A Drop in the Ocean
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
"Sometimes my friends in America would express their concerns about the difficulties of moving to Israel. When this happens, I am comforted by page after page of the fundamental sources brought by the amazing sefer “A Drop in the Ocean”. Rabbi Lichtman and Rabbi Freund’s work assures me that Eretz Yisrael is where I am supposed to be. It deserves to be a cornerstone on the bookshelf of every Jewish home." - Tzippora Felsenthal
Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman
A Drop in the Ocean, Introduction
Over twenty years ago, in the summer of 5755 (1995), I set out on a mission to find as many sources as I could on the importance of living in Eretz Yisrael, for a course I wanted to give to American students studying in Israel. When I finished, one of my mentors, R. Dovid Fuchs shlita, happened to ask me what sugya I was involved in, and I proudly answered that I had just created a source booklet with all the sources on the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. He promptly burst my bubble and responded, “Don’t say ‘all the sources,’ because that’s impossible.”
Oh, how right he was. This is the fifth book I have written or translated on the topic of Eretz Yisrael, and every so often I still come across a statement of Chazal or a comment by one of our great rabbinic figures that I have never seen before. It truly is one of the richest topics in all of Torah.
In fact, the title of this book reflects this idea, as well. When I was putting together my source sheets, I stumbled upon a letter from R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in favor of the modern return to Zion. As I was perusing it, I read a line that immediately prompted me to say, “If I ever put this into book form, I know what the title is going to be.” He writes:
There are entire chapters in the Tosefta, the Sifrei DeVei Rav, and the two Talmuds that lavish praise upon the Land. So much so that one who collects statements about the virtues of the Land and its settlement is, in my eyes, like one who collects dew drops from an ocean. Our entire Torah and tradition is interlinked with the virtues of the Land.
And there I was, doing just that – collecting statements about the virtues of the Land – and Rav Meir Simcha was basically saying that I will never succeed in finding them all, maybe just a few drops in the vast ocean of Judaism’s adoration for its homeland.
Fast forward to the year 5773 (2013), and I get a call from my colleague and supporter, Michael Freund – founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, an organization whose goal is to bring lost Jews back to their roots and back to their homeland. He tells me that he wants a book, in English, arranged as a daily course of study, with Torah sources on the importance of living in Israel, geared for religious Jews living abroad. “Do you think that’s something you could do?” he asks. All I could say was, “I think you’ve come to the right place.” The result is what you are holding in your hand.
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The book is divided into fifteen chapters, each of which discusses a different aspect of Eretz Yisrael’s unique qualities. In reality, though, it can be further divided into three overarching sections.
The first twelve chapters (the majority of the book, 194 lessons) delineate the virtues of the Land from a spiritual or hashkafic perspective. The sources in these chapters make it abundantly clear that a Jew can reach his or her fullest potential only in God’s chosen Land.
It is important to emphasize that regarding the ideas in this section there is no disagreement. What do I mean by that? A student of mine once raised her hand, a few weeks into my course, and said, “Rabbi! You’re hiding something from us. It can’t be so clear that a Jew should live in Israel, because if so, how can any religious Jew live outside the Land?” I answered that although there are certain issues that are disputed, and we’ll get to them, no one denies Eretz Yisrael’s unique qualities. The authors of To Dwell in the Palace (Feldheim, p. 309) put it best:
The individual Jew may have a legitimate reason for living outside Eretz Yisrael. There are halachic opinions and interpretations which may influence the determination that he postpone his aliya. But no Torah view exists which allows a Jew to regard his life outside the Land as permanent and completely satisfactory. Every Jew, according to every opinion across the Torah spectrum, should want to live in Eretz Yisrael and should strive for the day when aliya becomes possible for him (emphasis in the original).
I like to express it as follows: this issue is 100-0. That is, one hundred percent of the sources, the commentators, and the halachic authorities maintain that Eretz Yisrael is where a Jew belongs, while zero percent hold otherwise.
Chapter thirteen focuses on the halachic question of whether or not there is an obligation nowadays (during the period of exile) to live in the Holy Land. Regarding this issue there are differences of opinion, but it is a very lopsided dispute. I call it a 90-10 issue. Approximately ninety percent of the poskim throughout the ages believe that there is a mitzvah, even an obligation, to make aliyah (assuming it is possible), while only around ten percent assert that there is no such mitzvah nowadays.
Chapter fourteen discusses the only topic regarding which there is a significant dissenting opinion – that is, whether the modern return to Zion and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel are the first stages of the ultimate redemption. I call this a 50-50 issue. There were and still are many gedolei Yisrael who strongly oppose/d the Zionist movement, but there were and still are plenty who view/ed it as God’s way of initiating the redemptive process. To be honest, I primarily quote sources that indicate that the redemption has begun, but I also relate to the main counterclaims. My objective is not to “win the argument,” but to demonstrate that those who view the modern State of Israel in a positive light represent a legitimate Torah viewpoint, which has many sources to back it up.
Which brings me to the last, and possibly most important, point I want to make in this introduction. Every source quoted herein is a genuine Torah source that is (or, at least, should be) acceptable to any religious Jew. I did not quote from the great rabbis of the modern era who are clearly associated with Religious Zionism (like Rabbi A.Y. Kook and Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik). After all, everyone knows what they hold; and what would be the point of showing that they support aliyah? One could easily (albeit mistakenly) argue that they represent a minority opinion. I therefore only quote statements from rabbis who are accepted by the entire Torah world, to demonstrate that anyone who takes his Judaism seriously must, at the very least, yearn and strive to live in God’s special Land.
This is also why I added an appendix at the end of the book with a basic description of all the sources from Chazal that I used, along with brief biographies of the gedolim whose words are cited throughout the book. The goal is to familiarize the reader with our holy sources and show that most of the greatest rabbis who ever lived understood that Eretz Yisrael is where we truly belong.
To buy the book, email Rabbi Lichtman: firstname.lastname@example.org