Rav Avraham Norin
Ram at the Machon Meir Conversion Center
What is a nation? According to the Oxford Dictionary a nation is: “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language inhabiting a particular state or territory.” Currently, due to unfortunate circumstances of our exile from our home land, the Jewish people do not seem to fit this definition.
It is true that we are all descended from Avraham and Sarah (whether physically or spiritually) and that we share the same history (as described in the twenty four books of the Tanach). It is also true that we have inherited from our ancestors common cultural attributes (such as the pursuit of justice, heart for kindness, a love of learning, and a desire to make a better world) and that Hebrew has been the language of the Jewish people for the last 3.000 years in prayer and learning (and now again in speech). Yet it seems that we are lacking the most important qualification of a nation: a land which unites us all!
Let us consider if the land of Israel can be that missing link. On one hand, it definitely unites the Jewish people: It is the place of our origin. It is the place of our destiny. It is the country we cry about on Tisha B’av. It is the country we dream of on Passover. It is the country we pray for in the midst of our weddings. It is the country where the righteous wish to be buried at the end of their days.
But for over one thousand years the majority of the Jewish people did not dwell there. Even today the Jewish People reside in over one hundred countries, spread over six continents. How does the land of Israel keep us as a nation if we do not all dwell there? Rabbi Mordechai Breuer answers that the unique relationship each of our forefathers had with the land of Israel set a precedent for the future generations of their descendants. Our nation sometimes has a relationship with the land like of Avraham (Aliya), sometimes like of Yitzchak (Dwelling), and sometimes like of Yaakov (Return).
Avraham made Aliya to Israel. Avraham was born in Ur, the biggest metropolitan city of ancient times. On God’s command he left the culture and technology of his birth place and made his home in the not-cultivated land of Israel. Avraham shows us that Israel is our homeland regardless of our place of birth.
Yitzchak lived in Israel. Yitzchak was born in the land and even in tough times did not leave. Yitzchak cultivated the land and he didn’t give up when the locals opposed his efforts. He kept on digging new wells until they realized that he is committed to the land and here to stay. Yitzchak teaches us that our homeland is Israel, no matter what others claim.
Yaakov returned to the land of Israel. When he was forty years old, Yaakov left the land of Israel to live in Aram. There he was very successful. Yet Yaakov left his wealth to return to his homeland. Yaakov shows us that even if we live elsewhere the country of Israel is still our home. Yaakov demonstrated this again when he was living in Egypt and commanded his children to make sure he will be buried in Israel. He was telling his children “You might temporarily need to live outside Israel – maybe even for hundreds of years, but don’t forget that your true place of residence is the land of Israel.”
The three relationships our forefathers had with the land of Israel were repeated on the national level. Like Avraham Avinu, the Jewish People were born outside of Israel and we “made Aliya” to establish our homes in the promised land. Like Yitzchak Avinu, the Jewish people cultivated the soil, fought the Pelishtim who contested our existence, and ultimately established ourselves as the true residents of the land of Israel. Like Yaakov Avinu, the Jewish people had to leave the land and found themselves in a new place with an opportunity for prosperity. Yet when the Jews had the ability to return to the land of their forefathers they did. The first Aliya (Shesbazar), the second Aliya (Zerubavel), the third Aliya (Ezra) and the fourth Aliya (Nechemya) all contributed to the Second Commonwealth, a renewed Beit HaMikdash, and even a more glorified state than before.
Today, on both a national and individualistic level, we witness the renewal of all three relationships that the Avot had with the land. From throughout the world, the Jewish People are making Aliya and returning to their home. In Israel, the Jewish people are cultivating the country, fighting off the enemy, and with a silent and modest determination, establishing the nation of Israel as the permanent residence of the land. Am Yisroel Chai!!!