ישיבת כרם ביבנה

Eretz Yisrael - Even So!

הרב מרדכי גרינברג
נשיא הישיבה

(This sicha was given in response to a statement made by a religious Minister in the Israeli government, that if people will experience a religious decline in Israel – they should not be encouraged to come on aliya.)

This statement is not merely the opinion of one person; many people feel this way. In truth, the fact that a person has to consider whether he will be able to properly settle in the Land is discussed in the poskim. See Pitchei Teshuva (E.H. 75:6) who concludes that while we follow the Ramban that there is mitzvah to live in Israel nowadays also, this is on condition that one will have means of sustenance; otherwise, his children are likely to leave the path. However, there are two problems with this statement. While this may be true on a personal, individual level, such words issued by a public official carry an educational message with them about the value of living in Israel. Furthermore, is this the solution to the problem – not to come?!

In the end of Masechet Ketubot (110b) the Mishna addresses the situation where the husband and wife are in disagreement about aliya, and rules that either party can force the other to live in Israel. The reason given is that whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a G-d, while whoever lives outside of Israel is like one who does not have a G-d. The Hafla'ah asks: It says that whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is "like" one who as a G-d, which implies that it is actually not so! How could this be? He answers that obviously one who observes Torah and mitzvot has a G-d, as says regarding numerous mitzvot, "I am Hashem, your G-d." This is true even when in exile, outside of Israel, as it says, "Despite all this, while they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have despised them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul My covenant with them – for I am Hashem, their G-d." (Vayikra (26:44) Yet, because he lives in exile, it is as if he does not have a G-d. On the other hand, one who lives in Israel, even if doesn't observe mitzvot, since he is fulfilling this mitzvah of living in Israel – it is as if he has a G-d. The idea is that living in Israel is itself a means of connection with G-d.

What is the significance of Eretz Yisrael? Rav Kook, in beginning of Orot, writes that Israel is not a means to anything, as many think. Some view Israel merely as a place of refuge from the atrocities of Germany or the persecution of Russia. Others view Israel more significantly as the spiritual center of the nation, where we can freely open many Yeshivot. However, even this is not completely correct, since so long as something is only a means to a goal – it can have a substitute. If we want refuge – we can go to Uganda! If want a spiritual center – we can go to Brooklyn! Rav Kook explains that Eretz Yisrael is the place of life for Israel, as the Midrash explains, "I shall walk before Hashem in the lands of life" (Tehillim 116:9) – this is the Land of Israel. A normal person does not ask why he needs life. Yet, "life" does not simply mean physical existence, but rather it means shleimut, achieving the highest level possible for that being. Thus, for a Jewish person, true "life" is one filled with the joy of connection to G-d, as the Netziv explains at length (Bereishit 2:7). Thus, the wicked, even in their lifetime are called dead. Yaakov, during the twenty-two years he was mourning Yosef, was also not considered alive, and only when he hears the news that Yosef is still alive – "the spirit of Yaakov their father was revived." (Bereishit 45:27)

A Jew can live a completely fulfilled life only in Israel. This can be understood based on the Ramban that Eretz Yisrael is the only place that G-d leads directly, not through the medium of intermediaries: "A Land that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it." (Devarim 11:12) Thus, we find many verses that associate life with the Land of Israel: "So that you may live, and you will come and possess the Land that Hashem ... gives you." (Devarim 4:1; cf. 5:30, 8:1) Israel is the only place that Jews can be considered as truly living. The GR"A writes, in explanation of verses in Yechezkel (ch. 37), that life outside of Israel is not life. He writes that after destruction of Temple we are a body without soul. The Diaspora is the grave, and the Yeshivot and talmidei chachamim are like the bones, which sustain the body. Then, they also disintegrate, and all that remains is rot, and we wait for the Resurrection.

R. Yehuda Halevi, in the Kuzari, writes that to produce good fruit three conditions are needed: a good vine, a suitable location, and proper care. So, too, for the "Divine idea" (inyan Eloki) to succeed, we need Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael, observing Torah: "This concept cannot be without the Land." Just as fish cannot live out of water, nor other animals in water – so, too, Am Yisrael can live a normal life only in Israel.

Based on this understanding, that Eretz Yisrael is not a means to anything, but the natural habitat of Am Yisrael, many things take on new significance. For example, Chazal say so much about Torah in Eretz Yisrael: "There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael." (Vayikra Rabbah 13:1) "From Zion the Torah will come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim." (Yeshaya 2:3) The Rambam rules that were it not for the Jews living in Israel, there would be no kiddush hachodesh, based on this pasuk of "Ki mitzion..." (Some wanted to sanctify the year outside of Israel, and were told that this is like avoda zara.) "The air of Eretz Yisrael makes wise." (Bava Batra 158:2) "Once Israel were exiled from their place – there is no greater bitul Torah than this." (Chagiga 5b) This is not due only to the persecutions and troubles, but rather because outside of Israel is not the natural place of Torah. R. Zera fasted 100 fasts to forget the Torah of Babylonia (Bava Metzia 85a. See Rashi there that in Israel they learned without arguments. The Maharsha asks: How is it possible to learn without questions and answers? He explains that in Israel the goal of the discussion was to reach the proper understanding, while in Babylonia they would intend to outsmart the other.)

In addition, R. Chaim Volozhoner writes that the GR"A warned him many times not to accept magidim from heaven, and sent him numerous times to warn R. Chaim's brother, as well. Although the Beit Yosef had a magid, there are two differences: 1) The Beit Yosef lived 200 years before, when the generations were still proper. 2) In Israel the messengers are pure, while outside of Israel, the messengers are all tainted. The Chatam Sofer writes in a Responsa that he sent to Israel that when his words will reach Israel, perhaps they will become more significant, just as the Talmud Bavli achieved significance when the people in Israel accepted it. Finally, R. Yochanan once drowsed during shiur, and meanwhile his talmidim discussed why talmidei chachamim in Bavel are distinguished in their dress? They answered that it is because they are not true bnei Torah (and therefore need to establish authority through their dress. Rashi.) When R. Yochanan woke up he explained that it is because they are not in their own place (and therefore they not recognized as important without the distinguished garb).

Just as the natural place for Torah is Eretz Yisrael, the same is true for mitzvot. People think, what is the difference between Shabbat and kashrut in Israel or in chutz la'aretz? However, Chazal teach that this is not so. On the juxtaposition of the verses, "Va'avadtem meheira ... vesamtem et devarai – You will be swiftly banished from the goodly Land that Hashem gives you. You shall place these words on Mine upon your heart and your soul, etc." (Devarim 11: 17-18), Chazal comment: "Even in exile continue to observe mitzvot; don tefilin and affix mezuzah." The Sifrei  (cited by Rashi and the Ramban) compares this to a king who became angry at his wife and sent her back to her father's house, but warns her to continue dressing up so that when she returns to the palace it will not seem new to her. This is what Yirmiya (31:20) says, "Make marking signs for you." [I.e., observance of mitzvot outside of Israel is considered as practice for their observance in Israel.] This does not mean that mitzvot outside of Israel are only derabanan, but that their value is much less, as the Ramban writes, "The primary value of mitzvot is for those who sit in the Land of Hashem." (Some want to explain in Rashi that instead of "tefilin and mezuzot," the proper reading of the acronym TU"M is trumot and ma'asrot, but this not so.) Similarly, the Kuzari writes, "Action can achieve perfection only in it." The Kuzari adds that this is true even regarding mitzvot sichliyot (logical mitzvot), such as kibud av va'em, as it says, "Honor your father and mother so that your days will be lengthened upon the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you." (Shemot 20:12)

This same principle is true regarding work and worldly issues. The Chovot Halevavot writes, "Kol mah sheyarbeh hayishuv tikun, yarbeh hasechel churban." The more a person is involved in worldly matters, the more he descends spiritually. The Achronim write, however, that this is true only outside of Israel. This is a special quality of Israel; it does not allow a person to decline even when involved in worldly matters. The Chatam Sofer points out that many great Torah figures were involved in professions, and about this the Torah says, "ve'asafta deganecha – Gather in your grain." (Devarim 11:14) Just like a person cannot say, "I am learning, so therefore I don't have time to put on tefilin," so, too, one cannot say, "I am learning – and don’t have time to gather." However, this is true only in Israel. Outside of Israel, though, R. Yishmael (who advocates living a "normal" life of work) agrees with R. Shimon b. Yochai. The GR"A prayed that he be privileged to plant trees with own hands in Israel. The Bach, in his commentary to the Tur (O.C. 208) cites the Smag not to say, "venochal mipirya," in al hamichya, since we don’t seek to enter Israel in order to eat its fruits, but to observe the mitzvot of Eretz Yisrael. The Bach argues that eating the fruits of Israel is itself something important, since thereby one is nourished from the kedusha of Divine Presence that is in the Land of Israel. (Thus, it is not appropriate on Tu Bishvat to buy fruits from Turkey.)

Rav Kook writes in Orot, "Eretz Yisrael is kedusha in nature, in chutz la'aretz – kedusha is out of nature." Rav Charlop similarly writes that in Israel the goal is to reveal kedusha; outside of Israel the goal is to break the tumah. The Zohar resolves the contradiction between the pasuk, "Serve Hashem with awe (yirah)" (Tehillim 2:11), and the pasuk, "Serve Hashem with joy (simcha)" (Tehillim 100:2), as follows: "with joy" – in Israel; "with awe" – outside of Israel. There one has to wrestle all the time with tumah; here one can turn everything into kedusha.

This is meaning of Eretz Hachaim – Israel is able to give meaning and spirituality to everything. This is not to say that everything is simple. Moshe told the spies: "Strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land." (Bamidbar 13:20) If things are not as I tell you – you need to strengthen yourselves!

When we talk about the rebirth of the nation, in fifty years, five million Jews immigrated! If we ask why this occurred, many will say it was to escape this or that; others will say that it was nationalist sentiment. However, these are all external symptoms of an inner change – Am Yisrael no longer feels good outside of Israel, it longs for a stronger connection with G-d. Otherwise, things wouldn't have begun happening. After all, Jews have lived for thousands of years with the same issues.

As a nation, we have to repent from the sin of the spies – "They despised the desirable land" (Tehillim 106:24) – which is why galut was decreed. The Teshuva for this sin is to immigrate to Israel. Moreover, the very essence of Teshuva is simply returning home, to one's source, to one's roots! The massive return to Israel is not due to the push of external reasons. Simply, we have reached the time of redemption, so there arises a movement of national revival, a return to life. Here is house of G-d. This is what is pushing us.

The Gemara in the end of Sanhedrin (106a) says regarding the time of redemption, "Who dares to separate between the lion and lioness [when mating]" – a metaphor for G-d and Israel at the time of redemption. Chazal teach us that we don’t have to wait for the process of teshuva and Mashiach first, and then come. The Chumash points out that first Am Yisrael will come back, and then repent: "If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there Hashem, your G-d, will gather you in and ... bring you to the Land that your forefathers possessed ... Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart ... to love Hashem, your G-d, will all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (Devarim 30: 4-6) We find the same in Yechezkel: "I will take you from [among] the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own soil. Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed ... I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you." (Yechezkel 36:24-26) The Kabalists all talk about this, that first G-d will bring us to Israel, and afterwards sprinkle water of purity on us.

In the Gemara Sanhedrin 97b there is an extensive debate between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua whether redemption is dependent on teshuva. In the end, R. Eliezer, who initially claimed that is was, remained silent, indicating his consent. Immediately afterwards, R. Abba mentions that the clearest indication of redemption is when Israel begins to bear fruit again, which is what we clearly see. However, this will not happen so long as Am Yisrael remains away from Israel! On the pasuk in Hoshea (3:3) "Afterwards Bnei Yisrael will return and seek out Hashem their G-d and David their king," followed by the building of the Temple, Eim Habanim Semeicha comments that although Bnei Yisrael don't know why they are coming to Israel, in their subconscious they know that they belong there. This is "uvikshu," they will seek out, in His place.

R. Yehuda Alkali also writes that all decrees and persecutions against Am Yisrael are because they didn't seek after Eretz Yisrael.

From a tactical perspective, as well, the solution to whatever spiritual challenges exist in Israel also does not lie in avoiding Israel. If chilul Shabbat exists, if there is talk about civil marriages, how can we fight against this? Some say that the solution is to remain outside of Israel, where the situation seems better, rather than to come. This is not true, though. If many religious people will come – things will better! [Moreover, the statistics of assimilation outside of Israel are also frighteningly high!] In previous generations many chareidim did not want to come, since it was hard to remain fully observant. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had said a century ago, that had the BIL"U movement (based on the acronym, Beit Yaakov Lechu Veneilecha) not omitted the continuation of the pasuk, Be'ohr Hashem, he would have brought millions of Chasidim to Israel. Had he done so, undoubtedly the nature of Israeli society would have been radically different. Ten years ago, the Mafdal (National Religious) Party needed a few hundred more votes for another seat in the Knesset. In the Knesset vote about the Oslo Accords, from which we are still suffering, one more vote against would have cancelled it!

These considerations of is it worthwhile to come or not, are not our business, as we find that Yeshaya rebuked Chizkiya (who did not want to marry because he sensed that the evil King Menashe would descend from him), "What is your business in G-d's secrets! You must do what you are commanded, and let G-d do what he wants to." (Brachot 10a) Chizkiya married, and Menashe, who did terrible things, was born from him. Yet, afterwards came Yoshiyahu, about whom it says, "Before him there had never been a king like him who returned to Hashem with all his heart, with all his soul ... and after him no one arose like him." (Melachim II 23:25) Rav Kook points out something very important. True, the problem of Menashe exists, but without him there would be no continuation to the Davidic dynasty, there would be no Yoshiyahu. Whoever is obligated in a mitzvah – has to do it, and put his considerations aside. One cannot avoid doing a mitzvah because he is concerned about the outcome.  Many years ago, the Jewish Agency would bring children to Israel, and they would be become irreligious. There was a legitimate question – are we allowed to bring them? The question was posed to a gadol, and he said that it is not our business. We have to do what we are obligated, and not worry about the consequences – in the end it will work out.

We need to understand that the more that Jews come – the closer we are to redemption. But also from tactical point – this is the way to solve the problems.

The Gemara in the end Masechet Ketubot (110b) teaches, "Better a person should live in Eretz Yisrael even in a city that is mostly gentile, than live outside of Israel, even in a city that is mostly Jewish." Chazal taught us the opposite of this attitude that was expressed by the Minister, that it is more important to live in Israel.

We must emphasize again that we are not talking on a personal, individual level, but as a general direction. If a person has a particular problem – he needs to discuss it with his rav.

Nonetheless, this is the message that must be disseminated throughout the Diaspora: The redemption is dependent on us. If all will come, everything will be better!

 

 

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