Torah stresses importance of land of Israel

BY RABBI HYIM SHAFNER

In this week’s Torah Portion, Vaera, God tells Moses, “I will uphold my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, their homeland in which they dwelled…Therefore say to the Jewish people I will take them out from under the burdens of Egypt…to the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as an inheritance…”

God separately promised the land to each of our forefathers and giving them the land is probably the most frequent, and usually the first theme of God’s conversations with them.

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In addition, it is almost always coupled with the statement that their children will be a blessing to the peoples of the world.

To Abraham, God says, “Go for yourself…to the land which I will show you…and will be blessed though you all the families of the earth (Genesis 12).”

To Isaac god says, “Dwell in this land and I will be with you and bless you because to you and your children I will give this land…and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed though your children (Genesis 26).” To Jacob God says, “The land which you are laying on I will give to you and your seed…and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your children (Genesis 28).”

The Jewish people’s dwelling on the land of their ancestors, and as part of it becoming a blessing to the other families of the world, is the most important thing God wishes to communicate to our forefathers. God does not speak to them of the 613 ritual and interpersonal commandments that would come later, but over and over He says they must live in the Land of Israel and be a blessing to the world thereby.

No doubt the Torah and its laws are indispensable guides for that work, but living as a people in the land, building a society there and becoming a blessing to the rest of the world thereby is clearly, in the book of Genesis, the point of God choosing our ancestors and us.

Perhaps with this idea can shed some light on the following Talmudic statement: “A person should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city which is mostly idol worshippers and not live outside of Israel, even in a city which is composed mostly of Jews. For anyone who lives in Israel it is as if they have a God and anyone who lives outside of Israel it is as if they have no God…Is it really so that anyone who lives outside of Israel it is as if they have no God? Rather say, it is as if they worship idols. (Kitubot 110)”

Why is it that even if one believes in God and keeps the commandments, living outside of Israel would render one an idol worshipper? Perhaps this is so because one would not truly be fulfilling the will of God, for, it seems God’s will and the point of the commandments is to establish a society in the land in order to be, by example, a blessing to the nations. May we all merit, speedily in our days, to build in the Land of Israel a blessing to “all the families of the earth.” Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner, of Bais Abraham Congregation, is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.