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Torah Sparks

July 26, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Num. 30:2 - 36:13 (Hertz, p. 702; Etz Hayim, p. 941)
Triennial Cycle II: Num. 32:1 - 33:49 (Hertz, p. 707; Etz Hayim, p. 949)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-38; Jer. 3:4; Jer. 4:1-2 (Hertz, p. 725)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Discussion Theme: Dwelling in Israel

"The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers. Noting that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were a region suitable for cattle, the Gadites and the Reubenites came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the chieftains of the community, and said, 'the land that the Lord has conquered for the community of Israel is cattle country, and your servants have cattle. It would be a favor to us,' they continued, 'if this land were given to your servants as a holding; do not move us across the Jordan.'" (Numbers 32:1-5)


  1. In the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land. You shall apportion the land among yourselves by lot, clan by clan: with larger groups increase the share, with smaller groups reduce the share. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. You shall have your portions according to your ancestral tribes. (Numbers 33:50-54) In my opinion Numbers 33:50-54 constitute a positive commandment of the Torah wherein God commanded them to settle in the land and inherit it; for God gave it to them; and they should not reject the heritage of the Lord. (Nachmanides on Numbers 33:53)
  2. Rabbi Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus said Moses: 'Many mitzvot were commanded to Israel that can only be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me.' (Sotah 14a)
  3. Both husbands and wives may force their spouses to make aliyah. (Mishnah Ketubot 13:11)
  4. It is forbidden to leave Eretz Yisrael unless two 'seah' of wheat sell for one 'selah.' Rabbi Shimon said, if one can find any wheat at all, even if one 'se'ah' costs a 'selah,' he should not emigrate. (Bava Batra 91a)
  5. Whoever moves to Israel for the sake of heaven and conducts himself in holiness and purity, there is no end to his reward, provided that he can support himself there. (Meir of Rothenburg, Germany, 1215-1293)
  6. Since there is danger involved and since it is hard to earn a living there, every person should judge his physical and monetary capabilities if he will be able to fear Heaven and observe mitzvot in Israel. (Israel Isserlein, Austria, 1390-1460)
  7. Rabbi Moses Feinstein, Iggrot Mosheh, Even ha-Ezer, I (102), distinguishes between two distinct categories of positive commandments. There are precepts whose performance is mandatory, e.g., circumcision, the donning of tefillin, etc., and others which are not mandated as obligatory responsibilities but nevertheless, when indeed performed, constitute the fulfillment of a commandment. Rabbi Feinstein maintains that even according to Nachmanides residence in Eretz Yisrael is not obligatory because this commandment is not a mandatory one. According to this interpretation, Nachmanides' position is that the act of dwelling in Israel constitutes voluntary fulfillment of a commandment rather than the discharge of an obligation. Dissenting sharply, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef asserts that the commandment constitutes a mandatory obligation, and that even in our own day there exists "a definite obligation upon all who fear the word of God and His commandments to ascend to the Land of Israel." (J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems) There are various approaches including those who say it is a mitzvah to make aliyah, those who say living in Israel merely enables one to observe more mitzvot, those who discourage emigration, those who say that one must be pragmatic and determine if one can make a living and observe mitzvot, and even those who say (Rabbi Judah in Ketubot 110b-111a) that if one leaves Babylonia to make aliyah it is a sin. But the thrust of Numbers 33:53 as well as of the entire Bible and Talmud is that all Jews are supposed to live in Eretz Yisrael. That is what God repeatedly promised our ancestors, that is why God redeemed us from Egypt, and that is where a large percentage of the mitzvot need to be observed. (David Golinkin, Dean of the Israeli Conservative Rabbinical School)
  8. This concerns the intelligent young man, Reb Mordecai, the Ashkenazi who came from Germany, having left his father and mother and his birthplace, to settle in the Holy Land, the glory of Israel, in Safed. Now he cannot get settled for he does not find peace alone, and he cannot find a wife. Therefore, his health is impaired. He asks us whether he is permitted by Jewish law to leave Palestine; for he fears he might fall into sin by remaining unmarried. Now, with the mercy of God, I will answer.

    Maimonides states that a man is permitted to leave Palestine to marry, to study Torah, and to avoid famine in the land. But the journey must only be temporary. When the permitted purposes are achieved or their realization attempted to the utmost of one's ability, the traveler must return to Palestine. Now this Mordecai, since he is going to marry, is of course permitted to go. Yet this is permitted so far as it seems from the above sources that this is conditional, namely, he must return after he marries unless his wife's parents make the premarriage condition with him that he shall not take her out of her native land. Then he is naturally free of the obligation to return because he could not find a wife unless he accepted the condition of remaining there. In fact, after going more deeply into the matter, it seems just ified to say that the opinion of the tosefot and Maimonides, that an emigrant must return, applies only to one whose dwelling place and that of his fathers has been in Palestine. Such a person is forbidden to leave, excepting only to marry; and hemust then return. But this man, Mordecai, who came from a distant land to the Holy Land, had intended to find here a wife and a home.

    Now, since he could not get settled here, then his very coming to Palestine was based upon a condition that was not fulfilled. Indeed, the intention of Maimonides was to defend those who dwell outside of Palestine. Our teacher did not think it right to say that whoever dwells outside of Palestine was as if he has no God (as the Talmud says). That is why he wrote that the meaning of the Talmud, which says that a man should always live in Palestine and not outside of it, does not refer to those whose ancestors for generations dwelt outside, after being exiled from the Holy Land at God's decree. Evidently, then says Maimonides, when the Talmud says that no one shall dwell outside Palestine, it means that no one shall leave Palestine to dwell outside. That is why the Talmud specifically says, "whoever leaves Palestine, it is as if he worships idols." My general conclusion is that this Reb Mordecai is permitted to go outside of Palestine to marry. (Responsum of Rabbi Yom Tov Zahalon, rabbi of Safed, born 1557)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

The above sources present a wide range of opinions on whether or not making aliyah is obligatory. Some Jewish movements have put aliyah at the top of their religious agenda and encourage American Jews, for example, to move to Israel. Other movements are more ambivalent. What should the Conservative Movement's stance be? How imperative should it be in our principles? In our practice as Jews? How should we relate to the prayers that we recite regularly in our Services that speak of our "return to Israel"?

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