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Table of contents Ethic and judaism Fall 2002 - Tishri 5763

Editorial – September 2002
    • Editorial

    • The Transfer of Soviet-Jewish POW's from Finland to Germany During WWII

Ethic and judaism
    • Committed or not

    • Face the past

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Committed or not

By Shabtai A. Rappoport
J. is thirty five years old, married and has four children. He is a bright and innovative electronic engineer whose skill and expertise made him well known in the smart electronic industry circles. His work is in constant demand, and he could operate profitably almost in any country of the civilized world. Recently he is considering moving to Israel. Professionally, he will probably be able to establish a business there, or join one of several existing ventures who will welcome him gladly. However, such a transition will not be easy culturally, as he and his wife were born and raised in Europe, and spent all their life, and had all their family members in the same country belonging to a small community. In Israel they have no family and no close friends. The children were well adjusted to their schools, and desired no change. And most significantly, the recent security situation in Israel scared them. Life in Israel seems to be under constant peril, so different from their current quiet and predictable existence.
On the other hand, J. is an observant Jew, and is well aware that Jews are supposed to inhabit the Land of Israel "And you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and live in it; for I have given you the land to possess it" (Num. XXXIII, 53). He is also well aware of the story of the men who were sent by Moses to spy the land of Canaan, and came back dissuading the "congregation of the people of Israel" from conquering the land, and of Moses' later admonishment: "When the L-rd sent you from Kadesh-Barnea, saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you; then you rebelled against the commandment of the L-rd your G-d, and you believed him not, nor listened to his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you" (Deut. IX, 23-24). Still, J. is only one person, whose immigration to Israel will not affect the nation's possession of the land. Also, there are entire communities of Jews who observe all Torah's commandments, and live their life happily outside of Israel. Hence, J. wonders whether he is obliged to immigrate to Israel, and in case he does not - how does this abstaining reflect on his commitment to G-d and His Torah.
The noted 19th century authority, Rabbi Avarham of Sochotshov, explains that the commandment to reside in the Land of Israel stems from the basic obligation of Jews to be G-d's servants: "For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; I am the L-rd your G-d" (Lev. XXV, 55). The essence of master - servant relationship in Torah Law, besides the obvious obligation of the servant to serve his master, is that the servant is totally dependent on his master for his very livelihood. A real servant - a slave - has no independent means of feeding himself and his family. Thus in the very night of our redemption from Egypt, where we were enslaved, our liberty - which in fact is our entering G-d's service - was signified by slaughtering the sacrifice of Passover and eating it, like servants who eat at their master's table. Similarly G-d tells us that the Land of Israel is superior to that of Egypt - the land of slavery to Man "For the land, which you enter to possess, is not as the land of Egypt, from where you came out, where you sowed your seed, and watered it with your foot, as a garden of vegetables; But the land, which you are going over to possess, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water from the rain of the skies; A land which the L-rd your G-d cares for; the eyes of the Lord your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year" (Deut. XI, 10-12). Our Sages say "The Land of Israel is watered by the Holy One, blessed be He, and the rest of the world is watered by a messenger, as it is said, Who gives rain upon the earth, and sends waters upon the fields" (Ta'anit 10,b). Hence man's dependence upon G-d for his livelihood is apparent only in the Land of Israel, and in this land the Jew is a committed servant to our Master.
This seems to be the reason that the Torah commandments, which obligates us to give terumot and tithes from our crops to the Priests and the Levites, as well as practicing every seventh year a Sabbath of rest to the land, apply only in the Land of Israel. Only there is the Jew considered to be G-d's vassal or tenant in a real practical sense, which is signified by giving G-d's Men a share of the crops, and by ceasing all human endeavors to cultivate the land every seventh year. This partnership between G-d and the Jew is the essence of the Torah.
But these commandments apply only when the Land is possessed by Jews, and when all the Jews live in the Land (Maimonides, Laws of Terumot ch. 1, 26). It seems to follow that the obligation to live in the Land of Israel applies only in these conditions, and not to an individual person whose immigration to Israel would not create these circumstances. Indeed, the noted 19th century scholar, Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutnow ruled that the commandment of inhabiting the Land of Israel is for the Nation to possess it and to be free there under G-d's rule, and not for an individual just to dwell there.
However, one of the greatest scholars of the 18th century, Rabbi Yehuda Rozanis whose creation "Mishne La'melech" accompany all Maimonides' printed editions of Mishne Torah, made an important ruling regarding usury. The Biblical commandment not to put a stumbling block before the blind (Lev. XIX, 14) is interpreted as a prohibition to assist one who transgresses G-d's commandment, provided he cannot transgress that commandment without the assistance (Avoda Zarah 6, b). It follows that since one who borrows money undertaking to pay forbidden interest is assisting the lender in his crime, and since without a borrower - the lender cannot practice usury, the borrower thus transgresses the commandment not to put a stumbling block before the blind (Maimonides, Laws of Lender and Borrower ch. 4, 2). Rabbi Yehuda ruled that even when the lender can find other Jewish borrowers, each specific borrower transgresses the assisting commandment (ibid). The great 18th century scholar, Rabbi Akiva Aiger, explained that once a certain transgression cannot be performed without assistance, either because of the nature of the transgression (when it must involve more that one person) or because of specific circumstances, there is no distinction between a required assistance and one that is not really required. The concept of required assistance is needed only to distinguish between transgressions that are individually performed, and these that need an accessory. But once the transgression must involve an accessory, every such an accessory transgresses the law, not only the one whose assistance is vital (Responsa Part I, 194).
It seems obvious that this ruling laid down an important ethical principle, which should not distinguish between a transgression and a positive command. One is not allowed to be an accessory to crime against G-d, and similarly one should take part in fulfilling G-d's commands. It follows that when a positive command cannot be executed unless several, or many, people participate, each individual, regardless of whether his assistance is significant or not, should assist in fulfilling that command. Hence, the commandment to possess the Land of Israel and live there, which cannot be fulfilled by any individual by himself, but rather by the entire Nation, requires every individual to assist in that fulfillment.
That is why every Jew who feels committed to bring about G-d's rule in this world, and the Jewish Nation duty to act as His servants, which involve all the Jews possessing the entire Land of Israel, should immigrate to Israel to assist in this process, or at least show solidarity with those who actually live there and help this cause to the best of his ability.

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