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Travelling Abroad for Pesach

1. The Question 2. A "New Custom" 3. The Torah Vision 4. Impact of the Exile


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

1. The Question
2. A "New Custom"
3. The Torah Vision
4. Impact of the Exile

Is it halachically permissible to leave Israel in order to go on a pleasure trip abroad? The majority of rabbinic authorities lean towards forbidding such a trip;according to all opinions, such a trip is not desirable , not, what is referred to in halacha as "Midat Chasidut." In this regard, the Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin (31b), recounts the following story: "Rav Asi asked Rebbe Yochanan: 'Is it permissible to leave Israel to go abroad?' R. Yochanan responded: 'It is forbidden!' R. Asi: 'To leave in order to greet one's mother - permissible or not?' R. Yochanan: 'I don't know!'" In other words, R. Yochanan was even hesitant to permit leaving with the explicit condition of returning to Israel after greeting one's mother.

I was therefore surprised to hear that, in honor of Pesach, certain religious families typically travel abroad. It has apparently become clear to them that the price of a hotel outside Israel is no higher than that of a hotel in Israel; so, they go to Rumania for the whole week of Pesach. There, they hold a Seder, tour the country, and do not even sense the absurdity of what they are doing! When others ask these people how they could do such a thing, they respond by saying that a very prominent Rabbi often accompanies them, as well.

I am both surprised and saddened by this phenonmenon. "Three times year, " the Torah says in Shmot chapter 23, "all of your males shall come [to Jerusalem] to appear before the Master [of the Universe] God, the Lord of Israel." When the Temple stood, it was compulsory to come for these festivities. Pesach is all about becoming sanctified and uplifted, and drawing closer to Hashem. This "drawing closer" is achieved through situating oneself in a holy place.

True, now we have no Beit Mikdash, but the Land of Israel remains the holiest of all lands, even today! It would therefore be appropriate, that in anticipation of the holiday, Jews from around the world come observe the festival here, in the Land, in Jerusalem, to absorb something of the holiness of the Land of Israel. (The Talmud in Tractate Ketubot asserts that anyone living here is as if he or she "has a God..." Elsewhere, we learn that one who learns in Eretz Yisrael is compared to one who actually "greets the Shechina (Divine Presence)!"

How can it be, then, that observant Jews leave Israel in order to be in the Diaspora for the festival of Pesach? If, during the course of the year, it is undesirable halachically to leave Israel for a vacation, and some even declare it to be forbidden, how much more so is it problematic to travel abroad during our Festival of Redemption, to find oneself in the impure atmosphere of Gentile lands!

This attitude is nothing less than the fruit of the long exile, an exile that has distanced us from our homeland, to the point where we have seemingly lost our natural healthy sense of reality, to the point where we cannot seem to appreciate the unique holiness of the Land of Israel. We apparently do not yet felt the uplifting quality and contentment that one should sense when breathing in the air of the Land of Israel.

Despite all this, thank God, we are in the midst of our national return to Eretz Yisrael, and with God’s help, we’ll heal, be restored to our natural spiritual health, to a state in which we will once again know how to distinguish between holy and profane, pure and impure, between Eretz Yisrael and lands of other nations.
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