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Q & A: They Live In The Land (Part V)

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Question: I was recently discussing the sorry state of religion in Eretz Yisrael with some friends, noting that unfortunately a majority of the population consists of non-observant Jews. I expressed my view that this fact explains why Moshiach has not yet come. I avidly read your column and am anxious to learn your view of this matter.

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Summary of our response up to this point: We inquired into the statement we say before Kol Nidrei: “We sanction prayer with the transgressors.” To which transgressors are we referring?

Some suggest that “transgressors” refers to the Marranos in Spain who openly committed the sin of idolatry. Others say we are referring to individuals who violated communal edicts that got them banished from the synagogue.

Some compares praying with transgressors to the fragrant frankincense spices in the beit hamikdash which contained among its ingredients chelbona, a foul-smelling spice.

We asked: What if there are no transgressors in synagogue? Does their absence invalidate our Yom Kippur prayer service?

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 33b) states that the obligation to pray falls on every individual congregant, while Rabban Gamliel disagrees and says that the chazzan discharges the congregation of its obligation. The Mechaber notes that someone who is not conversant in praying must pay attention to each word of the chazzan’s repetition to discharge his obligation. One who is conversant cannot be discharged and must say the prayer himself.

However, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper, the chazzan discharges the obligation of everyone, even those who are well versed. Each person must either recite the prayer by himself or follow the chazzan’s prayer word for word.

The Mishnah states that those engaged in agricultural work in the fields are discharged of their obligation by the chazzan. However, those in town who are not engaged in work in the fields are able to pray on their own and thus are not discharged.

Last week, we discussed the opinion of Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, zt”l, on dwelling outside the land of Israel and, in particular, in Egypt. He cites the Rambam’s view that it is permissible to dwell anywhere in the world with the exception of Egypt. Rabbi Yosef notes that many gedolei Yisrael, including the Rambam, dwelled in Egypt, and argues that this edict only applies to ancient Egypt, which has seen been destroyed. Egypt today is not considered the same place halachically. Thus, one may dwell today in Egypt and surely anywhere else in the world. How do we reconcile this position, however, with the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael?

* * * * *

The responsum of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, addresses whether a Jew may live outside the land of Israel – more specifically, in Egypt. The question itself assumes that a Jew by default should live in the land of Israel. Therefore, let us delve into the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the land of Israel.

The source for this commandment is Deuteronomy 12:29 (Parshat Re’eh): “Ki yachrit Hashem Elokecha et hagoyim asher ata va shammah lareshet otam mipanecha, veyarashta otam veyashavta be’artzam – When Hashem your G‑d will cut off before you the nations you come to inherit, you shall inherit them and settle in their land.”

Commenting on this verse, the Sifrei recounts the following incident: R. Eleazar b. Shamua and R. Yochanan HaSandlar were traveling to Netzivim to learn Torah from R. Judah b. Beteira. When they reached a place called Tzeidan, they were reminded of Israel. They raised their eyes and their tears began to flow. They then tore their clothing in mourning and recited the verse above. They turned, reached their destination, and said, “Dwelling in Israel is equivalent to all the other commandments of the Torah.”

The Pe’at HaShulchan in his commentary (ad loc.) notes that these Amora’im lived after the destruction of the Holy Temple. Thus, their statement implies that dwelling in the Land of Israel is a biblical imperative even after we were exiled form the land, for if it were merely a rabbinical command they would not have said that this one commandment is equivalent to all the others in the Torah.

Likewise, we find a Tosefta in Avodah Zarah (5:2) that states as follows: “One should dwell in Israel even in a city where the majority of the population are idolaters rather than in the Diaspora in a city inhabited completely by Jews. This teaches us that living in Israel is equivalent to all the commandments of the Torah.”

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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