By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
It is one of those dilemmas that tens of thousands of Torah-observant families have grappled with for decades. Many have posed the question to Rav Chaim zatzal. And now, a remarkable Talmid Chochom, Rabbi Shnayor Zalman Burton, has provided us with the resources to the dilemma with the publication of his latest sefer, “Ha’Aretz asher Areka.”
The dilemma, of course, deals with moving to Eretz Yisroel – or not. Is there an obligation? Is it subjective or objective? What if we have children and grandchildren in the United States? What if we are uncomfortable raising children in Eretz Yisroel because of education? What if we find it easier to make a living here? These are all questions that many Torah-observant families have posed to themselves, but never fully explored.
Rav Burton dives into the thick of things, unafraid of respectful discussion and examination of the positions of the leading Poskim and leaders of the past generation. At the same time, he clarifies and unfolds the deeper philosophical underpinnings of Torah hashkafa vis-a-vis Eretz Yisroel. Rav Burton carries us through Rav Chasdai Crescas’s understanding of the current galus as an extension of the very first galus (section 3, p. 54) to the Netziv’s thoughts – culled from a letter the Netziv wrote (see page 83).
“Ha’Aretz asher Areka,” with haskamos from leading Gedolim, is not only an important work, but it is a clearly-organized and inspiring analysis of the entire sugya. Rav Burton is clearly an extraordinary thinker, an ish eshkolos, at home in all areas – lomdus, halacha, Tanach, and machshava. But there is much more.
It is one of those rare seforim that was written for both the seasoned Talmid Chochom as well as the layman and is divided into seven sections. One can readily detect the passion in Rav Burton’s pen (or keyboard). And yet, he is clearly of the view that Eretz Yisroel is not for everyone.
The first section deals with the nature of the Mitzvah according to the Rishonim – the Ramban listing it as one of the Taryag Mitzvos and the other rishonim who rule that it is not currently a fulfillment of one of the 613. Rav Burton carefully demonstrates how the Ramban based his position on the Sifrei and the Tosefta. Rav Burton concludes that the Ramban’s position is a lone view (da’as Yachid) – notwithstanding that the Rashbatz (Rav Shimon ben Tzemach Duran 1370-1430) agrees with him in his Zohar HaRakiah [a work where he summarizes Rav Shlomo Ben Gabirol’s different methods of counting the Taryag Mitzvos].
Yet, Rav Burton demonstrates the sheer and complete centrality of Eretz Yisroel in the position of all of the other Rishonim. Indeed, Rav Burton postulates that even the Rambam, who does not list it as one of the 613, holds that it is a Torah Mitzvah by implication. The Rambam did not write it as a Torah Mitzvah, but certainly implies it. Rav Burton is in agreement with Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal’s understanding that, although residing in Eretz Yisrael is a Mitzvah – it is a Mitzvah kiumis – rather than a Mitzvah Chiyuvis. In other words, it is a Mitzvah but it is not fully obligatory in all circumstances. This is not to lessen the Mitzvah, but more like the Mitzvah of donating a kidney – it is not an obligation, but anyone who does it, is certainly – at the top of the world in terms of chessed. Indeed, Rav Burton demonstrates, a Mitzvah kiumis can also compel action and create obligations, depending on the circumstances. I would have liked to see a discussion of Rav Ovadya Yoseph zt”l’s differing view of the Ramban (not like Rav Moshe’s), but perhaps it would have complicated things a bit more.
The second section of the sefer deals with the various understandings of “The Three Oaths” cited at the end of Ksuvos. Rav Burton discusses the view that the oaths are a full-fledged prohibition, and the view that they are a warning against danger (as expounded upon in the Rambam’s Iggeres Teiman). He has some wonderful explanations and chiddushim in that section that are beyond the scope of this overview of his work, but are most worthwhile to read in his sefer.
The third section deals with the ideas and ideals of Exile (galus) and actions that perhaps seem to be opposed to Hashem’s Divine Plan. Is Eretz Yisroel only for Tzaddikim? Should we wait for the Ultimate Redemption? In this section, Rav Burton discusses, at length, the Satmar Rebbe’s Maamar Yishuv Eretz Yisroel.
Section four deals with those past generations that did not make the trip. The fifth section deals with who should remain in Chutz la’Aretz and the reasons for it. Section six deals with the issues of observing the Mitzvos dependent upon Eretz Yisroel.
The seventh section presents an entire philosophical overview of Eretz Yisroel. Rav Burton first explores what is the overarching aspect of Eretz Yisroel through the writings of the Rishonim. The Rambam is of the opinion that it is the place of the Jewish people. The Ramban’s view is that it is, kavyachol, the special abode of Hashem. The Kuzari’s view is that it is the source of all that is Divine. After presenting and elucidating the Rishonim’s views, Rav Burton expounds a novel idea that the essence of Eretz Yisroel is captured by the phrase said by Hashem to Avraham Avinu: “Ha’Aretz asher Areka.” Eretz Yisroel is the land that Hashem shows us, in which we can learn to see the world from Hashem’s perspective.
The sad state of appreciation for Eretz Yisroel even among those who reside in the Batei Midrashim is decried by the author in his introduction. The sefer is a must-have work in every home – both for those living in Eretz Yisroel and in Chutz la’Aretz – in order to gain a greater and significantly deeper appreciation of the mitzvah of residing in Eretz Yisroel. It can be found in most seforim stores and is distributed by Levitz.
The reviewer can be reached at [email protected]