27 Tishri 5778
October 17 2017



Building and Integrating in Eretz Yisrael

Coming to live in Eretz Yisrael has been the dream and vision of Jews for centuries. The catalyst of this dream could be the mitzva of Yishuv Ha’aretz. Whether you interpret this mitzva to be a mitzva chiyuvit (obligatory mitzva) or a mitzva kiyumit (optional mitzva – one is rewarded for performing the mitzva, but not punished for not performing it), it certainly has played a strong role in the mindset of olim and vatikim. Beyond the mitzva, every Jew should feel that he is welcome and belongs in Eretz Yisrael. Like a child who returns home to visit his parents, beyond the mitzva of Kibud Av V’aem, every child who visits his parent should feel like he is welcome in their home.

I once heard a story, from a nephew of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, Zt”l, which further emphasizes this point. A potential oleh from America, who once had the honor of being in the presence of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, was delighted to inform the Rabbi that he would be moving to Eretz Yisrael. This potential oleh then began to present a thesis of why he had a halachic obligation to move to Eretz Yisrael. His thesis was supported by sources ranging from Torah Sh’Bichtav to Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and various Acharonim. At the end of his scholarly presentation, which was impressive by its scope and breadth, he waited to hear the analysis of Rav Shlomo Zalman. The great Rav indicated that the presentation was indeed impressive but unnecessary. After all, if one wants to understand where Hashem wants him to live, all he has to do is learn Sefer B’reshit. If the posuk of ‘Vayashavtem Bah’ is the source of the mitzva to live in Eretz Yisrael, then Sefer Breishit with Avraham being told to go to Eretz Yisrael, Yitzchak never leaving Eretz Yisrael and Yaakov being forced out but constantly yearning and finally returning to Eretz Yisrael, is the source for the idea that a Jew belongs and is welcome in Eretz Yisrael.

In addition to living in Eretz Yisrael and feeling welcome in Eretz Yisrael, every Jew should identify with the ‘toshvei ha’aretz’ (those who dwell in the land). The Gemara in Mesechet Ketuvot: 75a cites the posuk in Tehillim 87, “But of Zion it shall be said man and man where born there.” The Gemara gives an explanation for the double usage of the word “man”. This posuk alludes to the basic distinction between Eretz Yisrael and any other country. As regard to other countries, only one who is born there can be considered a natural citizen of that country. However, with regards to Eretz Yisrael, there are two types of people who can be called children of Zion or citizens of Zion: both the person who was born there and the non-native who always yearned to see Eretz Yisrael. From here we see that even those not born in Eretz Yisrael and not living in Eretz Yisrael but who identify with those who are fortunate to live in Eretz Yisrael can still be considered citizens of Zion.

Jews belong here, in Eretz Yisrael and are obligated to live here, but still olim sometimes feel inhibited to join ranks with vatikim (old timers). This is a challenge that was probably faced by olim for generations. It is not always simple to blend in with people who have had experience but whose culture is in many ways different. This challenge to integrate even existed during the time of Yitro. In Sefer Bamidbar, as the Jewish people prepare for their supposed final leg of the journey into Eretz Yisrael, Moshe asked Yitro (Chovev) to join them in settling Eretz Yisrael. Yitro refuses and responds
ךלא יתדלומ לאו יצרא לא םא יכ ךלא אל וילא רמאיו” (“I will not go, he replied [to Moshe] but will return to my native land.”). Why did Yitro refuse to join the Jews in Eretz Yisrael? The Ramban and Netziv explain that Yitro had all his possession in Midyan and he did not want to forgo all the wealth and honor he had left behind. The Netziv asks that if Yitro’s only concern was his wealth, why did Moshe continue to pursue Yitro and how was Moshe’s response relevant to Yiitro’s concern? Moshe did not address the issue of Yitro’s wealth. Yitro had another concern that inhibited him from joining the Jews in Eretz Yisrael which Moshe chose to address. Yitro was afraid that he would not fit in, that he could not integrate. He was afraid of being perceived as a stranger, a man without roots. Yitro told Moshe that in Midyan he had land, he had roots, he felt like he belonged, but in Eretz Yisrael he will be perceived as a stranger, a man without anything. Therefore, Yitro concluded that he must return to Midyan where at least he can feel part of society.

Moshe Rabeinu’s reply was quick and insightful.
םייניעל ונל תייהו רבדמב ונתונח תעדי ןכ לע יכ ונתוא בזעת אנ לא :רמאיו” Moshe Rabeinu responded: do not forsake us. In as much as you know our encampments in the wilderness and you have been as eyes for us. The Netziv explains that Moshe Rabbeinu comforted Yitro. He assured Yitro that he was a part of Am Yisrael and that he would have a stake in the land. Moshe told him that he will sow new roots and integrate with everyone because he helped Am Yisrael in the Midbar. Yitro was there to help acquire food from the neighboring nations, or to advise them where to travel and where to camp. In the merit of taking care of Am Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu assures Yitro that he will feel part of Am Yisrael.

Moshe Rabbeinu taught Yitro and us a very important lesson. When we help, we belong. When we feel like we belong, we can integrate. All those who move to Eretz Yisrael are helping to build Eretz Yisrael. Olim and vatikim both belong here and in that merit they should be able to integrate. May we all merit feeling an integral part of Artzeinu Hakedosha and an integral part of the people.





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