Monday, 19 October 2009

Eretz Yisrael - "I want to be a Jew"

In various discussions with Jews who are in Israel, coming to Israel and have been in Israel, a certain fact crops up from time to time. There are those who think or believe that returning to live in the Land of Israel is a new idea, a new trend, something Zionistic.

The truth is, returning to or living in the Land of Israel began with Avraham Avinu, our father in the Parsha of Lech Lecha where G-d tells Avraham to leave his land, the place of his birth and journey to the land that G-d will show him. G-d promises Avraham that the land, at that time known as Eretz Canaan will be given to the descendants of Avraham through Yitzhak and Yaakov. In fact, when Avraham Avinu came to settle in Eretz Canaan, it could have ended there.

For reasons I do not understand, when a famine began in the land, Avraham and Sarah, his wife, journeyed down to Egypt to obtain what they needed and wait out the famine. This action was not favorable to G-d and as a result the children of Yaakov repeated their grandfathers actions in journeying down to Egypt at the time of famine.

Of course, G-d is Infinite and could have sustained us in Israel, but for reasons known to G-d, the events described in the Torah transpired.

We are taught of two other significant times that Jews came to Israel. The first was Yaakov our father who returned to the land of his father and grandfather after spending years with Lavan. Now he returned with wives, children, livestock and wealth. The second time is the famous time of the Exodus from Egypt when we were lead by Moshe Rabeinu and later Yehoshua in our return to the land of our fathers.

In further posts we will look at our great rabbis, sages and Tzaddikim who returned to live in the Land of Israel, including their reasoning, messages to Am Yisrael and other lessons to learn from them.

For now, let us return to our father Yaakov. As we are taught in the Chumash, Yaakov had a struggle with the angel of Eisav his brother. This struggle took place through the night and at dawn, when Yaakov was deemed victorious, he received a name change to Yisrael.

It is this name Yisrael that we take on when coming to live in this special land. The name Eretz Yisrael ארץ ישראל means I want to be Yisrael. We get this from the following. Ratz or רץ is from the language of Ratzon meaning to want or desire. When we put an aleph in front of a word, (verb) it becomes a future tense for I, therefore becoming I will want or I will desire Yisrael.

What is this Yisrael that I will desire? There are two ways to translate this. As we see from the above scenario, Yaakov was given this name when overcoming adversity, when being victorious over the darkness. So it is that most Jews when returning to Israel, go through a period of struggle and darkness. However, if we remember our goal, Eretz Yisrael, I will desire Yisrael, we can maintain our focus and come through victorious just as Yaakov Avinu was. After this we become worthy of settling in and living in the Land of Yisrael, the Land that G-d promised to the descendants of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov or Yisrael.

The second way to understand this is that Eretz Yisrael means "I want to be a Jew". In other words I desire to do those things that a Jew should do in this world.

This is Eretz Yisrael - the true desire of every Jew. The Jew wishes to be Yisrael (as opposed to Yaakov) and he/she wishes to be a good Jew, studying the Torah and fulfilling the Mitzvot, the ultimate place for this being in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

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