it is written, If she be a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her with a cedar board (Shir HaShirim 8:9):  Had you made yourselves like a wall and ascended all together at the time of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which does not decay.  Now that you went up like doors, you were compared to cedar wood, which decays [Rashi: A gate that has two doors is opened one door at a time; similarly, you ascended by halves (i.e., insufficiently)].

How, then, did Ezra and Nechemyah build the Second Beit HaMikdash?  According to Sefer HaChinuch, a majority of world Jewry must live in the Land in order to do so!

  1. Yehoshua Kutner answers his question based on a Gemara in Chagigah (15a):

[God] created righteous and wicked people, and He created Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and Gehenom (purgatory).  Everyone has two portions: one in Gan Eden and one in Gehenom.  If a righteous person merits it, he receives his and his friend’s portion in Gan Eden.  If a wicked person so deserves, he receives his and his friend’s portion in Gehenom.

The same applies here.  At the time of Ezra, all Jews had the ability and opportunity to make aliyah.  The majority, however, willingly chose not to, mainly because they became too complacent in exile.  Therefore, the few Jews who withstood the temptations of the Diaspora and ascended to Eretz Yisrael – in compliance with the call of the Gadol Ha’Dor (Ezra) – received not only their own “portion” in the Holy Land, but also their friends’ portions.  Although quantitatively only a minority of Jews lived in the Land, qualitatively it was as if the majority dwelt there.  Thus, they were able to rebuild the Holy Temple.  (R. Yehoshua’s idea is found in “Itturei Torah,” vol. 3, p. 210.)

(We find a similar idea elsewhere in the Torah.  After describing the death of the evil spies, the Torah says, But Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh lived from the men who went to spy out the Land (BeMidbar 14:38).  Rashi comments:  “What does it mean, They lived from the men?  It teaches that they received the spies’ portion in the Land and lived in their stead.”)

There are many similarities between the return to Zion at the time of Ezra and today’s return to Zion.  Both were initiated by the Gentiles (Cyrus and the Balfour Declaration); both were carried out – to a large extent – by irreligious Jews (at the time of Ezra, many of the returnees desecrated the Sabbath and married Gentiles, as the book of Ezra states explicitly); and in both cases many religious Jews refused to take part, largely because of the first two issues.  What we learn from Chazal and R. Yehoshua Kutner is that when God gives us the opportunity to return to our Homeland, we must seize it.  For if we don’t, we run the risk of ruining the Redemption for all of Klal Yisrael or forfeiting our personal share in God’s special Land.

A well-known adage says, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Let us hope that we never fall into this category.




As is well known, this week’s parashah is the only one in the Torah (since Moshe’s birth) that does not mention Moshe Rabbeinu by name.  Of course, this does not mean that he is not a major player in the parashah.  On the contrary, he is referred to numerous times, but only by the pronoun “you.”

Similarly, there is no direct mention of Eretz Yisrael in the parashah.  However, if one looks a little deeper he will find that the entire parashah applies only in the Holy Land.  Although B’nei Yisrael were commanded to build the Mishkan and make the priestly garments for use in the desert, the mitzvot involved in these actions have an eternal status only in Eretz Yisrael.  Sefer HaChinuch counts seven mitzvot in the parashah, and he writes about each one, “[This mitzvah] applies at the time of the Temple.”  One might argue that these are not Eretz-Yisrael mitzvot per se, rather Jerusalem- or Beit HaMikdash-related mitzvot.  First of all, I would point out that although Jerusalem and Har HaBayit have a higher degree of sanctity than the rest of the Land, they are still part of – even the heart of – Eretz Yisrael.  More importantly, though, I mentioned last week that the Beit HaMikdash can only be rebuilt (in a non-miraculous fashion, at least) when the majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisrael.


The Torah concludes its detailed discussion of the Priestly Garments with the words:  They shall be upon Aharon and his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they come near to the altar to serve in the holy place, that they bear no iniquity and die… (28:43).  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 83a), quoted by Rashi, derives from here that a kohen who serves without all of his priestly garments is liable to death (at the hands of God).  Later on in the parashah (29:30), Rashi quotes a different Gemara which states that only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) may enter the Holy of Holies, and only on Yom Kippur.  Nevertheless, there were some people who were able to enter the Holy of Holies without fear of death, even though they did not don the special garments, as the following story illustrates:

A delegation of rabbis once came to Rav Kook to complain about the fact that he, the Chief Rabbi, associated with the secular pioneers who disregarded the laws of the Torah.

“Honorable Rav!” exclaimed one of the visitors.  “Can it be that Eretz Yisrael will be built and established by young men and women who publicly violate the mitzvot of HaShem?  Is this not a desecration of holiness, in the plainest sense of the word?”

“Absolutely not!” replied the Rav in a clear, fervent, and confident voice.  “Just think about it.  The holiest place in Eretz Yisrael is undoubtedly the Beit HaMikdash.  And the holiest section of the Beit HaMikdash is the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies).  Now, when the Temple stood in its place, no one was allowed to enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, except for the High Priest.   And he was allowed to enter only once a year – on Yom Kippur – after painstaking preparations, wearing his special, white, priestly garments, to perform the sacred service of the day.”

“Nevertheless,” continued the Rav, “when the Temple was being built, workers and artisans from the entire spectrum of Judaism undoubtedly entered the place.  Even simple folk, who were not particularly known for their Torah erudition and piety, entered the site of the Temple.  They even went all the way in to the Holy of Holies whenever they wanted, wearing regular work clothes, until the Temple was completed” (An Angel Among Men, Kol Mevaser Publications, pp. 429-430).

On another occasion, the Rav was sitting with his close associates when the conversation turned to the builders of the Land.  Many of these builders lived secular lives, and their secularism was, all too often, visible in the “buildings” they built.

Said the Rav:  “The Talmud states in reference to the building of the Holy Temple, ‘[The repairmen] build with mundane [materials], and they sanctify it afterwards’ (Me’ilah 14a).  The same is true regarding the building of our Holy Land.  It is now being accomplished in a partially secular manner, but it will all be sanctified in the end” (ibid., p. 428).

Thank God, the physical building of the Land is nearing completion.  All that is needed now are more religious Jews to help sanctify what has already been built.  Anyone looking for a rewarding job?





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