Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Equal to them All

We are rapidly approaching the end of an era: the end of Galus.

Yishuv Haaretz is a mitzvah d'oraita. I think that is fairly clear to anyone who looks at the issue, and weighs the different opinions of the greatest authorities throughout the generations. However, I believe there is a reason that the greatest halachic decisors of our day have not called for all Jews to return home: preservation of free-will.

The fact that the rabbis of today have not told Jews of the Diaspora to come to Israel gives the Jews who have not yet come to Israel a choice which side of the halachic debate to choose. Afterall, there are differing piskei halachah regarding the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. This (what can be perceived as a) lack of halachic clarity gives room for people to choose which way to go on the issue. Allow me to offer my take.

There are 7 mitzvot that are counted as equal to them all:

  1. Abstaining from Avodah Zarah (Idolatry)
  2. Milah (Circumcision)
  3. Tzitzit ("Fringes" on garments)
  4. Talmud Torah (Learning Torah)
  5. Shabbat (Keeping the Shabbat)
  6. Yishuv HaAretz (Settling in the Land of Israel)
  7. Tsedakah (Charity)

As an aside, I saw on Meah Shearim street a few months ago a book dedicated just to these mitzvot. I believe I saw it at Sifrei Meah Shearim. The source for the saying that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is equal to the others is Sifrei on parshat Re'eh.

For our discussion, let us compare Yishuv HaAretz to the mitzvah of Tzitzit. The mitzvah of tzitzit is only in effect on garments with 4 corners. This basically excludes the vast majority of garments worn in Western societies. However, this mitzvah is considered to be as important as the other mitzvot combined, therefore it is written that G-d fearing Jews should go out of their way to wear a 4-cornered garment at all times. Now obviously the intent of Chazal telling us the importance of these mitzvot is not so that we will say "ok, I've done these mitzvot, I'm covered now for all other mitzvot", but rather that the importance of these is all encompassing. Tzitzit is a mitzvah that reminds us of the rest. Yishuv HaAretz, which is one of the base ideas permeating the entire Torah, how much more so?

Keeping Yishuv HaAretz on the side, there are no mitzvot here that require action where it is considered acceptable for a G-d fearing Jew to just do the mitzvah a little. Shabbat requires us to spend money on getting more desirable food, clothing, etc. Talmud Torah, which we fulfill our obligation just by our morning order of prayer (including Korbanot, etc), we still try to learn more every day, the more (both in quality and quantity), the better! Want to give more than 10% to charity? So long as it is below 20%, that is also praiseworthy.

And alas, here is the elevated mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, with its own levels of fulfillment, which so many not considering it a mitzvah even to be "yotzei y'dei chovah". There are those that make Eretz Yisrael their home a majority of their year, and go back to Galus, those that never leave Eretz Yisrael, there are those that live in Yerushalayim, those that live in cities where they are surrounded by a hostile nation. See the Ramban on the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz (in his hasagot on the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot) to fully understand what I mean.

May Hashem speedily and painlessly bring us to a situation where all Am Yisrael can fulfill this mitzvah in the best way possible.

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