The Gemara questions, “Why were they killed?” and it answers: “Because they transgressed the admonition of [the end of] the verse in Deuteronomy (17:16): ‘you shall no longer return on this road again.’ ”
Rabbi Yosef notes that in light of the Rambam’s opinion and the Mechilta, it is quite astonishing that many gedolei Yisrael, even the Rambam himself, as well as many sanctified communities, dwelled in Egypt.
Rabbi Yosef, therefore, cites the Ritva (Novella, Yoma 38b), who explains that the prohibition only applies to the Egypt of old. But all the original Egyptian cities were interspersed and/or destroyed. The present-day cities where Jewish communities are found are not considered the “Egypt” of the prohibition, argues the Ritva.
(The reason the entire Alexandrian Jewish community was destroyed (as mentioned in the above-cited Sukka 51b) is because Alexandria was an age-old city subject to the Torah’s prohibition.)
Rav Yosef thus concludes that one may dwell in Egypt and kal va’chomer anywhere else in the world. It is of course common knowledge that Rav Yosef himself lived in Egypt for a few years before being forced to leave due to his dissatisfaction with the Egyptian Jewish community’s overall laxity in religious practice.
However, how do we reconcile Rav Yosef’s conclusion with the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, which is based on Deuteronomy 12:29, “veyarashta otam veyashavta be’artzam – you shall inherit them and settle in their land”?
(To be continued)