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Q & A: Learning Torah In Israel (Continued from last week)

QUESTION: My son is enrolled in one of the major yeshivot in Israel. Though he is learning very well, I am extremely tense at all times. My question is: In times of danger like today, is it proper to allow him to continue learning there? Would it not be possible for him to learn elsewhere with the same results?

Name withheld by request


ANSWER: We began our discussion last week with Rabbi David Samson’s comments from the Arutz Sheva website. He recounted Rabbi Dichovsky’s visit in 1933 with the Chafetz Chaim and their conversation about moving to Israel to learn there. The Chafetz Chaim said there was no reason to avoid moving to Israel (aliya), despite the constant physical danger from our enemies there.

* * *

This week, we focus our discussion on the Biblical source for the commandment requiring us to live in the Land of Israel. At the outset, we must note that we do not intend with this discussion to issue a ruling in this matter. For that one must seek out one’s moreh hora’ah – a halachic authority – who will weigh the situation carefully and render a decision.

The Torah in Parashat Re’eh (Deutoronomy 12:29) states, “Ki yachrit Hashem Elokecha et hagoyim asher ata [b]a 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 that verse, Sifrei recounts the following incident: R. Eliezer 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.”

Pe’at HaShulchan in his commentary (ad loc) notes that these Amoraim were living after the destruction of the Holy Temple. Thus, their statement implied that dwelling in the Land of Israel is a Biblical command for future generations even in times of exile, for if it were a Rabbinical command they would not have made the statement that this one commandment is equivalent to all the others in the Torah.

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

Torah Temima (Parashat Re’eh ad loc.) questions this statement, as we do not find a reason listed that would explain the equivalence of yishuv ha’aretz – settling the Land of Israel – and all the other commandments. He suggests the explanation that it is impossible to fulfill all the mitzvot of the Torah except in Israel, as there are a number of mitzvot whose performance is conditional on being in Israel. Thus, the statement of the Tosefta (that living in Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot of the Torah) means that only in Israel is there the potential to perform all the commandments.

Ramban, in his Mitzvot Aseh [LeDa'at HaRamban] quoted in the first volume of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, lists “Yeshivat Eretz Yisrael – settling in the Land of Israel” as one of the mitzvot aseh, the positive precepts of the Torah, whereas Rambam does not include it in his enumeration of Mitzvot Aseh.

Ramban bases his listing on the verse in Parashat Mas’ei (Numbers 33:53) “Ve’horashtem et ha’aretz viyshavtem bah, ki lachem natati et ha’aretz lareshet otah – You shall inherit the land and dwell in it because I have given the land to you in order that you inherit it.” Ramban uses this verse as the source of the mitzva rather than the verse in Parashat Re’eh that we quoted previously.

In his commentary to the verse in Parashat Mas’ei s.v. vehorashtem et ha’aretz, Rashi notes that we are to understand the full meaning of this particular verse to be a message that first you shall inherit it from its present occupants, and then you shall dwell in it. Rashi emphasizes that [then and only then] will you, the Jewish people, be able to exist on it [the land]. Otherwise you will be unable to exist on it. Thus inheriting the land and actually living there are intrinsically intertwined and co-dependent activities.

We find the statement of our Tosefta (Avoda Zara loc. cit.) quoted and greatly expanded upon in Ketubbot (110b), where the Gemara states, “A person should at all times live in Israel even in a city where most of the inhabitants are idolaters, but one should not live outside the land even in a city where the majority are Jews, because one who lives in Israel is considered as if he has a G-d and one who lives outside the Land is compared to one who has no G-d, as it states in Parashat Behar (Leviticus 25:38), ‘Ani Hashem Elokeichem asher hotzeiti et’chem me’eretz mitzrayim latet lachem et eretz canaan lih’yot lachem l’Elokim – I am Hashem your G-d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be your G-d.” The Gemara’s assumption is that upon entering and settling Israel one is automatically acknowledging Hashem, but, conversely, one who does not live in Israel does not automatically acknowledge G-d (and thus may be compared to an idolater).

In this light, continues the Gemara, we may also read the statement by David made before Saul (I Samuel 26:19), “…Ki gershuni hayom mehistape’ach benachalat Hashem leimor, Lech avod elohim acherim – … For they have chased me away this day from joining the inheritance of Hashem, saying, ‘Go serve other gods.’” The Gemara observes that we are not informed that anyone told King David to worship other gods; therefore, he must be telling us that whoever lives outside the land is as if he worships idols.

Maharsha questions: What is being added when we say, “It is as if he worships idols”? He notes that Hashem is surely the G-d of the whole world. Although He is referred to as “the G-d of the Land,” meaning the Land of Israel, one who lives outside Israel cannot be referred to as being without a G-d, as Hashem is the G-d of the whole world. Thus, it means that one living outside of Israel is considered an idolater who does not accept Hashem as his G-d, like the nations of the many lands who worship idols. This was what David referred to when he said that he was told to serve other gods – because Saul had forced him to live outside Israel, in a place of idolatry.

We can conclude that not only is it a positive Torah precept to live in Israel, as Ramban states, but also that living outside of Israel is considered a great spiritual danger.

(To be continued)

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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Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

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