Planning a summer vacation? Let’s say you have enough money to go to Israel, but for the same price you can get an extra few days in Honolulu or Paris. Where should you choose?
Browsing through the pages of weekly Exile Edition of The Jewish Press can make you dizzy, trying to decide between all of the fantastic glatt kosher tours to every exotic spot in the world. Of course, if you are a Jew living in Israel, you don’t have this question at all. Why? Because it is halachically forbidden to leave the Land of Israel simply to go on a pleasure jaunt overseas (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 531:4). This is because the Land of Israel is holy, and the rest of the world is not. Leaving Israel adversely affects a Jew’s holiness and blemishes his worship of God. This is what King David meant when he said, “For they have driven me out this day from being joined to the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go and serve other gods” (Shmuel 1, 26:19). Certainly, King David wouldn’t engage in idol worship, but as the Talmud explains, “Any Jew who lives outside the Land of Israel is like someone who has no God” (Ketubot 110b). This is because Hashem has appointed an angel over every country to run the affairs of that place. There’s a nice-smelling, sweet-talking French angel who is in charge of France; there’s a drunk, vodka-drinking angel in charge of Russia; and the angel in charge of America spends most of his time watching old I Love Lucy Show reruns on TV. However, over the Land of Israel, Hashem rules alone, directly, without any intermediary agent. That’s why the worship of God in Israel is far superior to everywhere else (Ramban, Achre Mot, 18:25). Therefore, a Jew is only allowed to leave the Land of Israel to do a mitzvah. He can go to the Diaspora to visit family, find a wife, to study with a certain Rabbi, for medical reasons, or go on a business trip for livelihood reasons, but to remain there is forbidden. Once he has accomplished his mitzvah, he must return to Israel (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:9). But if his trip is just for a fun vacation, then the Diaspora is off limits.
What about a Diaspora Jew? Because of the curse of the exile, Jews were scattered around the globe to the four corners of the earth. Even though The Master of the World built the Ben Gurion Airport over sixty years ago so that His children could finally come home, planeloads of Jews apparently still haven’t heard about it. What’s the case of a Jew who was born in America? If he goes on a vacation to Paris or Hong Kong, he isn’t affecting his level of holiness, because his surroundings are impure to begin with wherever he is. According to Jewish Law, the Diaspora possesses the spiritual status of a grave (Shabbat 14B, beginning “Yosi ben Yoezer…”; Nazir 54B, Tosefot beginning “Eretz…”; Vilna Gaon, Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzinuta). Some graves are known for their hot dogs, while others have the aromas of expensive perfumes. Some graves are surrounded by beautiful beaches and tropical fish, while others have buildings that reach up to the sky. But a grave is a grave whether it is the French Riviera or the Virgin Islands. Whether a Diaspora Jew visits the London Tower or the Champs Elysses, it doesn’t make a difference. A land filled with idol worship is spiritually polluting whether the idol is worshipped in English or French. Sure, the Jew may have a grand time at the museums and theaters. And if he is religious, and takes off his yarmulke for a few days, well, what’s the big sin in that? He can always wear a baseball cap to hide the fact that he’s Jewish.
However, if a Jew from America decides to vacation in Israel, then he is doing a mitzvah. Every four steps that he takes, he earns a place in the World to Come. In contrast, a Jew can walk along the entire Great Wall of China and all he will get is sore feet. Plus by spending his vacation money in Israel, the American Jew is helping the Jewish People resettle the Holy Land. In boosting the economy of Israel by paying for hotel rooms and renting cars, he is playing an active part in Israel’s Redemption. The Israel Tourist Ministry reports that for every 100,000 tourists coming to visit Israel, the country gains 9 million dollars and 4,500 permanent places of employment. So his contribution is no small thing.