All the way back in the book of Genesis, God commands Abraham to leave his home and move to a land which He will show him, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). This began the everlasting relationship of the Jewish people with the Land of Israel. Throughout thousands of years, several exiles, and countless acts of antisemitism, the Jewish People have maintained their bond with the Land.
God promised the Land of Israel to the Jewish people a number of times throughout the Bible. When we analyze the Bible to find the exact source of the commandments, we can look to a verse in the book of Numbers, “You shall clear out the Land and settle in it, for I have given you the Land to occupy it.” Many Bible critics agree that this verse is a commandment to the Jewish people to live in and settle the Land of Israel, for all generations.
After hundreds of years of exile, Joshua brought the Jewish people back into the Land of Israel. They built up the land, lived with their neighbors, and established the first independent Jewish state. The Jewish people were exiled again and again, but kept coming back. In 1948, we ended our exile and reestablished the Jewish independent state in the Jewish homeland. In 1967, we took the next step, winning back parts of the Jewish heartland, including the Western Wall, Judea, and Samaria.
Many people, however, still ask the question: are Jews actually obligated to live in the land of Israel? The Talmud states, “A person should always dwell in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), even in a city inhabited mostly by heathens, and he should not dwell outside the Land, even in a city inhabited mostly by Jews, for anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, and anyone who dwells outside the Land is like one who has no God” (Ketuvot 110b). This may seem counterintuitive to some, but there is something inherent about the connection of the Jewish people to the land itself, and this is where they belong.
Nowadays, most of us do not work the land ourselves as we might have done in biblical times. Although we dwell in Israel, many of us do not partake in the actual settling of the land. This is why it is very popular among Israeli Jews to plant trees in Israel, and take part in the growth of the land. At the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the chief rabbi, Rav Ben Tzion Meir Hai Uziel, composed a blessing to recite upon planting trees in Israel. This prayer includes an appeal to God for the necessary rain and dew to enable the tree to prosper, as well as a request that the blessing cause the tree to root deeply in the land; and to “strengthen the hands of our brothers who work the holy land,” planting fruits, vegetables, and trees that beautify the land.
The Talmud says that “one who walks four cubits in the Land of Israel will merit a portion in the world to come.” Simply by living in the Jewish homeland, walking the streets, and breathing in the holy air, we are connecting to God and thousands of years of Jewish history. For thousands of years, our ancestors finished the Passover Seder with the hopeful words of prayer and longing, “next year in Jerusalem.” We are blessed to live in a time where that reality is possible.