...Every time we eat a meal, after satisfying our physical appetite,
we are required by the Torah to recite Grace After Meals. It consists
of three blessings of Torah origin and a fourth that is rabbinic. The
first of the three Torah blessings acknowledges that God is the source
of all sustenance. The second thanks God for the food and for the Land
of Israel. It is in this blessing that we also mention God's covenant
with us and the Torah. The third blessing is a prayer for the
rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Holy Temple and the
Reciting all of this after each addition of a few ounces to our
physical constitution, no matter where we live, may not seem
particularly relevant. But it is. A Jew must focus his attention on
the ultimate purpose of the creation of the material. Any thank-you
for food must include mention of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, for
only through the Land of Israel are the world's material components
put to use in the most sublime and ideal fashion.
And yet we may imagine that we can daily acknowledge the ideal while
continuing to live our own lives among the nations in a
less-than-ideal fashion. Dwelling apart would be nice, we may say, but
as for me, blending in with my host country will suffice. The Torah
tells us otherwise. If we dwell apart, then "Israel will dwell apart
in security" (Deut. 33). If, however, we choose not to do so
willingly, then solitude of a different nature will be forced upon us.
"How does she dwell apart in solitude?" is, we will recall, the
opening verse of Lamentations.
How often have we tried to assimilate! Yet we, like the oil which can
never blend with other liquids, are doomed to remain separate. Rabbi
Chaim Volozhiner put it succinctly: "If the Jew does not make kiddush,
then the gentile makes havdala." Either we separate and sanctify
ourselves, or the matter will be taken care of for us in much more
* * *
The ultimate "cure" for all the woes of the Jew among the nations can
only be a return to our own land, there to live a life absolutely
unique in its sanctification.
Consider the verse: "No man will covet your land when you ascend to
greet the Presence of God thrice yearly" (Exodus 34). Would it not
have been sufficient if no one took the land? Why was it necessary to
promise that no one would "covet" the land?
In light of the purpose of the Land of Israel, we can explain this
verse in the following manner:
The Ibn Ezra explains that the prohibition of "do not covet" demands
that a person recognize that all possessions are Divinely ordained for
their owners. One does not covet that which is totally removed from
his sphere (e.g., the peasant does not desire the king's daughter,
whom he merely admires from afar).
With this in mind, the verse quoted above takes on new meaning. The
Jewish people are to renew and revitalize their relationship to God
three times each year by immersion in the holiness of Jerusalem. They
then go home to live their everyday lives in the Land of Israel proper
-- a sanctified people in a sanctified society, observing numerous
agricultural commandments with the produce of a sanctified land. The
nations of the world will recognize that the Land of Israel is
something outside their orbit. Perceiving how ill-suited it is to
their worldly ways and goals, they will lose interest in it. It is
only when we dwell in the Land of Israel in a secular manner
comparable to theirs that the nations imagine it has relevance to them
also -- and that is when they covet the Land.
This is a general picture of the way things are meant to be for the
people of Israel living in the Land of Israel. Although every person
must act in accordance with his unique circumstances, the Jew must
maintain an awareness of the task of the Jewish people in Creation.
While an individual Jew may reach a relatively high level anywhere,
there is no possibility of fulfilling our national destiny except in
the Land of Israel...
* * *
Connecting to the Land
If you do not merit settling in the Land of Israel presently, aspire
and fervently pray for the day when your circumstances will change, so
that you will be able to fulfill this mitzvah and reap the spiritual
benefits of living in our holy Land. It would also be advantageous to
visit the Land of Israel from time to time if your finances permit, to
keep the fires of your dreams and aspirations glowing...
It is not sufficient to admire and appreciate the advantages and
benefits of the Land of Israel in theory. In part this was the sin of
the spies who, while extolling the beauty and goodness of the land,
lacked the trust to take advantage of those merits and concretize
their personal connection to the land. Rabbi Yaakov Emden, in his
Siddur, emphasizes this point.
"The mere hint of facing toward Jerusalem when we pray is only
sufficient when more than that is impossible. But, if we are not
prevented by circumstance from physically being in the Land of Israel,
then just facing in its direction will not suffice. Therefore, every
Jew must resolve in his heart to settle in the Land of Israel as soon
as he has the means to finance his move and to be able to eke out a
meager livelihood by means of a trade or business....
"Don't think to become entrenched in the Diaspora for this was the sin
of our forefathers who 'despised the desirable land.' This sin has
caused all the calamities in our exile. We have been like one totally
forgotten because we have completely forgotten the mitzvah to dwell in
the Land of Israel."
Other Torah sages too have warned of becoming too settled in the
Diaspora. Some even went so far as to prohibit the erection of
permanent stone dwellings outside of the Land of Israel. The Keli
Yakar (at the beginning of parshas Vayechi) explains why the date of
the arrival of Mashiach was hidden from us: to prevent us from
becoming too settled in foreign lands, and losing the sense of
anticipation of his arrival and of our imminent return to the Land of
Israel. He goes on to bemoan the lack of success of even this measure,
noting that so many Jews feel so settled in the lands of their
dispersion that they build luxurious, permanent homes, and ignore even
the possibility (let alone the fervent desire) that Mashiach may come
at any moment and bring us all back to the Land of Israel.
* * *
We must refrain from feeling settled and fulfilled as long as we are
outside the land. This attitude need not lead to melancholy, but
should instead actually enhance one's spiritual life. It affords
direction in aspiring toward the proper values and lifestyle.
Interestingly, it may also provide physical protection for the
community in which one resides now, as illustrated by the following
account (from the Shearis Yisroel, in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua Falk,
the author of the SMA):
The city of Worms was devastated twice during the Crusades. Why did a
city blessed with pious Torah scholars merit such a fate? When Ezra
the Scribe returned to the Land of Israel to begin his work on the
second Holy Temple, he sent letters to all the major communities of
the time inviting them to return with him. The community of Worms,
which had been established since the destruction of the first Temple,
responded: "Peace unto you, Ezra the Scribe! May you be successful in
establishing the grand Holy Temple in the grand Jerusalem. We,
however, will remain here in our 'small Jerusalem' and with our
This attitude, tragically common even in our own day, spiritually
blemished the city to such an extent that it was especially vulnerable
to the attacks of the Crusaders many years later.
And if in fact your personal circumstances do not exempt you from
fulfilling this magnificent mitzvah, then do not delay. If you keep in
mind the benefits which will accrue to you personally, as well as the
tremendous advantage to the nation, you will surely act with alacrity.
Preparations need not be elaborate. The most important preparation
that one can make is learning and teaching his family the importance
of the Land of Israel in the total picture of Divine service -- for
each Jew, and for the Jewish nation.
The holy books relate the custom of leaving the doors to one's home
unlocked all through the night of Pesach. This was in keeping with the
tradition that an opportune time for our future redemption will be the
anniversary of our first one (redemption from Egypt). Eager for the
advent of Elijah the Prophet to herald the redemption, we do not wish
to delay the process even the few seconds it would take to unlock the