The second verse of Parashat Behar contains the well-known words, “When you come to the Land that I am giving you,” that serve as a prologue to the mitzvah of shemitah (the Sabbatical year).
Many brachot found in Parashat Bechuchotai also have a pronounced Eretz Yisrael-centered focus: “If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land. And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land.”
These pasukim teach us that Eretz Yisrael is the place of and for, the Jewish people. Yet, while almost seven million Jews live in Israel today, the remainder of the world’s nearly 15 million Jews live outside of Israel. It seems that although many of us are familiar with Rabbi Yehudah Halevi’s famous words, “Libi b’mizrach v’anochi b’sof ma’a’ra (My heart is in the East, and I am in the uttermost West),” we have not yet heeded their message.
What is necessary for kibbutz galuot (ingathering of the exiles) and permanent resettlement in our land? Perhaps Rabbi Halevi said it best in his classic work, HaKuzari: “When people become aroused to love this holy place and to press for the anticipated event this, too, generates great reward. Therefore, it says, ‘You shall arise and have mercy upon Zion, for it is time to be gracious to it, for the appointed time has arrived. For your servants have desired its stones, and they favor its dust.’ (Tehillim 102:14-15) This means that Jerusalem will be rebuilt when the Jewish people yearn for it to the ultimate degree.”
These words are congruent with the celebrated statement in Midrash Bereishit Rabbah: “It is better to live in the deserts of Eretz Yisrael than to live in palaces in the diaspora Based upon these sources, it appears that kibbutz galuot will take place when the Jewish people sincerely yearn for the very dust and stones of Eretz Yisrael, for then, our love for the land will be truly manifest.
One of the essential sources wherein Chazal present the Land’s central theological significance is Tosefta Avodah Zarah 4:5: “Dovid HaMelech suggested a homiletic interpretation and said, ‘Anyone who abandons the Land at a time of peace, and travels to the diaspora is as if he is worshipping idols,’ as the text states: ‘And I will rejoice over them to do good to them, and I will plant them in this land truly with all My heart and with all My soul.’ (Yirmiyahu 32:41). [That is,] during the entire time they are upon it [the Land,] it is as if they are planted thereupon before Me in truth, with all My heart and with My entire soul, but, if they are not [living] on it, it is as if they are not planted thereupon before Me in truth, with all My heart and with My entire soul.”
A stirring analysis of this passage was authored by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, in his celebrated work on Religious Zionism entitled, “Eim HaBanim Semeicha:”
“But, if they are not [living] on it, it is as if they are not planted thereupon before Me in truth, with all My heart and with My entire soul.”
This is an amazing statement, for the Holy One blessed be He is saying to us that when the Jewish people are not in Eretz Yisrael they are not cleaving to His heart and soul.
For Rav Teichtal, who was murdered on a transport train by the Nazis during the closing days of WWII, the unspeakable horrors of the Shoah and the palpable lack of Hashem’s hashgacha at that time were direct results of our living in galut, rather than in Eretz Yisrael. “But as soon as we try to return to it [the Land], then we will immediately be cleaving to Him within His entire heart and soul. … That is to say that one whose eyes and heart yearn to go up to Eretz Yisrael is considered as if he is already in Eretz Yisrael.”
May the time come soon, and in our days, when our entire people will be dedicated to implementing kibbutz galuot, when we will leave our physical and spiritual exile behind, return to Eretz Yisrael in joy, and fulfill the Torah and mitzvot in their entirety. With Hashem’s help and our heartfelt desire, may this be so. V’chane yihi ratzon.