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The travels of Abraham from Ur to Canaan

Isn’t it interesting that the very first words that G-d says to Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, is to go to the Land of Israel? G-d didn’t tell him to keep kosher or to put on tefillin. He didn’t tell him to observe Shabbat or study Torah. G-d told him 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, and two plus two is four. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out a simple equation like that. You want to be a Jew? You want to get close to the Almighty? Go to the Land of Israel. After that, we can talk about the details. That’s what G-d was teaching Avraham and all of his descendants after him. Avraham wasn’t just some private individual. He was to be the father of a holy NATION. And a holy NATION needs a HOLY LAND. That is llesson number one of Judaism.


What was Avraham’s reaction? The Torah says that he left for the Land of Israel immediately. Even though the Land of Israel was filled with immorality, idol worshippers, and murderous heathens, he didn’t say, “I’m not going because it is dangerous.” Or, “I’m not going to Israel because my children will have to serve in the army.” Or, “I’m not going because the politicians in the Knesset are corrupt.” He packed up his belongings and did what G-d commanded. Period.

In reward for Avraham’s obedience and faith (emunah,) G-d 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 G-d, but a Jew who lives outside of the Land of Israel is like someone who has no G-d” (Rashi, there).

I think Rashi should apologize for insulting the Jews in the Diaspora! How could he say such a thing?! What chutzpah!

Actually, Rashi isn’t to blame. The Talmud says the very same thing (Ketubot 111A).

Avraham is the father of the Jewish People because he had this type of complete and straightforward belief, as it says: “And he believed in the L-rd, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Bereshit, 15:6).

The opposite of this is where people have crises of faith, like in the case of the Generation of the Wilderness who refused to obey G-d’s command to make aliyah, as it says: “And when the L-rd sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, Go up and possess the Land which I gave you, and you rebelled against the L-rd your G-d, and you did not have faith 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 (faith) – the complete emunah of Avraham Avinu, and the partial emunah of the followers of the Spies in the wilderness, of whom it is said, “And in this matter, you did not have emunah in the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim, 1:32).

“In this matter, in not making aliyah to Israel, they didn’t have emunah,” Rabbi Kook taught. “In other matters, they did believe. They believed, and yet they didn’t believe. This is a state of half-emunah. Rashi, in the name of Chazal, cites this in regard to Noach, saying, ‘Noach was small in emunah. Though he possessed emunah, he did not truly believe in the flood’s coming, and did not enter the ark until the water forced him in’ (Bereshit, 7:7). Noach believed, and he didn’t believe. However, the foundation of our emunah begins with Avraham Avinu. He wasn’t a half-believer. He believed with a complete faith.”

I am not coming to criticize any true awe and fear of G-d to be found amongst our beloved brothers in the Diaspora, but rather against the viewpoint that denies the centrality of the Land of Israel to Judaism. There are many wonderful G-d fearing Jews throughout the Diaspora, who are serving Hashem and the Jewish People in many true and noble ways, in their charity, good deeds, Torah scholarship, prayer, and strict adherence to the fine details of the mitzvot. However, if they fall in love with the Diaspora and try to make a second Jerusalem out of Brooklyn or Toronto, then something is wrong with their Judaism whose goal is to build a Torah NATION in Israel, as stated over and over again in the Torah and repeated by all the Prophets of Israel.

Rabbi Kook would emphasize this further by citing a Gemara (Berachot 63A and B), regarding Rabbi Haninah, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua’s brother, a Torah scholar who descended from Eretz Yisrael to the Diaspora. At that time, the nation was in a sorrowful state, and many Gedolei Yisrael remained in galut. Rabbi Haninah was a leader of the generation, a giant in Torah. He began to intercalate years and determine the beginnings of the new months outside of the Land of Israel, something completely forbidden. Therefore two Torah scholars were sent from Israel to fight against this. Upon their arrival in Babylon, they took part in official ceremonies and didn’t reveal the purpose of their visit. They were received with great honor. Gradually, they started to vent their opposition. Finally, they entered a crowded assembly and said to the Jews of Babylon, “Behold, you are a great congregation. You can be independent. You don’t need Eretz Yisrael. You don’t need Mount Moriah.” Their sarcasm was purposely stinging in order to shock the Babylonian Jews. “And you’ve also got Rabbi Ahia here. Let Ahia build an altar, and let Haninah play on a harp. But know that if you detach yourselves from the centrality of Eretz Yisrael, you have no portion in the G-d of Israel!”

The Gemara concludes, “Immediately, the people cried out in tears and exclaimed, ‘G-d forbid. We do have a portion in the G-d of Israel. For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.”

Hope to see you here soon!


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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.