“The Land that I Will Show You”

In the article on the mitzvah of Aliyah, we will explore some halachic questions about the journey itself. Before making Aliyah, Rabbi Mordechai Tzion was Rabbi of Kehilat Ohr Tzion, in Buffalo, NY. In Israel, he has translated several books of HaRav Shlomo Aviner, and composed a Halachic guide to Aliyah, called, “Oleh Chadash.” The Jewish Press asked him to explain some of the laws and customs associated with the mitzvah of coming to live in the Holy Land.

The decision to make Aliyah is certainly a milestone in a person’s life. Is this a private mitzvah or something that the community can share?

There is an ancient custom to recite a “Mi She-Berach” for all types of situations and occasions.  Because this blessing does not contain Hashem’s Name, and does not therefore risk reciting a blessing in vain, dozens of such prayers have been composed over the course of the generations: for someone receiving an aliyah to the Torah, for the sick, for those who fast “Behab” (a custom in which some people fast on the Monday, Thursday and Monday following Pesach and Sukkot to atone for the possibility that they sinned while eating and drinking during the holiday), for the soldiers of Tzahal, for captive soldiers and for many others.  Twenty years ago, a unique “Mi She-Berach” was published in the Torah Portion sheet of Bar Ilan University (Parashat Tazria-Metzora 5761).  Brought down by Dr. Aharon Arned, it is a special “Mi She-Berach” for “Olim Chadashim.”  The prayer was composed around 1948 in Ujda, in eastern Morocco, for Jews immigrating to Israel.   It conveys the hope that the immigrants be protected along their way (using a variant of the prayer for travelers), that they have long life in the Land of Israel and that the remaining Jews in Morocco speedily immigrate to Israel. Whatever wording a congregation chooses, it is certainly praiseworthy and proper to publically bless the Oleh or Olim before their departure in order to strengthen them, to encourage others to make aliyah and to sanctify Hashem’s Name as these Jews fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel.

We have all seen photographs of new olim landing in Israel and bending down to kiss the ground. What is the basis of this practice?

The custom of kissing the stones of the Land of Israel when one arrives at her border is based on the Gemara in Ketubot (112a-b):  “Rabbi Abba used to kiss the stones of Acco.” Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda would not only kiss the stones of Eretz Yisrael, he would also roll in its dust, in accordance with the verse, “For Your servants desire her stones, and love her dust,” (Tehillim 102:14).  The Rambam cites this Gemara: “The great Sages would kiss the borders of the Land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dirt,” (Laws of Kings, 5:10).  So we see that it is an ancient custom to express one’s love for the Land of Israel by kissing her stones upon arrival.

Why did the Rabbis of the Gemara kiss the stones, dafka, and not the dirt?

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook was asked this very question. He explained, in the name of his father, that even though the stones do not yield fruit, Rabbi Abba still kissed them.  If Rabbi Abba had kissed the clumps of dirt, people would have thought that the holiness of the Land of Israel only evolves from the mitzvot which are dependent on the Land, such as Terumot and Ma’asrot.  Rabbi Abba kissed the stones, which don’t yield fruit or produce, to show that the Land was holy, in and of itself.

 

In addition, the Mishnah Berurah (477:5) writes in the name of the Shelah: “I have seen exalted individuals kiss the matzot, the maror, the Sukkah, when entering and exiting, and the Four Species, all to express the love of the commandments.  Fortunate is one who serves Hashem in joy.”  How much more so should an oleh express his love when arriving in Israel in fulfillment of the mitzvah to dwell in the Land, which our Sages state is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifri, Torah Portion Re’eh).

If making Aliyah is a mitzvah, why doesn’t a new oleh say a blessing when he arrives: “Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us to dwell in the Land of Israel”?

HaRav Yehudah Leib Maimon, Israel’s first Minister of Religious Affairs, offers three answers to this question. To summarize his long halachic investigation, he notes that several fundamental mitzvot of the Torah, which are not bounded by time, are performed without the recital of a blessing, such as believing in Hashem, fearing Him, loving Him, heeding His voice, cleaving to Him, not worshipping idols, living holy lives, etc. Just as the commandment to believe in Hashem is a constant, a Jew is always required to live in the Land of Israel, as is written in the Gemara, “A Jew should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city in which the majority of residents are idol worshipers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city where the inhabitants are Jews,” (Ketubot 110b). Furthermore, except for a few temporary reasons, it is forbidden to leave the Land.  Because the mitzvah of living in the Land is incumbent upon us always, there is no time during which one is exempt from it, and one does therefore not recite a blessing over its performance.

Should a new oleh recite the Shehechiyanu blessing when reaching the Land?

As with all halachic issues, there are different opinions concerning this question as well. Tosafot (Sukkah 46a) write that when a person fulfills a mitzvah which has an aspect of joy, he recites Shechehiyanu. The Tur, Orach Chaim 223, also brings this ruling. A century ago, HaRav Chaim Palagi ruled that a person should not say the Shechehiyanu blessing when coming to live in the Holy Land, because seeing the Land in its desolation evokes pain and sadness, not joy. Needless to say, things have changed a great deal since the time of HaRav Palagi, when Eretz Yisrael was ruled by foreigners. Today, with the establishment of the State of Israel, and all of its amazing achievements, including Jewish sovereignty over the Land, the mass ingathering of exiles, the widespread settlement, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the profusion of Torah institutions all over the country, grief over the Land’s destruction has turned into great joy in its rebirth. True, we still mourn over the destruction of the Beit MaMikdash, but we are grateful over the kindnesses Hashem has bestowed upon us to date, redeeming us from the graveyard of the Holocaust and to new life in our own Holy Land. Over this, our hearts are filled with joy.

What was the opinion of Rabbi Kook?

When the Gerrer Rebbe (HaRav Avraham Mordechai Alter, also known as the Imrei Emet) visited Israel, he visited Rabbi Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem at the time. Rabbi Kook told him that since this was the first time he was fulfilling the mitzvah of coming to the Land of Israel, he should recite Shehechiyanu, especially in light of his joy. Accepting the halachic authority of the Chief Rabbi, the Gerrer Rebbe recited the blessing (Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah, pg. 117-119; Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah, pg. 215-217).

What did you do when you landed at Ben Gurion Airport and stepped foot on the runway?

I had already asked HaRav Shlomo Aviner what I should do. He told me that when he made Aliyah, he kissed the ground and recited the Shehechiyanu blessing, so I did the same.

Today, most of the new olim from America are religious. Should non-religious Jews be encouraged to make Aliyah? Won’t their secular lifestyle detract from the holiness of the Land? In addition, the Torah states: “Let not the Land vomit you out when you defile it,” (Achre Mot, 18:28). If this is so, what is the benefit of their coming and defiling the Land – only to be exiled again?

As we learned from the example of the Sages who kissed the stones and rocks of Israel, the holiness of the Eretz Yisrael is not derived from the agricultural mitzvot dependent on the Land, and not on the holiness of the people living here. In the time of Avraham Avinu, when idol worshippers filled the country, Hashem commanded him to come, for it is the Holy Land all the same, irrespective of the level of religious observance. Furthermore, similar to the Torah verse you quoted, a verse of the Prophets states: “Let not the Land vomit you out when you defile it,” (Yirmeyahu, 2:7). Citing the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Eichah, 1038), Rabbi Kook explained this as meaning, “If only My children would come and defile My Land.”  If only my children, my Nation, would be in the Land of Israel, even though they make it impure.  The Sages of the Midrash mean that the essence is for the Nation of Israel to return to the Land of Israel, even though they are not observant.  According to this understanding, a non-observant Jew should certainly be encouraged make Aliyah.  But won’t he transgress and defile the Land and be vomited out in punishment?  The logic is that even though the Land will suffer, with the help of Hashem, he will repent over time.  This means that when there is a meeting between the hidden holiness of the Nation of Israel and the hidden holiness of the Land of Israel, the Nation of Israel will repent.  While the process is a slow one, like the Redemption itself, “little by little, like the dawning of day,” (Jerusalem Talmud, 1:1), we can see in our times that the Jews in Exile are assimilating and disappearing, while the tshuva movement in Israel is getting stronger and stronger all the time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Before making Aliyah in 1984, Tzvi Fishman taught Creative Writing at the NYU School of the Arts. In Israel, he studied Torah at Yeshivas Machon Meir, Beit-El, Ateret Cohanim, amd Mercaz HaRav. He has published nearly twenty novels and books on a wide range of Jewish themes, available at Amazon Books and the tzvifishmanbooks.com website, including Free Downloads. He is the recipient of the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. Recently, he produced and directed the feature film, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman” starring Israel’s popular actor, Yehuda Barkan. Presently, he is working on Volume Four of the “Tevye in the Promised Land” Series.

To see more of Rabbi Fishman’s blogs, Click on tzvi fishman at the top of the page.

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