Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
Moving to Israel
In our parsha, the spies were punished for not showing sufficient desire to enter Eretz Yisrael. Let us study one of the many halakhot which express the importance of moving here.
The Mishna at the end of Ketubot states, "All may compel aliyah to Eretz Yisrael". The main message of the Mishna is that either husband or wife may compel the other spouse to move to Eretz Yisrael. If the other spouse refuses to relocate, this is considered grounds for divorce to obligate the husband to pay the ketubah (if he is the recalcitrant one) or to exempt him from paying (if the wife refuses to move). This is also the ruling in the Shulchan Arukh. (SA EHE 75:3-4.)
One explanation for this rule is that there is a mitzva to come to Eretz Yisrael. It is certainly true that many authorities discuss this rule in the context of the mitzva of aliyah. The Pitchei Teshuva in particular dilates on the importance of this mitzva (Even HaEzer 75:6). However, this explana- tion is not the only possible one. For one thing, this halakha is brought down by many authorities who nowhere mention that moving to Eretz Yisrael is a mitzva — for example, the Rambam and the Shulchan Arukh.
Another difficulty is that we find in the same place that the husband or wife can also compel a move to Yerushalaim though there is little support for supposing that there is a mitzva to live there.
Another possible explanation can be inferred from the context of this law. The Shulchan Arukh states that the husband can, within certain limits, compel his wife to follow him to nearby places. However, he cannot compel her to go from a beautiful city to an ugly one, nor from one which is mostly Jewish to one which is mostly non- Jewish. (The Rishonim extend this to the case of one which has a strong Torah atmosphere to one where Torah observance and study are not strong. See Beit Yosef citing Rivash.) He can also not compel her to go to a place with a much different climate which may cause her health to suffer. In other words: the wife has a right to her accustomed standards of health, beauty, and Torah!
However, one can compel a move to Eretz Yisrael even from a
beautiful city abroad to an ugly one here; even from a mostly Jewish city
abroad to a mostly non-Jewish one here; and even if there is a difference in
According to this explanation, we can easily understand the continuation of the ruling: within Eretz Yisrael, the city of Yerushalaim, "pinnacle of beauty, joy of the land" (Eichah 2:15) is the most beautiful, healthful and Jewish place we can find.
Nowadays, the aesthetic beauty of Israeli cities compares favorably with those of cities abroad, every major Israeli city is mostly Jewish, and Israel has one of the highest life expectancies of any country in the world. Outer and inner considerations concur that this is the perfect place for any Jew to live.
We may argue if the halakha formally obligates us to move to Eretz Yisrael. But we can not dispute that halakha, no less than Midrash and haskhafa, relates to Eretz Yisrael as the ideal place for all Jews to make their home.
[Meaning in Mitzvot gives inspirational meanings of the mitzvot – not binding rulings. It is important to know that Beit Din scrutinizes carefully divorce claims based on a desire to make aliyah, because of the obvious potential for abuse. Also, some authorities state that while it is praiseworthy to move to Israel even if this involves a steep decline in the so-called "standard of living", even so it is problematic for someone self-supporting to move here in order to live off charity. See Pitchei Teshuva and Beit Yosef. I have heard in the name of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik ztz"l that this is one meaning of our prayer in the grace after meals that HaShem should bring us "upright" (komemiyut) to our land. Note that this prayer comes right after the one asking HaShem to provide us with a dignified livelihood.]
Rabbi Meir has completed writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. It will hopefully be published in the near future.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.