A couple of days ago, The Jewish Press reported that there are over a million Jews living in New York. Nearly half of them are “Orthodox.” What’s the celebration? Hashem gazes down from the Heavens at His children in New York City and weeps. That’s right. That’s what our Sages teach in the Talmud. During the night, the Holy One Blessed Be He sits and roars like a lion, saying, “Woe to the children who I have exiled among the nations of the world” (Berachot 3A). It’s like a King who builds a beautiful palace for his children, but they don’t want to live there. They prefer to hang out with the harlots. If we feel proud that there are a million Jews living in New York (when they could very easily be living in Israel), then something is very wrong with our Jewish Identity. On the contrary, we should all hang our heads down in disgrace.
But why listen to me? Let a real Rabbi explain it to you. Rabbi Meir Kahane was a true Jewish leader. For example, he could have gone into politics in America but he chose to go into politics in Israel instead, because he wanted to teach the Jews of America that they belong in the country of the Jews, and not in the countries of the gentiles. He wanted to teach them that Jerusalem was their capital, and not Washington D.C. Rabbi Kahane wanted to show by his personal example that what was really important for a Jew was what was happening in the Eretz Yisrael, and not when a new kosher pizza shop was opened in Boston or Beverly Hills. Yes, the pastrami and corned beef may be better in Brooklyn, but, personally, I’m happier eating a felafel on rye in Jerusalem, knowing I’m in the place where Hashem wants me to be.
Here’s part two of Rabbi Kahane’s chapter on the Mitzvah of Living in Israel, condensed from his book, The Jewish Idea:
Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering and devotion. The deterioration in our values, and the blunting of Israel’s emotional attachment to Eretz Yisrael, emerged because we distorted the halachah, due to the wretched exile which conquered our minds and souls. We are also tempted to flee the difficult challenge and duty of isolating ourselves from the nations, and the hardships of earning a living in rebuilding our homeland. It all goes back to our Sages’ comment in Berachot 5a: “God gave Israel three fine gifts and all come only through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and the World-to-Come.”
A person’s whole life is a test to see whether he will accept the yoke of Heaven and of mitzvot. There is nothing precious that does not exact a heavy price. Eretz Yisrael, a precious gift, requires self-sacrifice, as befits a treasure of the Chosen People.
Wherever we go, we are obligated to prove our faith and trust in G-d, and certainly so in Eretz Yisrael, the Chosen Land, symbol of Israel’s isolation and their belief that “The Lord alone guides them” (Deut. 32:12). Yet time after time we have failed in this. Our Sages learned (Tanchuma, Tazria, 6):
“A kohen who used to observe plague-spots (see Lev. 13) became poor and wished to leave the Land. He summoned his wife, saying… “Let me teach you how to observe plague spots. If you see that the well-spring of a person’s hair has dried up, know that he is smitten, for God created a well-spring for every single hair to drink from”… His wife replied, “If God created for every hair a well-spring of its own, how much more so will He provide a livelihood for you, who are a human being, with much hair, and have children whom you support!” Therefore, she did not let him leave the Land.
Lack of trust in God’s ability to support and defend us was, from time immemorial, the plague that severed us from the great mitzvah of living in the Land, causing us to distort the mitzvah and contrive all sorts of warped excuses to exempt ourselves from it.
How could we as a nation have failed regarding this mitzvah, fleeing the suffering entailed in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, when ultimately it is the greatest gift God gave us? As it says (Jer. 3:19), “I gave you a Desirable Land.” So terribly has the cursed exile warped our nation, that many see no personal duty to leave the exile, and they do not at all consider it a punishment! What a perversion this is! This is a distortion of the Torah — through love of the Exile.