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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776
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Get Angry at Rashi – Not at Me!

Two Torah scholars arrived in Babylon and told the Jews there, "if you detach yourselves from the centrality of Eretz Yisrael, you have no portion in the God of Israel!”

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Once again, I ask you – isn’t it interesting that the very first words that God says to Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, is to go to the Land of Israel?

What are we suppose to learn from that? Can there be any question at all? One plus one is two. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out a simple equation like that.

We don’t just read the Torah like it’s “Harry Potter” or the “DaVinci Codes,” God forbid. We read it to learn from it. We read about our holy Forefathers to learn from them and to follow their example. In telling Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, to live in Eretz Yisrael, God is teaching us as well that He wants us to live in Israel too.

Let’s face it. If God wanted, Avraham could have been born in theLandofIsraelto begin with. That would have saved Avraham the hassle of such a long shlepp with camels and donkeys and the rest of his entourage. For Someone who created the heaven and the earth, giving birth to Avraham inIsraelis peanuts. But God chose to have Avraham start off in the Diaspora precisely to teach all of the Jewish People in the future that wherever they lived, God wants them to pack up their belongings, just like Avraham, and relocate to Eretz Yisrael. As the great Torah commentary Ramban teaches, “The deeds of the fathers are signs for their children.”

What was Avraham’s reaction to God’s command? Without even calling Nefesh B’Nefesh, he departed immediately, as God had spoken to him. (Bereshit, 12:4. See the commentaries of Lekach Tov and Ibn Caspi). Even though the Land of Israel was filled with immorality, idol worshippers, and heathens that he would have to conquer, he didn’t say, “I’m not going because I don’t want to go into the army.“ Or, “I’m not going to Israel because there are Russian prostitutes there.” Or, “I’m not going because the politicians in the Knesset are corrupt.” Or, “I’m not going because the Moshiach hasn’t come.” He set off without listing 50 excuses and did what G-d commanded.  Period.

In reward for Avraham’s obedience and faith, God gave him, and his children after him, the eternal inheritance of the Land of Israel, as it says, “And I will give you, and to your seed after you, the Land where you sojourn, all the Land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d” (Bereshit, 17:8).

The great Torah commentator, Rashi, explains this verse as follows: “There, I will be their God, but a Jew who lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no God” (Rashi, loc cited).

Don’t get angry at me. Get angry at Rashi. Do you think he should apologize for insulting Jews in the Diaspora! How could he say such a thing?! What chutzpah!

Actually, he isn’t to blame. The Talmud says the very same thing (Ketubot 111A), and this is the law brought down by the Rambam: “IN ALL GENERATIONS, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are heathens, and not live outside of the Land even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are Jews” (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12).

Hmmph! What chutzpah! The Rambam, Rashi, and Fishman! The Jewish Press should ban all of them!

But Avraham heard God’s command and immediately obeyed. That’s  what makes him the father of the Jewish People – his complete Emunah (faith), as the Torah testifies: “And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Bereshit, 15:6).

The opposite of this is where people have crises of Emunah, like in the case of the Generation of the Wilderness who refused to obey God’s command to make aliyah, as the Torah record: “And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the Land which I gave you,’ and you rebelled against the Lord your God, and you did not have Emunah in Him, and did not listen to His voice” (Devarim, 9:23).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook explained that there are two types of Emunah – the complete Emunah of Avraham Avinu, and the partial Emunah of the Spies in the wilderness, and their followers, of whom it is said, “And in this matter, you did not have Emunah in the Lord your G-d” (Devarim, 1:32).

Tzvi Fishman

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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