My wife and I are planning our summer vacation. I want to go to the Canary Islands, since we haven’t been there before. My wife wants to go to Israel, because she says that we should show solidarity with the Jews who live there during these difficult times. Given the security situation in Israel, what is the right thing to do?
First of all, before answering this question, we have to emphasize that the natural home for a Jew is in Israel. Many times when I brought young students from America to meet Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, he would explain that the words Orayach (meaning guest) and Ezrach (meaning citizen) share almost the same letters in Hebrew. A slight change of the letter vav to a zayin, and the visitor to Israel becomes a permanent resident, inferring that the home of every Jewish tourist is Israel. This is in accordance with the Rambam’s view found in the Laws of Kings and Their Wars in which he states: “Forever, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are idol worshippers, rather than live outside of the Land, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews.” The Rambam also states: “It is forbidden for a Jew to leave the land of Israel at all times, except to learn Torah, marry, or redeem Jewish lives from captivity, and then he must return to Israel. And he is permitted to leave the land temporarily to insure a livelihood, but to dwell outside of the land is forbidden, unless in times of dire famine.” From this, we see clearly that a Jew in every generation should strive to make his home in Israel. Regarding visits to Israel, for those who are not yet living there, the Mishna Berurahsays that while there is an opinion that the mitzvah of living in Israel is accomplished by actually dwelling there, and not just coming for a visit, he emphasizes the opinion that visiting Israel is a mitzvah itself, since just by walking four cubits in the Holy Land a person merits life in the World To Come. In the classic treatise of Jewish faith, known as the Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi explains that all of a Jew’s yearning should be to live a life of Torah in the Land of Israel. This is the goal of Judaism not to remain in perpetual exile, but to return to the Land of our forefathers. “It is written how the Patriarchs strove to live in Israel while it was in the hands of the pagan, how they yearned for it, and had their bones carried to it, as did Jacob and Joseph. Moses prayed to see it, and when this was denied to him, he considered it a great misfortune… All peoples make pilgrimages to it, long for it, except for ourselves and therefore we remain punished and disgraced in exile,” says HaLevi. Regarding the question of danger, even though a Jew is not allowed to place himself in danger, where his life is threatened, traveling to Israel is not considered dangerous as long as businessmen continue to travel there to do business. Today, thousands of visitors and businessmen arrive in Israel every day. While it is true that several of the victims of terrorist attacks in Israel have been visitors, that number is so small that one who visits is not considered to be an immanent danger from which one has to guard his or her self. Furthermore, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Beit-El, explains that a person should strive to overcome feelings of fear. His general orientation to life should be to trust in G-d. We have to be careful in situations where danger is imminent, but not to let unnecessary fear accompany our lives. Interestingly, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, one of the Torah authorities who wrote that a Jew needn’t move to Israel in a time of danger, immigrated himself to Israel with his family two hundred years ago. In the introduction to his book, Paat HaShulchan, he describes undergoing an ordeal of Napoleonic wars, plagues, malaria, earthquakes, and imprisonment by the Turks on his journey, and still he came in his great love for the Holy Land. Thus in deciding between a vacation in the Canary Islands or Israel, a person could ask himself, “What would G-d prefer me to do?” As King Solomon says in the Book of Proverbs, “In all your ways know Him, and He will guide your paths.” ------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. Rambam, there, 5:12. 2. Ibid, 5:9. 3. Mishna Berurah, 248:28. 4. Ketubot, 111A. 5. Kuzari, 2:20. 6. Pitchei T’shuva, Even Haezer, 75:6. See Kuzari, 5:23. 7. Yaish Shoalim, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, “On Fear” Pgs. 43-46. 8. Paat HaShulchan, Eretz Yisrael, 3. 9. Proverbs, 3:6.