Requirement to Visit Israel?
I know about the importance of Israel and its centrality to our national narrative. But does the Torah require a Jew to visit Israel at least once?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I will answer your question regarding a "visit" to Israel. As for the issue of "living" in Israel, please see here for a discussion of the verse, "You shall possess the Land and dwell in it" (Numbers 33:53).
The Talmud states that "every 4 amot (about 7 feet) that a person walks in Israel is another mitzvah." And while there is no formal requirement for a Jew to visit Israel, it is one of the most important things a Jew can do.
In the 18th century, the chassidic Rabbi Nachman from Breslov withstood life-threatening dangers to visit Israel. He said, "To approach the Holy Land, one must overcome many barriers." He was right. Along the way, while crossing through Turkey, he was suspected of being a spy and threatened with imprisonment. While in Turkey, he became deathly ill, and then a bloody war erupted. When he finally left Turkey by ship, a great storm broke out and threatened to capsize them. Eventually he arrived in Israel.
Why did this rabbi, along with many others, risk his life to visit Israel? Said Rabbi Nachman: "The motive for making the journey is to draw closer to God. Merely by stepping foot on the Land he will merge with it and be transformed by its sacred character."
In many ways a trip to Israel is an essential aspect of one's Jewish identity. Jews in the Diaspora are used to being the minority, and being in Israel completely changes that equation. Jews walk freely without any self-consciousness about their identity. Many times I've seen people who would never think of wearing a kippah on the streets of their hometown, suddenly don one during their stay in Israel, sensing a spirit of holiness that one might otherwise find only in a synagogue.
The experience of being in that atmosphere is a liberating one and has a powerful effect on many, many Jews. It enables one to discover a deep part of oneself that was previously hidden and unknown. In this regard, each individual's experience in Israel is very personal and unique.
There are a myriad of opportunities to visit – young people can come on a Birthright (www.birthrightisrael.com), Fellowships trip (www.goisrael.org), or introductory Torah study program (http://israel.aish.com/essentials/). Other can come on an Aish mission or Executive Learning program combined with touring (http://israel.aish.com/elc/).
It is unfortunate that with the ease of travel today, such a large percentage of Diaspora Jews have never visited. An essential part of themselves is yet to be discovered. They don't know what they're missing!