Seeking the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
“ונשמרתם מאד לנפשתיכם“
“May it be Your Will HaShem our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace… May You rescue us from the hand of every foe… Blessed are You, HaShem, Who hears prayer.” (Wayfarer’s Prayer)
One of the most basic principles of our Torah is the safeguarding of life, to such a level that danger to one’s life exempts one from all the mitzot of the Torah, save idolatry, illicit sexual relations, and murder. For this very reason, our People were compelled to leave the Land of Israel when conquered by enemies, and for this reason the return to our Land by the masses was detained for close to two thousand years.
Nevertheless, we find that many Sages risked their lives to come to the Land from Talmudic times (R. Zeira for example – Ktubot 112a) till the birth of the State of Israel (for example – it took R. Obadia of Bartenura 2 years and 4 months (!) to come from Italy after many dangers). If so, what does halacha say about settling the Land versus danger?
One of the earliest halachic discussions on this matter revolves around the Mishnaic/Talmudic ruling that a husband or wife is able to compel their spouse to move to the Land of Israel, and the question asked is: does this rule apply even when there is danger involved in this move? According to Tosfot and others, the ability to compel a spouse to move to the Land does not apply in times of danger, however the ability to compel a spouse to stay in the Land does apply since their merit in settling the Land will protect them. Differing with this opinion is the opinion of the Rambam, Rif, and Rabeinu Yeruham who maintain that the ability to compel a spouse to move to the Land is even in times of danger. The Shulhan Aruch (E.H 75, 5) ruled according to the Rashbash that one can compel a spouse to move to the Land ‘if possible without danger’, however it seems clear from the Shulhan Aruch that if an individual wishes to move to the Land he may do so even in times of danger. What level of danger is referred to here?
According to the Mabit, the level of danger referred to is danger sufficient to prevent the common merchant (i.e. businessman) from travelling there on business. The reasoning for this is that the commitment to a sacred mitzvah (moving to the Land) should not be any lesser than mundane business. This said, it is still not clear why one is able, and according to some able to compel, to move to the Land even in time of real danger (when a businessman would not travel), as we see that many Sages risked their lives throughout the generations to come to the Land, a matter that is forbidden in regard to other mitzvoth.
One of the most essential sources in regard to this matter is the Yerushalmi Moed Katan (2, 4 – in addition to other sources)we have brought in the past which compares the settling of the Land to the commandment of war in conquering this Land. By definition, waging war is a matter that endangers life, and therefore settling the Land overrides even danger to one’s life. With this token we should mention that it is accepted among all the poskim that in waging war in conquest of the Land etc. one is definitely commanded to fight even at risk to one’s life.
Nevertheless, there are sources that danger to one’s life overrides settling the Land, such as the permit, although not considered pious behavior (see Rambam Mlachim 5, 9), to leave the Land in time of famine. In settling these seemingly conflicting sources many poskim differentiate between the viewpoint of the individual versus that of the public. This means that if settling the Land has ramifications to the public then it holds the same status as war, defined as a public endeavor, and therefore overrides one’s personal risk of danger (not suicide), which is not so in the case of the individual. If so, how do we find great Sages throughout the generations who risked their lives as individuals to come to the Land?
The answer to this lies in the viewpoint of the individual – if he sees himself as a messenger of the public in settling the Land his status is like the public, but if he sees himself as an individual his status is like the individual. All this said, it should be clear that today’s present situation, when Israel have sovereignty in the Land, is far different, and far safer than the situation of our ancestors for thousands of years, making the fore-mentioned discussion irrelevant today. The first person mentioned in the Torah who risked his life in battle was Avraham our father who reached his decision to wage war to save Lot in Hebron, ‘Elonei Mamreh’.
It seems that not for naught the Torah tells us that he reached this decision in Hebron, saying that it is through Hebron, Israel’s roots to the Holy Land, that Avraham received the inspiration to fight and save Lot, the ancestor of King David, one of the greatest warriors of Israel of all time, who fought all his life to secure this Holy Land in the hands of Israel.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #82:
“It was erev Shabbos and we were trying to catch a bus from Beer Sheva to Kiryat Arba, but we missed the last bus. Therefore, we decided to travel to my in laws who live in Tel Aviv to which there still was transportation, but we could not alight the crowded buses. I called my inlaws, and ‘it turns out’ that they had gone for Shabbat to Netivot, so we traveled just a half hour there to stay for Shabbat.” (Y.H)
Sources: All the sources mentioned are taken from the book “Nahalat Yakov” by R. Yakov Zisberg