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A Concise Answer to “What’s So Important About Eretz Yisrael?!”

By: Rav Ari Shvat


Rav Ari Shvat (Chwat),


A Concise Answer to “What’s So Important About Eretz Yisrael?!”

People often ask why religious Zionism and/or Rav Kook make such a “big deal” about Eretz Yisrael? We’ll answer concisely:

  1. Just as the Chafetz Chaim explains why he dedicated a significant part of his life to revive the neglected mitzvah of Lashon HaRah, for a Meit Mitzvah (neglected corpse) supersedes other mitzvot because nobody else can do it, so too a forgotten mitzvah which others aren’t fulfilling, should take priority.[1] For 2,000 years aliya wasn’t practical and accordingly left the agenda for many observant Jews.

  2. Chazal declare indisputably that “Living in Eretz Yisrael is equated with all of the other mitzvot combined!”[2] This clear Tannaic oral tradition from the midrash halacha (!) is explicitly referring to all periods, even when there is no Beit HaMikdash,[3] and deems the issue of whether it’s officially counted as one of the 613 mitzvot (Bamidbar 33, 53) or whether it’s included in another mitzvah, or if its importance stems from its kdusha,[4] as academic.[5] This uniquely places aliya in the category of “super” actions, like Talmud Torah and Shabbat.[6] It’s superior to most other mitzvot, and there are many ramifications to her unique halachic status.[7] How much more should we address this issue, when this Super-Mitzvah is neglected by many orthodox Jews.

  3. The Rambam writes about the obligation to live in a Jewish State.[8] Indeed, everyone is influenced by his environment, and therefore must decide by who he is to be influenced- by Jews, Judaism, her values and culture, or by gentiles. Whichever way you check, whether regarding Gedolei HaDor, comparative communities, or on a state or surely a national level, whether measuring quantity, quality, or percentage, there’s no doubt that religiously, Israel today is the Torah center of the world (more than two-thirds of orthodox Jews already live in Israel[9]).

  4. Rav Ya’akov Moshe Charlap, predecessor of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as rav of Sha’arei Chessed in Y’rushalayim, recalls the tradition that every historical period has its special mitzva. We can identify it by what the gentiles try preventing (e.g. in certain periods they prohibited teaching Torah, circumcision, Kiddush hachodesh), for they’re “sent” to help us (!) focus on what is “The” mitzvah of our generation.[10] Today, even in Russia or Iran there’s freedom of religion and no problem teaching Torah or laying tfilin. The only mitzvah which they and many nations (even the U.N.) wish to deny us today is the return of the nation of Israel to resettle Eretz Yisrael and Y’rushalayim. Accordingly, in our historic period of Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of the Exiles), Israel is “The Mitzva” of our generation and requires special attention.[11]


The question remains: “Why” is this mitzvah equal with all the others combined, and “why” does the Holy Land’s revival and Kibbutz Galuyot begin the redemption?[12]

  1. The Torah T’mima likens aliya to learning Torah, that both are equated with the rest of the mitzvot because they enable you to do additional mitzvot.[13] Just as Torah knowledge facilitates observing the other mitzvot, similarly living in Israel significantly increases the quantity of mitzvot, whether agricultural, national (e.g. army, Hebrew), going to work is a mitzvah, and surprisingly even “every moment and second that you are in Eretz Yisrael one fulfills this mitzvah (of settling the Land)”.[14] Additionally, the many obligations Bein adam l’chavero (between fellow Jews) can and must be applied to each and every person in the street, any operator on the phone, and everyone waiting on line in the bank.[15] Even my all-too-high taxes in Israel fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah, paying for the medical, educational, health, security, religious, social and economic needs of our fellow Jews.[16]

  2. Chazal explain that in addition to the greater quantity of mitzvot here, their quality is also much greater, for the Torah and mitzvot were given to be observed in Israel. Outside, they are just practice so that we’ll remember how to do them when we return.[17] As is often the case, the rabbis here are not innovating but rather embellishing explicit psukim: "ראה למדתי אתכם חוקים ומשפטים... לעשות כן בקרב הארץ אשר אתם באים שמה לרשתה", “Behold, I have taught you commandments do in the Land where you are going to possess”.[18] The Chafetz Chaim figures that the very same mitzvah when done in Israel, brings 2,000% more reward.[19]

  3. The Chatam Sofer extols living in Israel not only because of the mitzva, but because here we are living in kdusha (holiness).[20] It is clear from the Torah that the natural status of Am Yisrael is that not only your neighbors should be holy (Yisrael Goy Kadosh), but your language (Lashon Hakodesh), army (Tziv’ot Hashem[21]), coin (Shekel HaKodesh), and even fruit, mud and rocks[22] should be holy, as well. Similarly the Vilna Gaon says only regarding two mitzvot is a Jew 100% totally immersed: Sukka and living in Eretz Yisrael.[23]

  4. The Rivash[24] explains that the superior halachic status of settling in Israel[25] is because it is not a short-term mitzvah for the individual (e.g. I shake a lulav and then put it down), but rather an eternal and national mitzvah for all of Israel in your generation and for all future generations. When we chose to move our family tree to its final destination, it’s one of the few resolutions in life where our decision has everlasting ramifications, even 5,000 years from now. When we decided to settle in the Shomron and serve in Tzahal, we are helping define, enlarge and defend the borders of Israel, not as individuals, but for all Am Yisrael, both present and future. This adds special significance today.

  5. Growing up in America, Judaism was my religion, but in Israel my Judaism has doubled for it’s also my nationality, giving significance to the mundane and harmonizing the fragmented.

May I warmly suggest seriously considering what I think most olim regard as the most significant and greatest decision of their lives. Not only for religious, but for national, historic, and more spiritual priorities as well, come benefit and contribute and be part of the future of Am Yisrael.

It’s time to come home.


* Rav Ari Shvat (Chwat) teaches at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Michlelet Orot Israel College, and other midrashot, and is director of Rav Kook’s archives in Beit HaRav.

[1] Shmirat HaLashon, Epilogue, ch. 3, cites the Sefer Charedim, but it may be a typographical error for the idea is found 400 years beforehand in Sefer Chasidim, 105, and beforehand in Midrash Tanchuma, Shmot 16.

[2] Sifre on Dvarim 12 and Tosefta Av.Z. 5,2, cited by the Pitchei Tshuva Ev.H. 75,6.

[3] The narrative of the Sifre occurred about 60 years after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and nevertheless ends off with those tannaim turning around and returning to Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, the Tosefta, ibid, demonstrates that aliya is equal to the other mitzvot combined even during galut, when one must live there among gentile idolaters. How much more so today, when Israel is the world Torah center.

[4] As the Chatam Sofer explains in the Rambam, see note 20.

[5] The Vilna Gaon, Ma’alot Hatora, Jerusalem 5751, p. 66, says that there are more than 2,000 mitzvot d’oraita, and there is no significance whether a mitzvah is officially listed as “one of the 613” or not. The Rambam’s statement, hil. M’lachim 5, 12, “A person should always live in the Land of Israel”, clarifies any doubt that the Rambam may be minimizing the importance of aliya, see A. Shvat, “Frequent Questions about Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisrael”, that various Achronim suggest 6 possibilities under which mitzvah the Rambam may count it, ibid.

[6] Also equated with the rest of the mitzvot combined, Peah 1, 1, Y’rushalmi Brachot 1, 1 respectively, as are Avodah Zara- Horayot 8a, Milah- N’darim 32a, Tzitzit- N’darim 25a, and Tzedaka- Baba Batra 9a.

[7] See Rivash, note 24, e.g., Gittin 8b and Rambam, Shabbat 6, 11 that only for yishuv Eretz Yisrael is one allowed to ask a gentile to do a m’lacha d’oraita; Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 75, 3 one of the few cases where a woman can force a gett is if her spouse doesn’t want to make aliya; ibid and Tosefta (above note 2), one should surprisingly prefer to live among gentile idolaters in Israel rather than among religious Jews outside of Israel; Resp. Mishpat Kohen 327 citing Minchat Chinuch, 425, the only mitzvah where one charges a cannon and doesn’t try to avoid giving his life is to conquer Eretz Yisrael. See A. Shvat, “Defining the Excuse of Parnassa (Livelihood) to Exempt from Aliya”, Tchumin 22, pp. 355-368, that the achronim agree that accordingly, aliya is not bound by Takanat Usha which limits the expense to fulfill mitzvot to 10% of your possessions, Y’rushalmi Peah 1, 1.

[8] Ma’amar Kiddush Hashem, Igrot HaRambam, Jerusalem 5741, p.64. See also R. Chasdai ibn Shiprut, cited in introduction to The Kuzari, Vilna 5665, p. 3, who wants to ascertain the rumor that the Kazars have a Jewish State, for if so, all Jews should move there. Theoretically this may also apply to a Jewish State in Uganda, but Baruch Hashem, the only Jewish State today is in Israel, so we don’t have to choose between the Jewish Land and the Jewish State.

[9] The vast majority of orthodox Jews live in Israel and America, where the 2013 Pew Survey, found about 600,000 orthodox Jews in America, as opposed to the Lishka Hamerkazit l’Statistika survey in 2011, which found more than 2,000,000 in Israel, and the number has since grown significantly.

[10] R. Sh. N. Barazofsky, Netivot Shalom, Shmot p. 152. See next footnote.

[11] R. Y. M. Charlap, Mimaynei HaY’shua p.196.

[12] Megilla 17a, explains that the order of the brachot of Shmoneh-Esreh, from the 9th bracha on, were arranged according to the process of ge’ula, first the revival of the Land (Barech aleinu), than the exile ingathering (T’ka b’Shofar).

[13] Torah Temima, Dvarim 12, 114.

[14] Sefer HaCharedim, ch. 59.   

[15] It should be noted that this is the answer to the oft-asked question, why the moral obligations in the Torah are directed towards Jews alone. The reason is that the natural situation to which the Torah is addressed is to Jews, living among Jews, in the Jewish State, in the Jewish Land. Similarly, the directions of the world as found in the Torah, ימה, קדמה, צפונה ונגבה (Breishit 28, 14) are only logical when read in Eretz Yisrael where the sea (ימה) is in the west, and the desert or Yemen (נגבה or sometimes תימנה) are in the south. Even in Egypt, where the Mediteranean Sea is in the north, a western wind is still referred to as  "רוח ים" (Rashi Shmot 10, 19), because the reader is meant to be located in Israel. So too, the term ,עבר הירדן “the other side of the Jordan”, refers to the east bank, even when the speaker in the Tanach is located on the east bank (e.g. Dvarim 1, 1-5; 3, 8), because the reader is meant to be in Israel, on the west bank. For more examples see A. Shvat, “Everyone Serves in the Obligatory Wars - On the Conflict Between Loyalty to Family and to Israel”, Minchat Sapir- In Honor of Dr. Yitzchak Sapir, pp. 633-653.

[16] Resp. Tzitz Eliezer IX, 1,5,(2).

[17] Sifre, Rashi, Ramban, and R. B’chaye on Dvarim 11, 18. It should be stressed that this idea is often mistakenly attributed to the Ramban, while the true source, as mentioned above, is in the Torah itself, and in the oral law of chazal, in the Midrash Halacha (Sifre).

[18] Dvarim 4, 5. See similarly Dvarim 4, 14; 5, 28; 6, 1.

[19]  L’Ntivot Yisrael, p.202.

[20] Resp. Chatam Sofer II, Y.D. 234.

[21] Shmot 12,41, Shmuel I 10, 17 and 26.

[22] Rambam, Hil. Milachim 5, 10, the generally rational Rambam, uncharacteristically cites in his halachic Mishneh Torah, that the greatest sages would kiss her borders and her rocks, and roll in her dust, based upon Tehilim 102, 15 and Ktuvot 112b. 

[23] Cited in Kot HaTor, Jerusalem 5730, p. 470. Mikveh isn’t mentioned because purification is only upon leaving the mikveh.

[24] Resp. Rivash, 101.

[25] See note 7.





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