Our Sages teach us that the air of the Land of Israel makes one wise (Baba Batra 158B). It causes intelligence and wisdom. And the beginning of intelligence is to understand that existence among the gentile nations is totally unpleasant.
We mustn’t forget that the gentile nations do us a favor by allowing us to stay in their lands – until they expel us. One must realize that we are on foreign soil there. It is not our society, nor government, nor culture. Nothing is ours. Only in Israel are we at home with family, living according to our customs, and our uniquely Jewish year, living in the one place designed for our holiness, for our psychological health, even for our physical wellbeing. We must return to health and turn away from polluted, unhealthy places, from environments that sometimes are so polluted and disorienting that a Jew forgets who he really is and thinks that it is normal to live amongst the gentiles. This is a tragic mistake.
Eretz Yisrael is the land of our life, in every possible way, whether national, historical, social, or personal. The air of Israel is our air. These mountains, these hills, these valleys, Jerusalem, Hevron, and Shechem, both spiritually and physically are bonded to us. And if, due to the routine living of our lives, we forget this connection – this is a catastrophe. It is a tragedy when we fall in love with the exile. It is written in the Torah portion of Mishpatim that after six years, a Hebrew slave must go free. If he refuses, saying, “I loved my master – I won’t go out to freedom,” this is an awful thing. Likewise, when we fall in love the galut saying, “I love my master, the foreign nation,” this is a tragic mistake.
We need to foster the understanding and the feeling that we must live in Israel, that this is our normal place, in terms of religion, and in terms of our nationhood.
If we are not here, we are unhealthy. And from time to time, the gentiles remind us that we are living in their domain, in an alien land.
This must be clear before anything else – no matter where a Jew is, he belongs only to Eretz Yisrael. This is his permanent home. Outside the Land, we have the status of guests. For two or three years, it is possible to be there in order to fill a mitzvah, but the aim of our life is to live here.
It is sometimes erroneously thought that living in Israel, conquering her, settling the land, and keeping her under Jewish sovereignty, are only the means for observing a Torah lifestyle in Israel. This is a mistake. The precept of conquering and settling the land is, in itself, a mitzvah prescribed by the Torah to settle the land so that it will not lay in desolation. In Judaism, it is accepted that, among the early Torah authorities, second in importance to the Rambam (Maimonides) is the Ramban (Nachmonides), one of the most outstanding sages and Kabbalists, two things which go hand in hand.
The Ramban concluded that the commandment to settle the Land of Israel is a positive commandment of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. He based his decision on the language of the verse, “And you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it” (Bamidbar, 33:53), which is stated in the language of a command. We are enjoined with two tasks: first to possess the land through conquest, and secondly, to dwell in the land (Ramban, Supplement to the “Sefer HaMitzvot” of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4).
The Ramban clearly establishes that this land which Hashem promised our forefathers must be kept under our control, and not under the control of any other nation. This is clearly meant in a national sense, for everyone understands that ruling a land means the establishment of a state in that land. Thus the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel is a fundamental precept of the Torah!
Our Sages have clearly explained the value of Eretz Yisrael to the Torah and to the mitzvot, saying that the precept of living in Eretz Yisrael is equal in scale to all of the precepts of the Torah (Sifre, Ekev, 10:1). The mitzvah of living in Israel is not just an ordinary commandment. It is an all-encompassing precept, encompassing all of the Torah. It is the fundamental prerequisite for Am Yisrael to function as a Nation. For the genuine keeping of the Torah is only in Eretz Yisrael. In every other place, the commandments are imposed as a reminder, so that when we return to Israel, we will know how to keep them (See Rashi, Devarim, 11:18; also the Ramban on the Torah, there).