Monday, April 27, 2009

Ramban Says, “Make Aliyah Now!”

I am not in the habit of recklessly recommending to people to make aliyah - it is a very difficult transition to change from being an American to becoming an Israeli. Nevertheless it is impossible to ignore the significance that the single greatest piece of religious Zionist propaganda falls out on the week of Yom HaAtzmaut. I am sure that at least one of my faithful readers has realized that I am talking about THE Ramban on Parshat Achrei Mot, where he explains that mizvot aseh only "count" in Eretz Yisrael.

Dramatic pause for self-satisfied Zionist sigh of contentment.

VaYikra 18:25 states: The land became defiled, and when I directed My providence at the sin committed there, the land vomited out its inhabitants.

The Ramban begins by explaining the connection between committing an aveirah and being ejected from Eretz Yisrael. His explanation is based on his Kabbalistic cosmology - each of the 70 nations of the world has a ministering angel which acts as the Divine intermediary between that nation and HaShem. That means that all reward and punishment for that nation is delivered by that ministering angel.

The Jewish people are different; they have Eretz Yisrael as their Divine intermediary instead of an angel. This is the explanation of the pasuk - Eretz Yisrael punishes its inhabitants that sin, by forcing them to leave the land. Yet the reverse is also true - once Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jewish people, then they are rewarded by Eretz Yisrael. (You can go back to Parshat Noach and the episode of Cham, where he is punished by losing his land to the descendants of Shet - the Jews.) This type of reward could also describe the 2nd paragraph of the Shema - the Jews will be rewarded with rain in Eretz Yisrael because they are doing mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael.

Yet, the Ramban does not stop there - he states that mitzvot have a limited effect outside of Israel. For example then nation of Brooklyn is outside of Israel. When the nation of Brooklyn does a mitzvah, the angel of Brooklyn takes that mitzvah and then brings it to HaShem. The angel of Brooklyn then returns with the reward to the nation of Brooklyn. However, this angel gets to “take a cut” in both directions. That is to say, the positive mystical impact of doing the mitzvah, and the reward are reduced in the process of going from the nation to HaShem. The angel of Brooklyn is profiting from all of the mitzvot being done there, at the expense of the Jews. But, if you do a mitzvah in Israel, Eretz Yisrael brings that mitzvah straight to HaShem without reducing the mitzvah or the reward at all. When you do mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael, there is no go-between angel involved in the mitzvah transaction at all.

The Ramban uses this statement about doing mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael to explain the Gemara in Ketubot 110b, which states,

“Anyone who lives outside of Eretz Yisrael, it is as if they have no God.”
According to the Ramban, you have no God outside of Eretz Yisrael because your mitzvot are going straight to your local angel. Whereas, when you live inside of Eretz Yisrael, your mitzvot are going straight to HaShem.

This Ramban is often misquoted and misrepresented (see earlier in this post!) to mean that mitzvot outside of Eretz Yisrael do not count. Rather, the proper pshat is that the Ramban means that the positive effects of the mitzvot are limited outside of Eretz Yisrael.

I highly recommend that you read the Ramban in the original Hebrew because I have certainly butchered him in my summary. Nevertheless, the bottom-line is that the Ramban in Parshat Achrei-Mot teaches us that HaShem REALLY REALLY wants us to live in Eretz Yisrael.

Chag Sameach.

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