Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Fleeing From; Running To[1]

Ya'akov Avinu requests of Yosef to bury him in Eretz C'na'an in the Me'aras HaMachpela (VaYechi 47:30). Prior to his request, he states, "Do not bury me in Egypt" (ibid. 47:29). Rashi quotes three reasons from the Midrash for Ya'akov's request. The first is that Ya'akov's body should not be affected by the plague of lice which he foresaw would afflict Egypt. The second is that Ya'akov knew that since the eventual Resurrection of the Dead would take place in Eretz Yisrael, called the "Land of the Living" (T'hillim 116:9), the dead of chutz la'aretz would have to undergo tza'ar gilgul m'chilos, the pain of rolling in caves, to get to Eretz Yisrael, before being resurrected.

Finally, Ya'akov Avinu was concerned lest the pagan Egyptians would deify his body and worship him at his tomb.

The commentaries analyze why three reasons are necessary (see Mizrachi, Gur Aryeh and others). The reasons offered by Rashi seem to divide into two groups. Those focusing on Ya'akov's wish not to be buried in Egypt (fear of lice, concern of deification). And the one focused on his positive request to be buried in Eretz Yisrael. Although there is pain in having to roll away from the grave in chutz la'aretz, the primary benefit is focused on the fact that the resurrection takes place in Eretz Yisrael, the "Artzos HaChayim", the Land of life. Mizrachi notes that although Rashi quotes this reason also on the "Do not bury me in Egypt" part of Ya'akov's request, the Midrash Rabba quotes only the other two reasons on this passage. The reason addressing tza'ar gilgul m'chilos is listed with respect to Ya'akov's request: "And carry me from Egypt and bury me in their [my ancestors] burial place" (ibid. 47:30). It would appear that this third reason actually combines both aspects: the desire to avoid the tza'ar gilgul mechilos of chutz la'aretz and to benefit from the "Land of Life" aspect of the Holy Land at the time of the resurrection.

These reasons, then, highlight two main motivations to be buried in Eretz Yisrael: the avoidance of being buried in chutz la'aretz and the desire to be buried in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the Talmud in Kesuvos (111a) tells us that being buried in Eretz Yisrael serves as an extra atonement for the deceased as the verse states, "And the Land shall atone [for] the nation" (Ha'azinu 32:43).

A similar analysis applies to living in Eretz Yisrael.[2] Sometimes an individual or even a community has to flee chutz la'aretz to escape persecution or because they are not welcome there. At other times one wants to avoid the negative influences of a largely non-Jewish world.[3] But, of course, a higher reason to move to Eretz Yisrael is to live in the Land of G-d and connect as geographically close as possible to the Shechina. This leads to all of the attendant blessings of increased Divine Providence, additional devotion in prayer and its being answered positively, extra success in Torah learning among the other myriad blessings granted to those living on sacred soil.

These two motivations of moving to Eretz Yisrael are highlighted by the famous passage in Yirmiya (31:15-16) quoted by Rashi on our Parasha (48:7). When Rachel cries out to G-d over her children in exile, Hashem answers her "ki yeish sachar lif'ulaseich ne'um Hashem, v'shavu mei'eretz 'oyeiv; v'yeish tikva l'achariseich ne'um Hashem, v'shavu banim lig'vulam - There is reward for your action, says G-d, and they will return from the land of the enemy; there is hope in your future, says G-d, and your children will return to their boundaries." Commentaries note the dual phraseology and some explain as follows.[4] Some will return to Eretz Yisrael out of fear of persecution or as refugees. They are not referred to as "banim" for their motivation was not the love of the Land. They are primarily fleeing from chutz la'aretz: "and they will return from the land of the enemy." Others, though, will run to Eretz Yisrael as children returning to their mother. They are indeed called "children": "and the children will return to their boundaries."

Seifer Chareidim (59) (by R. Elazar Azkari) records the following remarkable passage:

And each person must love the Land of Israel and to come to her from the corners of the earth with a great yearning as a son returns to the bosom of his mother…And we find in the Midrash that HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Avraham Avinu the first time that he should go to the Land of Israel, see it and return. After he returned, He did not grant him permission to return to go to the Land of Israel until five years had passed.[5] Those five years he longed to return, and he proclaimed the verse: "O, who will give me limbs like a dove and I shall fly and dwell there; behold I would be distant, wandering, I will stay overnight in the desert!"…From him we, his descendants, should learn for all generations to long for the land like him. Even if its inhabitants are in distress, even so we should be happy in suffering.[6][7]

Recent history has produced both kinds of return to Eretz Yisrael. Many fled to Israel to escape the impending Nazi horrors or went there straight from the Displaced Persons camps after World War II; others fled Arab persecution; still others fled the former Soviet Union. Baruch Hashem, especially in recent decades, we have witnessed an enormous additional return motivated solely by the love of the Holy Land and, ultimately, of the Divine presence resting there. Some returned for both reasons. Indeed, aliya to Eretz Yisrael is a complex decision. But a decision to remain in chutz la'aretz should not be made without thought either. In any case, as R. Azkari adjures us, the love of the Land must be incorporated into our world outlook following in the footsteps of our holy Avos and more recent ancestors.


[1] The themes in this article are also elaborated upon in The Desired Land and Mitzvot and Eretz Yisrael.

[2] See the aforementioned Gemara in Kesuvos that one cannot compare "one whom the Land absorbed during his lifetime to one whom it absorbed only after death."

[3] See the shocking statement of the Midrash Lekach Tov (Balak, on the verse "vatikrena") that those dwelling in chutz la'aretz are 'ov'dei 'avoda zara b'tahara! (See there for the specific context seemingly limiting the application of this statement.) I just heard of a story of a British family who would always visit Eretz Yisrael during the "holiday" season for this reason.

[4] I heard this idea from an acquaintance long ago. I did not succeed in finding the source. I would be indebted if someone knows it and can inform me.

[5] Presumably, R. Azkari refers to the apparent anomaly that based on the calculation of a 430 year Egyptian exile counting from the B'ris bein ha'B'sarim, then Avram Avinu was 70. But when he travels to the Land of C'na'an at the beginning of Lech L'cha, the Torah records his age as 75. (See Rosh, K'suvos (6:12) who explains this somewhat differently.)

[6] It is insightful to think what the Ba'al HaChareidim would say concerning the current situation.

[7] See the continuation for the important directive to be extra vigilant concerning sin in the "Palace of the King".

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