FOR THE LOVE OF THE LAND
R’ Shlomo Wolbe wrote a fascinating Sefer called המצוות השקולות, The seven Mitzvoth that have Equal Weight. Fulfilling each one of these seven Mitzvoth is equal to fulfilling the entire Torah, all of the 613. 1. Denying Avodah Zarah, 2. Wearing Tzitzit. 3. Shabbat. 4. Torah learning. 5. Brit Milah. 6.Tzedaka. 7. Living in Eretz Yisrael. These seven Mitzoth are important to remember, because they are the heavyweight ones.
We know that living in Eretz Yisrael has equal value to keeping all 613 from a passuk in our Parasha. Moshe relays G-d’s message to His People.כִּ֤י אַתֶּם֙ עֹבְרִ֣ים אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן לָבֹא֙ לָרֶ֣שֶׁת אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וִֽירִשְׁתֶּ֥ם אֹתָ֖הּ וִֽישַׁבְתֶּם־בָּֽהּ . For you are passing over the Jordan River to come and inherit the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you , and you shall inherit it, and you shall dwell in it. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֣ם לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַֽחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֑ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם And you shall keep all of these statutes and laws that I am placing in front of you today. From the flow of these pesukim, our Rabbis derive that living in Eretz Yisrael is equal to keeping all of the 613. (Sifri Devarim 29, Yalkut Shimoni Devarim 885) The flow of the pesukim implies that by inheriting the land, and by dwelling in the land, you will be keeping all the Mitzvoth of the Torah.
R Wolbe writes that each and every one that is mentioned as the seven have something pivotal about them and correspond to the seven קדושות, the seven areas of holiness. The Mitzvah of Denying Avodah Zarah is the Mitzvah corresponding to your value system. Tzitzit corresponds to your memory, as the strings are meant to remind you of the 613. Shabbat corresponds to the holiness of time. Torah learning corresponds the holiness of knowledge. Milah corresponds to the holiness of desires. Tzedakah corresponds to the power of giving. And Eretz Yisrael, to the holiness of a place.
Now, there are many opinions about the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael and what it means to us. For some reason, the Rambam does not mention it as one of the 613, although he wrote, A person shall always live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is all gentiles, and this is better than living out of E Yisrael, even in a city that is all Jews. Because anyone who leaves E Yisrael to go to out of E Yisrael – it is as if he is serving idols. (Shoftim, Melachim 5, 10) The Rambam seems to learn that the Mitzvah of living in E Yisrael is something that is incumbent on each and every Jew, not a mitzvah to the collective Jewish People.
The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam. He believes that living in Israel is a Mitzvah from the Torah that should be included in the 613, and it is learnt from the passuk וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם אֶת הָאָרֶץ וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ And you (plural) shall inherit the land, and you (plural form) shall dwell in it. (Bamidbar 33; 53) The Ramban is bothered by the question why the Rambam does not mention this as a Mitzvah of the 613. And the Ramban believes that this Mitzvah is not addressed to the individual, but to Klal Yisrael, for the directive of this Mitzvah is written with the word “you”, in the plural.
There are various situations in which a person is not required to live in E Yisrael. I am not going to discuss this subject from either the halachic point of view or the consideration of hashkafa. I am just going to point out something that meant a lot to me, and a life lesson from this Mitzvah.
R Avigdor Miller pointed to something in the blessing we make immediately before Shema each morning that seems out of place. In the blessing, we ask for success in Torah learning and thank G-d for choosing us as His Nation to give us His Torah. And then, we ask Hashem to bring us back to His Land. What is the connection between coming back to The Land and the rest of the blessing, which is talking about Torah learning?
The answer R A Miller gave was very enlightening. We want Mashiach, we want Eretz Yisrael “not to be able to eat pomegranates and dates and figs in Eretz Yisroel. We are asking for Moshiach in order to be able to sit and learn Torah successfully in Eretz Yisroel. And to learn Torah doesn’t only mean to sit in front of the Gemara. It means to absorb all of the great Torah attitudes and ideals. And we want the best environment possible to grow great in. A plant has to have two things to grow. It has to have roots or a seed, and it also has to have the right environment surrounding it. Plants won’t grow just in any climate. In certain climates, like in warm parts of the world, these plants will grow more successfully. Today, even if the seed is planted, we are lacking the environment. All around us is an avir of tumah. And therefore, it is very difficult today for a seed, a child, to grow successfully. However, when a person is Ashrei Yoshvei Veisecha – if he sits in the house of Hashem; whenever he has spare time, he remains long in the house of Hashem, so it’s like sitting in Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Yochanan was once told that in Bavel, there were some zekeinim who lived long. So he asked a kasha: How could they live in Bavel if it says in the Torah למען ירבו ימיכם על האדמה – if you’ll serve Hashem, you’ll live long al ha’adamah, you’ll live long on the land in Eretz Yisroel. But in Bavel, how could they live long? So, they told him: No, the people there come early to the beis hakneses and they remain late in the beis haknesses. “Oh” he said, “Hainu d’ahani lei, that’s what helped them.”(Berachot 8a) The air of the beis haknesses is like Eretz Yisroel. So, if you are in a makom Torah, it’s an atmosphere where you’ll grow more successfully.”
There is a rule I learnt about people and how they think. People do not think how they want to think. Their thinking is dependent on five S’s. State of Mind. Structure. Social context. Story of life. Scenario. The place where you are, the scenario in which you are, are pivotal to who you are and how you think. To how you serve G-d. To how you learn Torah, and what its words mean to you.
And this is why living in Eretz Yisrael can be so important. Because E Yisrael can be a place where religious Jews feel comfortable to live a life as religious Jews. And this is a heavy-weight Mitzvah, because where you are, your scenario, are so pivotal to what type of Jew you are, of how you believe. That is what E Y was all about. It was a place where it was easiest to serve G-d, without any distractions from the gentiles.
The Rambam writes that the greatest Rabbis would kiss the stones of E Yisrael and roll in its dirt at the border. (Melachim 5;11) As the passuk says, The Land that YHVH your G-d looks after always: the Eyes of YHVH your G-d are on it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. (Devarim 11;12) Our Sages teach us, that someone who sins in E Yisrael – it is as if he is sinning in the Palace of The King. And someone who does a Mitzvah here, it is as if he did the Mitzvah in front of the Eyes of the King, in G-d’s Palace! (Sefer HaCharedim 59)