Give this week’s Torah portion, “Lech Lecha,” to an eight-year old to read, ask him where God wants the Jewish People to live and he will answer “the Land of Israel” right away. Give it to a gentile to read and ask him the same question. “The Land of Israel” he will answer without batting an eye. Give it to a Jew in the Diaspora and ask him the same question, and you’ll get a dozen different answers:
“Well, it depends….”
“It’s not the same for us today….”
“What was true for Avraham isn’t a general rule….”
“In Brooklyn, New York….”
“Until the Moshiach comes, a Jew can live anywhere he wants….”
But the fact is that God starts off His relationship with the Jewish People by telling our first forefather, Avraham, “Get thee forth to the Land that I will show you.” God doesn’t tell him to keep Shabbat. He doesn’t tell Avraham to keep kosher. He tells him to live in Israel. This is where a Jew belongs. This is the only place where a Jew can truly serve God. This is the only place where the Kingdom of God can be established, and where Torah will go forth to all the nations. The Holy People are to live in the Holy Land. This is God’s plan for the world and for the Jewish People. This is the very first lesson that God teaches Avraham and his children who will follow after him. “Get thee forth to the Land.” Ask any eight-year old. Ask any gentile. If a monkey could read, he would reach the same conclusion. Living in the Land of Israel is the foundation of the Jewish Nation. #1 on the list.
To live in the Land of Israel, we need to keep the Torah, yes. But the first, basic understanding that God wants us to know is that just as every nation needs a land, the special holy Nation of Israel needs a special Holy Land. The Land of Israel is a part of our national identity. It is a part of our spiritual being. It is not something extra to Judaism. It is not just another extra mitzvah, or a nice place to visit. It is not something external like a new car or a summer vacation. It is a part of who we are. We cannot be the NATION of Israel without the Land of Israel. We can be scattered individuals, in scattered Jewish communities around the world. We can be advisers to gentile presidents and assimilated novelists and famous pop singers, but we can’t be a NATION with our own land unless we are congregated in the Land of our forefathers, the Land of the Jews. For a Jew to be true to himself, and to God, he has to be in the Land of Israel.
This is the very first lesson of the Torah: “Get thee forth to the Land.” It’s a part of our genetic make-up as the children of Avraham. Just as Avraham left his birthplace to start a new life in Israel, we can too. It’s in our blood. It is a part of our psycho-historic heritage. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it is difficult. But as the children of Avraham Avinu, we have what it takes.
During the 2000 year exile from the Land of Israel, we didn’t have a choice. So the Torah became our principle connection to God. But now that G-d has re-opened the gates to our Homeland, now that He has brought back millions of Jews to Israel, and given us a Jewish airline, and thriving Jewish communities, and a re-built Jerusalem, and more yeshivot than anywhere else in the world, it is time to remember the very first lesson He taught us: “Get thee forth to the Land.”
If you don’t believe me, ask any eight-year old.