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Leaving Israel to visit graves


Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 12, 5775
Shalom Rabbi Sperling, I hope you and your family are very well. I have a question about leaving Eretz Yisrael. Is it permitted to go on a tour of kivrei tzadikim outside Eretz Yisrael if the purpose is spiritual elevation? I am aware there is a concept of permissibility to seek Torah learning outside Israel if it is is more suited to one than what is available in Israel, but is there a such a parallel with going on a "spiritual tour"?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. Much has been written on this topic. The bottom line is – there is support both the opinion that allows leaving Israel in order to pray at the graves of Tzadakim overseas, and for the opinion that forbids it. In my humble opinion in general it is better for a person to seek their spiritual needs and growth in the holy land of Israel. However, there may be individual cases where a person may need to rely on the lenient opinions because of their special case. (If a person feels a great need for this, they should discuss their special needs with a Rabbi who knows them). I attach here for you a very good summary about this subject from a Torah website called "DinOnLine" – I hope this will be of help to you. Blessings. Leaving Israel to Visit Graves: An important ramification of the halachic status of visiting graves is the question of leaving the Land of Israel for the purpose of visiting graves. The Gemara writes that it is forbidden to leave the land of Israel, with three exceptions: for the purpose of studying Torah, earning a living, and in order to get married (see Avodah Zarah 13a; Rambam, Melachim 5:9). Is it also permitted to leave for the purpose of visiting graves? Shut Sedei Haaretz (Even Ha'ezer 11) writes that it is. He bases this assertion on two factors. First, he explains that the principle prohibition of leaving the Land of Israel applies to somebody leaving for the long term, and not to somebody leaving only for a short visit abroad. Second, he explains that visiting graves is a mitzvah. The Sedei Chemed (Aleph, Eretz Yisrael) echoes this ruling, adding further proofs to the point. A similar opinion is stated in Shut Mishpetei Tzedek (74), who initially writes that he does not know what mitzvah is involved in visiting graves, but concludes that since the Maharil implies that it is a mitzvah (in the laws of vows, as cited by Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 568), it is permitted to leave the Land for the purpose. However, in his glosses on Sedei Chemed, Rav Kook (Mishpat Kohen 147) argues that even if we consider visiting graves a mitzvah (which he contends is far from clear), there are surely plenty of graves to visit in the Land of Israel, and there is no need to leave the Land for the purpose of visiting graves. He cites the fact that one is only permitted to leave the Land in order to study Torah because not every mentor is equal, and a special connection with a rabbi outside Israel may have an important effect on one's Torah education. Rav Kook reasons that this rationale applies to a living mentor, but not to the deceased since we have no reason to assume a distinction between one and another. Rav Kook suggests that perhaps it might be permitted to leave Israel for the purpose of visiting graves, because Hashem desires the prayer of the righteous. Since by praying at a grave the deceased himself is aroused to supplicate Hashem on behalf of the visitor, it stands to reason that perhaps this would justify leaving the Land temporarily. In spite of this, he concludes by expressing doubt over whether this is correct: In view of the fact that the Forefathers are buried in Chevron, perhaps there is insufficient justification to leave the Land to pray at other graves. Yet, it is possible that another factor can tilt the scales in favor of permitting a journey to graves outside the Land of Israel. Besides the prayers of the deceased, we find in a number of sources that the deceased themselves take pleasure in those who visit their graves (Sefer Chasidim 450; Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach). A similar principle is stated by Rav Yechiel Weinberg (Seridei Eish, Vol. 2, no. 100 (on relocating graves), sec. 26), who writes that visiting graves is an honor for the deceased, and explains (based on Kesav Sofer, Yoreh De'ah 178) that the prayers of the living benefit the deceased, and bring atonement. It is therefore possible that the honor and gratification brought to the deceased by visiting their graves is sufficient to permit leaving the Land. It is noteworthy that the Magen Avraham (531:7; see also Minchas Yitzchak 3:26) permits leaving the Land for the purpose of greeting a friend, which is considered a mitzvah. Although there is room to distinguish between the living and the dead, the same principle can perhaps be applied to visiting graves. It should be noted that even those opinions that are lenient (Sedei Haaretz; Sdei Chemed) mention that a person should not travel to graves outside Israel if the journey will disrupt him from his service of Hashem. Certainly, a Torah scholar, for whom the journey implies a significant loss of Torah study, should not make the journey.
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