I am writing this because perhaps I can have an affect on even just a single individual. Perhaps I can help open someone’s eyes and heart, the same way that mine were opened. We Jews are part of something bigger, something greater than ourselves. We are all part of Am Yisrael. We are all part of Am Hashem. We are one unit, and each individual is responsible for one another, which is what compelled me to write this piece.
I am not going to focus on the halachic aspect and the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, or the topic of kedushat haaretz (holiness of the land). I am not going to focus on the issur (prohibition) of leaving Eretz Yisrael shelo al menat lachzor (not on condition to return) (regarding these subjects, see Eretz Chemdah by Rav Shaul Yisraeli z”l, MeAfar Kumi by Tzvi Glatt hy”d). I am not going to focus on what chazal say regarding the reason for the obligation of mitzvot outside of Eretz Yisrael (see Rashi, Ramban, R’ Bechaye on Devarim 11:18), or that yishuv Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to all of the mitzvot in the Torah (Avoda Zara 5:2, as well as Sifri Re’eh 53). Although I am perplexed as to why the Roshei Yeshivot of YU, and Rabbanim in America and chutz la’aretz (outside of Eretz Yisrael) as a whole, rarely speak about these topics.
Rather, I will focus on the broader perspective.
I think that we, the Jews of America, have become so used to living in America, to calling it our home. We have become used to living in the state of galut, of exile, which came upon Am Yisrael as a result of our sins almost two thousand years ago. We have become used to living outside our own land, the land given to us, to Am Yisrael, by Hashem.
Thank G-d, America is a country that is comfortable for Jews to live in. Life is easy in America; the land, culture, and lifestyle is comfortable and familiar to us. America is what we have become used to. However, we must remember that it is not our permanent home. Am Yisrael’s place is in Eretz Yisrael. The Maharal explains in Netzach Yisrael (ch. 1) that it is an unnatural state for Am Yisrael to be in galut, for us to be outside Eretz Yisrael.
As Rav Kook explains in Orot, the relationship between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael is much deeper than just a safe haven for an oppressed people. Rather, Rav Kook explains, Am Yisrael has a deep inner connection with Eretz Yisrael, one that is beyond rational comprehension (Eretz Yisrael chapter 1). Yet we have become so used to the galut, to the point that there are still millions of Jews living outside of Eretz Yisrael in a time when Eretz Yisrael is so easily accessible to us. We have forgotten what it is like to be home. We have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten ourselves.
Since the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash more than 1,947 years ago, which marked the beginning of the final galut, we have continued to beg Hashem “vi’sah nes likabetz gelyotenu vikabtzenu yachad mei’arba kanfot haaretz” (raise the banner to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth) every single weekday, three times a day. And now, we can see with our own eyes that slowly but surely, Jews from around the entire world are returning to Eretz Yisrael. Kibutz Galuyot is happening before our very eyes! After more than 2,000 years of not having control of our own land, Hashem has allowed us to regain control as of 1948. We must try to open our eyes and see how amazing it is to be living in this time period in history! As Rav Soloveitchik harshly states in Kol Dodi Dofek (p. 24), “Woe unto the beneficiary of a miracle who does not recognize it for what it is, and whose ear is deaf to the echo of the imperative that arises out of this metahistorical event.”
We must try to open our eyes and realize that we are living through nevuah (prophecy). The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98a) tells us that the tell tale sign that the geula (redemption) is near is when Eretz Yisrael begins to sprout again from its state of desolation (in the Gemara’s words: “Ain licha keitz megula mi’zeh, shene’emar vi’atem harei yisrael anpichem titnu uferyichem tisu liami yisrael ki keirvu lavo”) (see Rashba ibid.). We can see with our own eyes how the Land of Israel has sprouted, how a land which has been barren, has been reborn, and is now bursting with vegetation and greenery. If we take a look at the history of the State of Israel over the past 69-plus years, if we pay attention to the details of its creation, of its wars and of its progress, we will be able to see clearly the Yad Hashem, the hand of G-d. To me, it is so clear that we are living through the beginning of the geula process. Ain licha keitz megula mi’zeh (there is no more of an explicit manifestation of the end of days than this) (Sanhedrin ibid.).
Perhaps the reason we are still in America is because we feel that we have some important role here to help Am Yisrael. Even if we are not able to return home to Eretz Yisrael for valid reasons, do we have the desire to? Do we really mean it when we pray three times a day, “lishuatcha kivinu kol hayom” (we hope for Your salvation all day long)? Will we be able to answer “Yes” when we reach shamayim (Heaven) and we are asked, “Tzipita Liyishua?” “Did you yearn for the salvation?” (see Gemara Shabbat 31a). Do we truly want to return to Eretz Yisrael?
Or, is it possible that we have forgotten Yerushalayim? (see Tehillim 137:5)
Our lives become so busy that we don’t have time to think. We just go, we just do. I have seen and heard of so many people who were once so passionate about returning to Eretz Yisrael. For whatever valid reasons these people were unable to at the time, and eventually, as life hit, they got caught up and stuck in America. We must have a sense of “im lo achshav, eimatai” (if not now, then when?) because practically, as we grow older, it becomes more difficult to pick up and move.
It is definitely not an easy leap to leave a place that is so comfortable and so familiar to a land that has a different culture and language. It is extraordinarily difficult to leave family, friends, and everything else that we are used to. The Gemara (Berachot 5a) states that Eretz Yisrael is one of the three “matanot tovot” (precious gifts) that Hashem gave to Am Yisrael, all of which are acquired only through suffering. We must, however, try to internalize and understand that Eretz Yisrael is a “matana tova,” a precious gift, that is worth acquiring. It is time to return to the land that Hashem gave to us, to Am Yisrael. It is time to return home.
May we all merit to see the complete fulfillment of Yirmiyahu’s nevuah (31:17) of “Vishavu banim ligvulam” (and the children will return to their borders), and to see the completion of the geula and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.